China Chart of the Week: Fishing in the South China Sea


While the most recent clashes between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea have been over oil rigs and alleged construction of artificial islands among the Spratley island chain, an additional aspect of this ongoing territorial dispute has been fishing rights.  Already considered overfished by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (full report here), the sea has seen clashes between Philippine and Chinese fishermen as recently as April 2014.

This chart compares growth in marine fishery production between China and Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia, the ASEAN members whose territorial claims in the South China Sea conflict with Chinese claims, to get a broad idea of the long-term impact of marine fishing in the region. [1]  For the Southeast Asian countries included, national level data gives a fairly accurate picture of fish production, as coastal borders mostly fall along the South China Sea coast.  Since China’s coast far exceeds what is considered the South China Sea, Chinese data is at the provincial level.  The three Chinese provinces which border the South China Sea (Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan) together make up a larger share of total marine fishing in the area than any of the individual ASEAN members over the entire period.  However, since 2008, combined Vietnamese, Philippine and Malaysian production has matched Chinese production, with particular growth in Vietnam.  As China continues to clash with both Vietnam and the Philippines over fishing rights, the increased production along increasing scarcity of marine life, opens the door not only for further conflict between China and ASEAN members, but for conflict among ASEAN members themselves.

Note: China data is the sum of seawater fish, shrimps, prawns and crabs, and shellfish production for Guangdong, Guangxi, and Hainan provinces. Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia data represent marine catches of fish, crustaceans and mollusks at the national level.

Source: Author's calculations using data from United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s FishStat and Output of Aquatics Products data produced in the Agricultural Production section of National Bureau of Statistics of China’s annual statistical yearbook

[1] While Brunei also claims part of the Spratley island chain, yearly marine fish production for Brunei is less than 5000 tons

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