The paper from ICFO Seminar in Qingdao, China 25 – 29 October 2000

Marine Fishery Resources and Management in China

Jin Xianshi

(Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute)

Bullet   Introduction 

Bullet   Marine Fishery Resource 

Bullet   Yellow and Bohai Sea 

Bullet   East China Sea 

Bullet   South China Sea 

Bullet   Marine Fisheries 

Bullet   Marine Fisheries Management




This paper analyzed the fishery resources and fisheries of seas along Chinese coast, indicating that the fishery resources have been mostly overfished and some stocks are depleted and collapsed, while the fishing effort and intensity still increase. The present measures for fisheries management have achieved some effects on protection of fishery resources, but not suitable to the fisheries and fishery resources conditions. At the new international and national marine conditions, the prospects of fisheries management are discussed.


There are four seas along China coast, including the Bohai Sea, the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea and the South China Sea, which are also semi-closed seas, spanning from tropical, subtropical and temperate zones among 3-41°N latitudes. The Bohai Sea is an inner sea, with an area of 77,000 km2. The Yellow Sea is about 380,000 km2, and the East and South China Seas are about 770,000, and 3,500,000 km2, respectively. The area of continental shelf (depth less than 200 m) is about 1,400,000 km2. The coastal line of China is 18,000 km. They’re spread variety of more than 5,000 islands all over the coastal seas, with coastal line of more than 14,000 km along these islands. The shallow sea and intertidal zone are about 134,000 km2, 10% of them may be used for mariculture. The seas annually receive the runoffs more than 1,500 billion m3 from rivers, with huge nutritive matters that provide nutritive basis for the growth of marine living resources.

2.  Marine Fishery Resources

The species of marine living resources in the seas are very abundant, with about 1700 fishes, 100 cephalopods, 300 shrimps, and 600 crabs. About 200 species are economically important in marine fisheries. A brief introduction will be given as following in the fishery resources in the Yellow and Bohai Sea, East China Sea and South China Sea, with emphasis on the Yellow and Bohai Sea.

2.1  Yellow and Bohai Sea

The Yellow Sea and Boohoo Sea as one large marine ecosystem (LME) is located at temperate Zone. The number of species is much less than other seas. There are about 300 fish species, 41 crustaceans and 20 cephalopods in this region. Warm-temperate species are more dominated than warm-water species among the fishery species. There are few cold-temperate species in this region. In the central part of Yellow Sea, a basin with a depth of 70-80m, so called Yellow Sea depression, is an ideal overwintering ground for most migratory species. The coastal waters along the Yellow and Bohai Seas are the main spawning grounds for both migratory and local species.

Based on the distribution, the fishery resources in the LME can be divided into local and migratory resources.

The local species are mainly distributed in those shallow waters of estuaries and in vicinity of islands and reefs, the animals of the local resources usually move within a limited bound, for instance, seasonally move between deep and shallow waters for reproduction, feeding and wintering. Usually, the obvious pattern of the migration is seldom observed. There are a number of species of this group. They are mainly warm-temperate species like jellyfish (Rhopilema esculenta), Acetes shrimp (Acetes chinensis), blue crab (Portunus trituberculatus), tongue fish (Cynoglossus semilaevis), mullet (Liza so-iuy), sea bass (Lateolabrax japonicus), skate (Raja spp.), goby fish (Gobiidae), greenling (Hexagrammos otakii), Pacific Ocean perch (Sebastodes fuscescens), croaker (Collichthys), jewfish (Johnius belengerii), common asohos (Sillago sihama), Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi) and Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus) etc..

