Overfishing is fueling tensions in the South China Sea and risks provoking armed conflict, researcher says — Radio Free Asia

A collapse of fish stocks in the South China Sea due to overfishing and climate change could fuel serious tensions and even armed conflict, one of the authors of a new report on the subject has warned.

“The simmering conflict we see in the South China Sea is mostly about fish, even if countries don’t say it out loud,” said Rashid Sumaila, a professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada. , at RFA on Wednesday.

Sumaila, of the university’s Institute of Oceans and Fisheries and its School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, has just co-authored a new report titled “Sink or Swim: The Future of Fishing in the East and South China Seas.In the report, he and other fisheries scientists and economists examine the impacts of climate change and overfishing in the region’s oceans.

The report says that under a scenario in which global temperatures increase by two degrees Celsius by 2050 from current levels, the South China Sea is “likely to experience significant declines in major commercial fish and invertebrate species.” , putting many regional fishing economies at risk. devastating failure.

Regional fisheries in the South China Sea are estimated to generate $100 billion a year, supporting the livelihoods of around 3.7 million people, who the report says will be at risk.

China’s growing need for fish foods, not just fish for human consumption, is a key driver of overfishing in the East China Sea and South China Sea, according to the report.

“Fisheries is one of the reasons China is embroiled in disputes with its neighbors in the South China Sea,” Sumaila said.

The report’s researchers called for immediate action to reduce fishing. They called for increased international cooperation to prevent the catastrophic fishery collapse they predict.

A man works at a fish and seafood stall at a wet market in Beijing, China, August 14, 2020. Credit: Reuters

fight for fish

The link between overfishing and maritime conflict has been seen around the world. Among some of the most notable incidents was the so-called ‘cod war’ between the UK and Iceland which has continued for nearly 20 years since the late 1950s.

The two countries’ navies were deployed to protect rival fishermen until the UK and Iceland reached an agreement in 1976 through diplomatic channels.

More recently, an increase in pirate attacks in the waters off the coast of East African country Somalia has been attributed to the depletion of seafood resources by illegal fishing.

However, some researchers like John Quiggin, professor of economics at the University of Queensland, have a different view – that it is conflict and lawlessness that puts pressure on fish stocks.

“Unresolved conflict increases the risk of overfishing and collapse,” Quiggin said.

“As the Iceland-UK Cod Wars and the Somali episode have shown, the optimal solution is for states to regulate Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) with catch quotas.”

“The best outcome in the South China Sea would be a negotiated deal,” he added.

Sumaila of the University of British Columbia said “the best thing countries sharing the South China Sea can do is recognize the immense value of the fisheries of this sea and cooperate to manage the fisheries of sustainable way”.

“They could learn from Norway and Russia, who decided to manage the Barents Sea cod fisheries cooperatively even during the Cold War between the then Soviet Union and the West, because they recognize the importance of this fishery to their citizens.”

“I think it can be done for the South China Sea as well,” Sumaila said.

Chinese ships moored in Whitsun Reef, South China Sea, March 7, 2021, photo provided by the Philippine Coast Guard.  The Philippines believed that the fishing vessels were manned by Chinese maritime militias.  Credit: Philippine Coast Guard/Western Philippine National Sea Task Force via AP
Chinese ships moored in Whitsun Reef, South China Sea, March 7, 2021, photo provided by the Philippine Coast Guard. The Philippines believed that the fishing vessels were manned by Chinese maritime militias. Credit: Philippine Coast Guard/Western Philippine National Sea Task Force via AP

Conflict triggers

Separately, the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI), a Chinese think tank, alleged that illegal fishing, especially by Vietnamese fishermen, has “seriously undermined regional mutual trust and posed a huge threat and challenge to maritime cooperation, the conservation of fishery resources and the security of neighboring countries”.

In one new reportSCSPI said Vietnam operates some 9,000 fishing vessels in the South China Sea and has entered into fishing disputes with China, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Vietnamese authorities were not available to comment on this new report, but Vietnamese media reported on the government’s efforts to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, particularly after the European Commission issued a ‘yellow card’ warning of Vietnam’s 2017 fisheries violations.

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh has ordered local governments to eradicate IUU fishing by the end of 2021 and leaders of Vietnam’s 28 coastal provinces have pledged to prevent fishing boats from encroaching on foreign waters.

China, however, is still ahead of other countries in terms of IUU fishing. A global index of illegal fishing created by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime in 2019 ranked China as the worst offender.

With up to 800,000 vessels, China’s fishing fleet is by far the largest in the world and Chinese fishermen, having exhausted their inland lands, are known to have traveled to distant waters like the Gulf of Guinea in South Africa. ‘West or the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador for their catches.

In the South China Sea, China has been accused of operating a fleet of armed fishing militias to enforce its sweeping sovereignty claims that are disputed by neighbors including Vietnam.

RAND Corporationa US think tank, says China has carried out classic ‘grey area’ operations designed to ‘win without a fight’ by overwhelming the adversary with swarms of fishing vessels usually reinforced from behind with coastguards and possibly warships.