Global Ethics Corner: Not Enough Fish in the Sea?

Jan 7, 2013

Marine fish stocks are dangerously low, but this hasn't stopped China from sending its fishing fleets to distant waters, sometimes illegally. Could China's insatiable appetite for seafood be a threat to the world's fisheries? Is there more we should be worried about?

They say there are plenty of fish in the sea. But, according to the World Wildlife Fund, “more than 70 percent of the world’s commercial marine fish stocks are either fully exploited or overfished.” Scientists, environmentalists, and government officials around the world are increasingly worried that overfishing will cause vital marine ecosystems to collapse.

This has already happened to the Northern Cod fishery off the Canadian province of Newfoundland, where a government-mandated fishing moratorium has been in place since 1992. The Newfoundland economy suffered massive unemployment and outmigration as a result. Twenty years later, the Northern Cod population is only just beginning to recover.

According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, China’s insatiable appetite for seafood, and a tendency to underreport the size of its national catch, represents the latest threat to the health and sustainability of global fishing stocks. China is currently the world’s largest consumer of seafood as well as the largest producer of marine catch. And overfishing in Asian waters has forced Chinese fleets to cast a wider net.

Through bilateral agreements with other countries, China has engaged in so-called “distant waters fishing” since 1985. Today, China has the largest distant waters fishing fleet in the world, employing 50,000 people and legally operating in 32 countries and three oceans.

In recent months, however, Chinese fishing boats have been caught making illegal forays into the sovereign waters of Argentina, South Korea, and Japan, raising alarms about the intentions of the rising superpower. A September 2010 report issued by the Chinese government and prepared in collaboration with the distant waters fishing industry claimed that “owning and mastering the ocean means owning and mastering the future.”

Do you think this is true? Is China’s growing appetite for seafood just a threat to the world’s fisheries? Or is it something more?

For more information see

Sustainable seafood: Consumer guides, World Wildlife Fund Global, January 4, 2013

Chun-Wei Yap and Sameer Mohindru, "China's Hunger for Fish Upsets Seas," The Wall Street Journal, December 27, 2012

Tabitha Grace Mallory, "Testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission," U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, January 26, 2012

"China, Japan, US top list of world seafood consumers: study," Terra Daily, September 22, 2010

"No cod? Blame the seals!," Greenpeace International, February 24, 2005

Photo Credits in Order of Appearance:
Tom Weilenmann
Michael Porter
NOAA's National Ocean Service
Derek Keats
Nathalie Babineau-Griffiths

Aldas Kirvaitis
David W.
Akshay Mahajan
Ryk Van Toronto
Robin Robokow
Trey Ratcliff
U.S. Navy

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