The migratory species mainly consist of the warm-temperate and warm-water species conducting long distance migration on a certain pattern and distributing widely. During the spring seasons, when the water temperature is increasing, the species migrate from the central-southern part of the Yellow Sea and the northern part of the East China Sea to the Bohai Sea and the coastal shallow waters of the Yellow Sea for spawning. After the reproduction peak in May and June, most species leave the shallow waters and disperse in the waters with 20 to 60 m depth for feeding until summer. During autumn seasons when the water temperature is decreasing, the fish schools gradually move to the deeper waters with a depth of 60-80m and higher temperature for wintering. The species diversity of the migratory resources seems less than that of the local resources, but their biomass are much more abundant. The catches in the LME are mainly from the migratory species. The main commercially important species include Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus niphonius), chub mackerel (Pneumatophorus japonicus), pomfret (Stromateoides sinensis), Japanese anchovy (Engraulis japonica), half fin anchovy (Setipinna taty), Chinese herring (Ilisha elongata), small yellow croaker (Pseudosciaena polyactis), yellow drum (Nibea albiflora), penaeid shrimp (Penaeus chinensis), southern rough shrimp (Trachypenaeus curvirostris) and squids etc.

In the 1950’s, the economically important species in the LME were small yellow croaker, largehead hairtail (Trichiurus haumela) and penaeid shrimp etc. With the increase of fishing effort, the abundance of these species declined one after the other. In the early 1970’s, the stock of Pacific herring outburst and became a major fishing target with a yearly landing over 180,000 tons in 1972. Unfortunately, the situation of a good harvest of herring only maintained few years. In the 1980’s, the stocks of some other pelagic fish like half-fin anchovy, Japanese anchovy, chub mackerel and Spanish mackerel seemed increasing to some extent. Since the mid-1980s, the abundance of Japanese anchovy became the largest one among those pelagic species. According to a ten-year survey carried out by R/V “Bei Dou” from Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute, the biomass of Japanese anchovy in LME annually varied from 2.5 to 4.3 million tons, while cod, hairtail and Penaeid shrimp were seldom found in the catches. The recent surveys showed that the abundance of Japanese anchovy is declining, while the biomass of sandlance (Ammodytes personatus) is increasing and the stock of small yellow croaker showed a recovery indication.

The dominant species were changed from 1959 to 1982 in the Bohai Sea, high valued, commercially important species such as small yellow croaker, largehead hairtail, and penaeid shrimp were replaced by low valued, small sized species such as Japanese anchovy, half-fin anchovy etc. Although the dominant species in some extent varied between years, the small pelagic fish, such as anchovy, half-fin anchovy and gizzard fish (Clupanodon punctatus) dominated the fishery resources since the beginning of 1980s. However, in 1998-1999, the biomass of most fishery species declined to a very low level, particularly the biomass of small pelagic fish and economic important invertebrate have sharply decreased with reduced distribution areas that directly affect the growth of carnivorous fishes, such as Spanish mackerel (Fig. 1).

Figure 1:  Variations of fishery resources in the Bohai Sea

(Figure 1 shows high volume of resources for all seasons in 1959 with steady decline over the years up to almost zero volume in kg for 1998-99)

2.2  East China Sea

There are about 730 fish species, 91 crustaceans and 64 cephalopods in the continental shelf, and about 350 fish species, 33 crustaceans and 32 cephalopods in the continental slope of the East China Sea. Warm and warm-temperate species are dominated in the fishery species, the warm water species increases with decrease latitudes.

The inshore species mostly do not migrate long distance as the species in the Yellow and Bohai Sea, only migrate south and north with short distance, mainly consisting of warm-temperate species. The offshore species mainly consist of warm water species due to the influence of Kuroshio warm current.

The major fishery species include: larehead hairtail, large yellow croaker (Pseudosciaena crocea), small yellow croaker, Chinese herring, pomfret, filefish (Navodon septentrionalis), scad (ecapterus maruadsi), Spanish mackerel, chub mackerel, daggertooth pike-conger (Muraenesox cinereus), white croaker (Argyrosomus argentatus), cuttlefish (Sepiella maindroni)blue crab, etc.. At present, the most important species, largehead hairtail fishery is highly dependent recruitment, this resource is fully or over exploited. The most of the species mentioned above suffer the same as largehead hairtail, large yellow croaker and filefish were depleted. Now some shrimps and crabs, and some fish in the offshore waters still have potential for fisheries exploitation.

