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To Fish or Not, That Is A Choice

Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 14 Dec 2012 11:03 GMT
Author: Li Li
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With breeze embracing Changdao County in Shandong, the grandson of Qiao focuses on playing computer games. Qiao, whose full name is Qiao Guanhai, is a local-born fisherman. He lives only one kilometre away from the sea. Qiao has not been fishing for more than five years and he repeats one sentence to Ta Kung Po journalist that “The local would rather live in Nanshan Mountain than go to fish.” The sound of wave far away could be heard clearly and Qiao suddenly stresses that the younger generation pay less and less attention to the sea when there is fewer and fewer things for the fisherman to harvest in the sea. “My children must leave here in the future. If I had an afterlife, I would never choose to be a fisherman,” he said.

Shandong owns a coastline of over three thousand miles which is one sixth of the whole length of coastline in China and is ranked in the second place in the world. 299 islands, with a coastline of 668.6 miles, lies in the coastal waters of Shandong Province. Thanks to the moist mild climate and clear sea water, the offshore areas of Yantai and Weihai are a natural fishing ground for wild prawns and yellow croaker, which makes them the fishing heaven for the fisherman.

Qiao has started to fish with his father since he was a little child. He recalls that they, driving the ships rented from the fisherman commune, could catch thousands kilograms of seafood with only two hours’ voyage. “The seafood we caught was so various. Chinese herring, flounder and sea hare and others that could not even named,” he said in an excited voice. But there has been less and less fish in the offshore areas since 1990s, wild pawns could not even found. And the offshore areas are almost empty now.

According to the statistics, the number of species of commercial fish in Bohai Bay and Liaodong Bay went down to 74 from 85 between 1982 and 1993. That number was 30 in 2004 and is only 10 at present. With the fishery resources continuously drying up, the sea water in Bohai Bay also worsens. Statistics shows that the area of the water whose quality is regarded as the worst level expands to 3,220 square kilometres in 2010 from 2,770 square kilometres in 2006. Wu Xiaoqing, the vice minister of Ministry of Environmental Protection in China, admits that the water quality in Bohai Bay is really bad at present.

A TV set of Panda Brand in the corner of Qiao’s home implies that Qiao is one of the ten- thousand-yuan households in Changdao island 20 years ago. In the beginning of reform and opening-up, Changdao County became a wealthy place due to the exports of its rich seashells to America and Japan. According to the official recording, the annual product of seashell is 6,970 tons in 1985, which accounted for more half of the nation production. And per capita fisherman income was 1,339 yuan in that year.

However, the fisherman themselves witnessed the end of the happiness. With the growth of GDP, people in the areas around Bohai Sea all went to find the “gold” in Bohai sea. On the one hand, more and more chemical projects are introduced and moved from the inland to the coast. On the other hand, a wide range of reclamation of the sea was developed to build new ports. In accordance with the latest China’s Ocean Development Report, a series of project aiming at the development of the coastal areas are licensed during period of the 11th five-year plan, and that would lead to a rapid development of heavy industry in China’s coastal areas. What is eye-catching is that most of those projects are located in the areas that are made from the sea reclamation and that would definitely arouse negative influence to the marine ecosystem.

The results made by the unreasonable ocean development are shouldered by fisherman. Qiao tells us that fisherman in Changdao island have never had a satisfactory harvest of shrimps and fish since the first red tide in 1993. Almost all the farmed scallop in Changdao island died in 1995, 1996 and 1997, leading to the huge economic loss of the local fisherman.

The local fishermen have to breed fish or go to fish in the area far away because there is no fish resource in the offshore areas. In Qiao’s opinion, to be a fisherman is a career that can hardly make a life. “It costs a lot to breed fish or to go fishing in the area far away,” he said, “You have to spend at least 5,000 yuan to hire a sailor and there are also other kinds of unknown risks. People will never choose to be a fisherman only if he has no choice.”

Ping Ying, the present of College of Economics and Management of Shanghai Ocean University, says that when marine economy makes the most contribution to the national economy, chemical industry and real estate industry and other industries all regard the ocean as their cash cow and that makes the fishermen the direct victims of the development of marine economy. She stresses that the development of marine should not only aim at money-making and fishermen around Bohai Sea should find other ways to make a life with a healthy economy growth.

Qiao’s daughter and son-in-law are now running “HAPPY Fishhouse Tour”. Qiao sometimes go to fish with tourists who would like to experience fishing. It suddenly became windy that day and Qiao drove his boat back home with tourists counting a few little fishes. “We’ll never meet a great harvest in this sea” Qiao paddled and said.

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