Overfishing in the South China Sea could lead to the extinction of some species


A catastrophic problem facing China that will impact the rest of the world is reaching a climax – and every Australian will be affected.

The South China Sea has been trawled in a watery desert. Vital spawning grounds have been transformed into artificial island fortresses. The situation is not much better in the East China Sea, warns a new study.

And it can lead fishermen to distant waters.

Research modeling the impact of catastrophic overfishing in the region, combined with the increasingly obvious effects of climate change, warns of impending ecological collapse.

A report from the University of British Columbia, Sink or swim: the future of fishing in the East and South China seas, finds that the next 10 years will determine the fate of the regions.

And that, in turn, will have a ripple effect on the rest of the world.

“In some climate change scenarios, the seafood species that are the mainstays of the Hong Kong seafood market, such as groupers and filiform breams, could be reduced to a fraction of their current population by the next year. end of the century – if they are not completely destroyed, ”says Professor Rashid Sumaila. “This is particularly the case in the tropical waters of the South China Sea, where many species of fish are already facing the limits of their heat tolerance.”

Fish are already at the root of the ongoing diplomatic crises in the Chinese seas.

Earlier this year, more than 200 Chinese fishing “militia” vessels docked in Whitesun Reef in the Philippines in a clear act of territorial control. Last year, a Chinese fleet sparked a similar international crisis when it surrounded Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands – an international wildlife sanctuary – in search of new fishing grounds.

Global scourge

Fish is a vital source of protein for over 40% of the world’s population.

Illegal and commercial overfishing not only decimates fish stocks, it can deprive local people of the ability to feed themselves, while on their own earning an income.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) think tank recently warned that illegal fishing has become a “global scourge.”

“Led by malicious actors in the shadows of the world’s oceans, it can devastate ecosystems, degrade food stocks and undermine fragile fishing economies,” says analyst John Vann. “And, for the most part, the world’s poorest countries, which depend on fishing for their food and livelihoods, are the hardest hit. “

It’s not just a crisis in the South China Sea. Off the west coast of Africa, he says, illegal catches can reach 40 percent of all fish taken from the region’s waters. It is also a growing problem off South America, the eastern Indian Ocean and across Oceania.

This places him well within Australia’s sphere of influence.

“In 2020, the US Coast Guard declared that IUU fishing [illegal, unreported and unregulated] fishing has replaced piracy as the main global threat to maritime security. It is estimated that up to one in five fish caught worldwide is obtained from [illegal] fishing, ”says Vann.

Greenwashed fish farming

According to Swim or swim report, one of the main drivers of overfishing is the booming aquaculture industry.

Presented as a green alternative to deep sea fishing, the demand of these farms for raw materials leads to an undersized catch market.

“A lot of people don’t know that aquaculture can contribute to overfishing, rather than counteract it,” says Yvonne Sadovy, professor at the University of Hong Kong. “By using wild-caught fish for aquaculture feed, we harvest juvenile fish of commercially important species and potentially jeopardize future regional food security. “

The Chinese aquaculture industry accounts for about 62 percent of global fish production, according to the study.

“If fleets were to catch only mature adult fish, for example using nets with larger holes, the study estimated the average annual catch in tonnes and the average income would increase compared to a business as usual scenario.” , explains Professor Sadovy. “This is because the fish can reach maturity, marketable sizes and fetch higher prices.”

In this scenario, the study indicates that regional catches could more than triple as fish stocks recover.

Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel

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