2.3  South China Sea

The South China Sea is located at tropical and subtropical zone, the number of species is abundant. There are about 1027 fishes, 91 shrimps and 73 cephalopods in the northern continental shelf, and about 205 fishes, 96 shrimps in the continental slope, and more than 520 fishes around the islands and reefs waters in the south. The fishery species are rich, but live in mixture with low abundance each. There are lacking of ocean species with high biomass, the main fishery species are local stocks without clear migration route. The economically important species in fisheries are about 100, consisting mainly of bottom fishes. The major bottom species are: Saurida, Lutianus erythopterusParagyrops edita,Nemipterus virgatus, Synodus, daggertooth pike-conger, Priacanthus,Branchiostegus argentatusetc.. The major pelagic species are Anchoviella, Sardinella aurita, scad and Etrumeus micropus, etc. The current situation of the fishery resources in the South China Sea is similar with the Yellow Sea, Bohai Sea, and East China Sea, the overexploitation is more serious in the Gulf of Tokin particularly.

3.  Marine Fisheries

China is a big fishery country. The total production was 41.22 million tons in 1999. The marine landings were 24.72 million tons, of which 60.6% was from marine catch. The marine catch accounted for 36% of total fishery production. The inland waters produced 15.5 million tons, and 13.8% of it was from fishing natural stocks (Fig.2, 3).

In the 1950s and 1960s, the total marine catch was around 2 million tons, they were mainly comprised of large-sized, high valued bottom fish, such as large and small yellow croaker, largehead hairtail flatfish, cod, squids etc. With the increase of fishing effort, the abundance of these species declined one after the other. In the 1970’s, the annual harvest increased to more than 3 million ton, the stocks of Pacific herring and filefish with relatively low value became the major fishing targets. Since the 1980s, the major fishing species have been shifted to pelagic species, particularly the small pelagic fish such as scad, young chub mackerel, anchovies. The development has been the fastest period during the last decade. The marine catch was from 5 million ton (incl. 107,000 ton long-distance water fisheries) in 1989 to 14.98 million ton (incl. 899,000 ton long-distance water fisheries) in 1999, increasing 197.8% (Fig. 4).

Although the landings have quickly increased in marine capture, the catch per unit effort (CPUE) linearly decreased from mid-1950s, from 37.9 ton/horse power (t/hp) in 1953 to 3.3 t/hp in 1962, 2.1 t/hp in 1972, 0.8 t/hp in 1982, and stabilized below 1 t/hp thereafter (Fig. 4).

Figure 2:  Variations of China Fishery Production in millions of tons.

Figure 3:  Composition of Fishery Production in 1999 by marine capture, freshwater aquaculture, mariculture, freshwater capture and long distance capture  .

(Figure 3 shows Marine capture at 34%; Freshwater aquaculture at 34%; Mariculture at 24% and freshwater capture and long distance capture at 6% and 2% respectively.)

Figure 4: Chinese marine capture and CPUE.

(Figure 5 presents the landings variations by seas. The landings from the East China Sea have always been the highest in the four seas, accounting for 36-54% of the total catches. )

Figure 5: Marine capture by sea.

(Fig. 5: East China Sea has the largest volume going from over 1,000,000 tons in 1979 to over 5,500,000 tons in 1998)

When looking at the landing variations from ecological types, fish has been the main fishing target (Fig.6). The yield of fish has made up 62-80% of the total marine catch, crustaceans made up 15%, and the mollusks largely varied, with a percentage of 7-20% in last two decades. The yield of jellyfish was more than 0.4 million ton in recent three years, while the catch was less than 20,000 ton before 1983.

Figure 6: Marine capture by ecological groups.

