Uniting and activating powerful voices for ocean conservation

What future for fisheries in the South China Sea?

Rashid Sumaila –

Spanning an area of around 3.8 million square kilometers, the South China Sea (SCS) is bordered by 12 countries and territories – the area is home to two billion people and has some of the fastest developing economies of the world.

The SCS is biologically diverse, but knowledge of its marine fauna is relatively incomplete. The most comprehensive catalogue of its marine fishes lists nearly 3,400 species in over 260 families. It is one of the top five most productive fishing zones in the world – in terms of total annual marine catch – with marine aquaculture contributing significantly to seafood production capacity in the region. Its fishery resources are crucial for supporting coastal livelihoods, food security, and export trade in its bordering countries. Small-scale fisheries are prevalent in SCS countries, and inshore waters are subject to intense fishing pressure from heavily populated coastal areas.

Our group at the University of British Columbia Fisheries Economic Research Unit, set out to outline the threats to the SCS, and determine what its marine ecosystems, fisheries, and seafood supply may look like in the next 30 years under several differing climate change and management scenarios.

In studying the SCS, a key obstacle we faced was that national fisheries statistics of SCS countries do not fully capture all fishing sectors. Small-scale fisheries and the level of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the region are poorly known and documented.

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