China’s 13th Five-Year Plan, launched in March 2016, provides a sound policy platform for the protection of marine ecosystems and the restoration of capture fisheries within China’s exclusive economic zone. What distinguishes China among many other countries striving for marine fisheries reform is its size—accounting for almost one-fifth of global catch volume—and the unique cultural context of its economic and resource management. In this paper, we trace the history of Chinese government priorities, policies, and outcomes related to marine fisheries since the 1978 Economic Reform, and examine how the current leadership’s agenda for “ecological civilization” could successfully transform marine resource management in the coming years. We show how China, like many other countries, has experienced a decline in the average trophic level of its capture fisheries during the past few decades, and how its policy design, implementation, and enforcement have influenced the status of its wild fish stocks. To reverse the trend in declining fish stocks, the government is introducing a series of new programs for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, with greater traceability and accountability in marine resource management and area controls on coastal development. As impressive as these new plans are on paper, we conclude that serious institutional reforms will be needed to achieve a true paradigm shift in marine fisheries management in China. In particular, we recommend new institutions for science-based fisheries management, secure fishing access, policy consistency across provinces, educational programs for fisheries managers, and increasing public access to scientific data.
Spanning an area of around 3.8 million square kilometres, the South China Sea (SCS) is rich in biodiversity, fisheries and other natural resources. It is bordered by Hong Kong, China, Macau, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia. Particularly, fisheries resources are crucial for supporting coastal livelihoods, food security, and export trade in the SCS, yet they are highly threatened by pollution, coastal habitat modification, and excessive and destructive fishing practices. To allow sustainable management of the SCS ecosystems, there is a need to comprehensively understand its current status, existing and potential threats, and to develop plausible scenarios for its future. As such, this contribution, firstly, undertakes a Taking Stock exercise that integrates existing data on the SCS as a basis for assessing its fisheries in terms of economic, social, and ecological indicators