(Fig. 6 shows a change in landings of fishes beginning with 2,500,000 tons in 1978 to over 10,000,000 in 1998. Crustaceans a mollusks also grow in volume but only slightly.)

Among the major fishery species (Fig. 7), largehead hairtail showed some fluctuations, but trended an increase and ranked the highest catch among single species for many years. Large yellow croaker and small yellow croaker provided relatively high catches before the 1980s, while the stocks were collapsed in the 1980s, small yellow croaker showed a slight recovery recently. The stock of filefish was exploited since the mid-1970s, with quite high landings until the 1980s, and was then depleted. So far it has not showed any recovery.

The pelagic fisheries were mainly targeted on Pacific herring in the Yellow Sea at early 1970s, with the peak of 180,000 ton in 1972, and the catch decreased continuously since then. At present, it is difficulty to see herring from catches. The yields of other pelagic fisheries (mainly chub mackerel, scad, and Spanish mackerel) have continuously increased, from around 200,000 ton in early 1980s to 1.46 million ton in 1999, but the harvests were heavily dependent on 0- and 1-group. Comparing to other pelagic fish, the catch of Chinese herring was small, but relatively stable (Fig. 8).

The dramatic change among the pelagic fishes is Japanese anchovy in the Yellow Sea (Fig.9). There almost no anchovy fishery was carried out until the 1990s. The annual landings of anchovy linearly increased due to the increase of abundance and expanded exploitation in the sea. The annual landing of anchovy increased from 20,000 tons in 1989 to 640,000 tons in 1996, and more than 1 million ton in 1997 and 1998, becoming the highest landing among the single species fishery in China. However, these catches were highly over the half million ton of MSY, and the recruitment has sharply declined based on acoustic surveys recently (Fig. 9).

Fig 7:  Landing variations of major demersal fishes.

(Figure 7 shows tremendous growth of largehead hairtail with sporadic growth in small yellow croaker and large yellow croaker and decline in filefish.)

Trawl fisheries (mainly bottom trawl) occupied the highest landing among all fishing fleets, varied at 40-61% of the total catches. This fleet accounted for 47% of the total catch (Fig 10), and slightly decreased. The other major fishing methods are purse seining, driftnetting, fixed netting, hooking etc.

The fishing effort has linearly increased since the 1950s. Taking the power of motorized fishing boats as 100, then the fishing effort was 785 in the 1960s, 2558 in the 1970s, 6734 in the 1980s, and 16632 in the 1990s. It means that the fishing effort in the 1990s increased more than 165 folds from the 1950s. That is why the yield increases and CPUE decreases. It also causes declining of fishing benefit. Overexploitation is mainly responsible for the depletion of fishery resources.

The marine fishing industry was mainly comprised of small sized boats, with the power less than 20 hp, accounting for 56% of total number of motorized boats, while the large sized boats of more than 200 hp accounted only for 9% (Fig. 11). When looking at them by power, the fishing boats between 60-600 hp were the major components, making up 67%, and 24% of total boats was less than 60 hp (Fig. 12).

Figure 8:  Landing variations of major pelagic fishes.

(Fig. 8 shows low volume for all fishes in 1955 with substantial growth for mackerel and scads, Spanish Mackerel and anchovy. Anchovy shows drop in 1998)

Figure 9:  Variations of anchovy biomass

(Figure 9 begins in 1984 through 1999. Largest volume is 1993 through 1995 and then there is decline in biomass)

Figure 10:  Catch composition by fishing fleets in 1999.

(Figure 10: Trawling 47%; Fixed netting 21%; Drift netting 14%; purse seining 7% and all others less)

Figure 11:  Composition of marine fishing boats by number 1999.

(Figure 11 shows largest (57%) is less than 20 hp; next 21% at 21-60 hp; 14% at 61-199 hp and 8% 200-599 hp)

Figure12:  Composition of marine fishing boats by power in 1999.

(Figure 12: 29%=61-199hp; 38% 200-599hp; 13% 21-60hp; 20% less than 20 hp)


4.1  Fisheries Management

China government promulgated a forbidden fishing lines etc., and laid down and put into effect of closed fishing periods and zones, licensing, minimum mesh sizes and minimum landing sizes in succession. These have taken significant effect on conservation of fishery resources. The promulgation and enforcement of “Law of Fisheries of the People’ Republic of China” is a milestone in the development of China’s fisheries history in 1986. From that up to now, the Chinese fisheries has been the fast development period. The Law of Fisheries as a legal provision defined a suitable fishery development policy to China’s conditions. It has been significant important to the adjustment of fisheries production relationship, to standardizing of fisheries activities, to conservation and rational utilization of fishery resources. This law has brought Chinese fisheries onto the right track of developing and managing fisheries based on the law.

From the Law of Fisheries to present, the central and provincial governments have issued various laws and regulations more than 500 documents, which are related to all aspects of fisheries, and have primarily formed the legal system frame of China’s fisheries.

According to the principle defined by the Law of Fisheries, China strengthened the building of law enforcement officials. There are 30,000 fisheries inspectors, 1100 enforcement vessels, and 33 fisheries environmental monitoring stations.

In order to conserve and protect the fishery resources, China started completely closing fishing in the Yellow, Bohai and East China Seas for 2-3 months in summer since 1995, except for the traditional management measures. The scale and duration have been expanded and enlarged for the complete closed fishing in 1999, and this measure was also applied to the South China Sea for 2 months. These measures have effectively protected the juveniles so that the catches and quality have obviously increased and improved.

4.2  The Problems in Marine Fishing

The fishery resources are the basis of fishery development, and the environment of fishery waters is the basis of living for fishery resources and of fishery activities. The traditional fishery structure of China has taken fishing natural stocks as the principal thing for a long time, this irrational exploitation pattern has caused fishery resources depletion, and limited the development of fishery economy. In 1999, Chinese fisheries achieved a fundamental change from fishing to developing aquaculture, and became the first country that the yield from aquaculture was larger than fishing.

With the enforcement of the “UN Convention of the Law of the Sea”, 200 nm EEZ have been widely implemented all over the world, marine fishery resources have been competed more and more intensively. At the moment, Sino-Japan Fisheries Agreement went into effect on June 1st this year, Sino-Korea Fisheries Agreement has already signed, and the delimit of the Gulf of Tonkin will be finished in this year. Therefore, the marine fishing grounds will apparently be reduced. The long-distance fisheries will have very limited space to expand.

At present, most of the inshore fishery resources have been fully or over exploited, the trophic levels have been reduced. The fisheries highly depend on the small pelagic fishes, the species with long life span have been seriously depleted. The major inshore fishery resources are small size, low value, low age, and earlier maturation.

Although the overexploitation is seriously, the fishing effort and intensity still continue to increase, the blindly increase of fishing boats with improved and new techniques, the fishing intensity has been raised that gives fish stocks no time to recovering and reproduction. In addition, some illegal fishing methods would not’t stop to repeated prohibition. Moreover, some coastal waters have been seriously polluted that directly affects the spawning and hatchery grounds for fishery resources, also the recruitment. The pollution also affects mariculture.

The effect from closed fishing in summer since 1995 has been only limited to the same year, and is a short-term action. The result from that will be disappeared during the opening season. Therefore, this method for fisheries management has a large limitation, because it does not follow the law of natural fluctuations of fishery resources in the sea and is not a scientific method. Comparing with other fishery developed countries, the current fisheries management in China is backward in techniques at least 20 years. If not changed, this situation will be harmful to the sustainable development of Chinese fisheries.

4.3  Prospect of Marine Fisheries Management

The major reference point to discuss national and international fisheries management is the “UN Convention of the Law of the Sea”. The international popular measure for fisheries management, fishing quota system newly added in the “Amendment of Law of Fisheries of China” is of important significance, although it will only control the total landings based on the total allowable catches (TACs). The first is a change of idea, it means that the yield is no longer as a measure of achievements in one’s official career, and the fisheries statistics will be more accurate. The second is that the sense of conservation of natural fishery resources is strengthened, and will determine the TACs based on the principal of catch lower than the increase of fishery resources.

The quota system in marine fisheries management has been widely used in the fisheries developed countries, particularly in European countries. After more than 20 year, this system has been gradually improved, and practical. The quota management as major multi-nations joint management system has been established based on the TACs determined by stock assessments. The management techniques of fishing quota is a complicated project, which is involved in the techniques of stock assessment, fishing surveillance, control and management, and comprehensive evaluation of social-economic factors etc. There are also other fisheries management methods used by some countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, USA using individual transferable quotas (ITQs).

An outline of the procedure followed by the European Community (EC) for resources within its Common Fishing Zone in the North Atlantic is given as following (Caddy and Mahon, 1995) as an example for the quota management system:

Assessments made by national staff are reconciled in ICES working groups, and later in the Advisory Committee on Fishery Management (ACFM); both made up of resource scientists where EC staff sit as observers. A range of options for TACs is then presented to the Scientific and Technical Committee for Fisheries (STCF) made up of EC staff and national resource advisors. Here the debate widens to consider other technical (e.g. fishing gear) and economic issues. The reports of the ACFM and STCF are reviewed by EC staff, and initial proposals for TACs are discussed with senior representatives on member country administrations. At the Council of Ministers, national shares are agreed on, preferential treatment may be accorded for socioeconomic reasons, and some quota swapping may occur. The national shares agreed to are subsequently allocated to stakeholders in the national fisheries concerned.

The emphasis on the management of marine fishery resources in China in the future should:

Bullet   amplify fishery legal system to fit in with the new marine situations.

Bullet   Perfect fishing license system, put quota system into practice, and strengthen managing fishing industry.

Bullet   Support monitoring of fishery resources and marine environment, which is a basic work to the conservation and rational utilization of fishery resources, and is also an essential prerequisite for the quota system.

Bullet   Further spreading and publicizing laws and regulations, particularly fishing quota system in the Amendment of Law of Fisheries, the new international marine systems, and Sino-Japan, and Sino-Korea Fisheries Agreements, etc. in order to raise the masses’ mentality of legal system, to make them conscientiously protect fishery resources and environment.

Bullet   Strengthen conservation of fishery resources and ecological environment, and punish the illegal behaviors in accordance with the laws in order to safeguard the fishermen and state’s fisheries rights and interests, to make great efforts for reaching sustainable utilization of fishery resources.

5.  Main References

Caddy J.F. And Mahon, R. 1995. Reference points for fisheries management. FAO Fish. Tech. Pap. 347. Rome.

Chen, Y. and Shen, X. Changes in the biomass of the East China Sea Ecosystem. In: Large marine ecosystems of the Pacific Rim: assessment, sustainability, and management. Pp221-239. Ed. by K. Sherman and Q. Tang. Blackwell Science.

Iversen S A, D Zhu, A Johannessen and R Toresen. 1993. Stock size, distribution and biology of anchovy in the Yellow Sea and East China Sea. Fish. Res. 16:147-163.

Jin X. 1996. Variations in fish community structure and ecology of major species in the Yellow/Bohai Sea. Dr. Thesis, University of Bergen, Norway.

Jin, X. (in press). The variations of major fishery resources in the Bohai Sea. Fish. Science. China.

Jin, X. And Tang, Q. 1998. Fishery resources structure, biomass distribution and their changes. Fish. Science. ChinaVol.53):18-24.

Morgan, G. R. 1997. Individual quota management in fisheries: methodologies for determining catch quotas and initial quota allocation. FAO Fish. Tech. Pap. 371. Rome.

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