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Reeling in Sustainable Fishing
China's top fishery official Yang Jian lauded a United Nations-led plan designed to replenish the world's falling fish stocks yesterday, adding that the country is well on course to realize sustainable fishing.

Referring to an agreement to salvage the world's depleted fisheries reached last week at the United Nations (UN) Earth Summit in Johannesburg, Yang said the move is a positive response by the international community to tackle the fishing resources crisis.

The time-sensitive goal -- to restore depleted fish stocks by 2015 -- was hailed by delegates as "the first major breakthrough" at the 10-day World Summit on Sustainable Development, which opened on Monday.

However, in an exclusive interview with China Daily, Yang said the objective may not be reachable within such a specific time frame given that aquatic life follows its own rules. Its recovery could take time and its processes cannot be manipulated, he said.

"China has come to realize that the conservation of fishing resources is a continuous process, which calls for ever-enhanced and never-yielding protective efforts," Yang said.

Globally, three-quarters of the world's commercially important fish stocks are either over-exploited or heading that way, estimates the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.

Domestically, fishing resources have dwindled significantly due to years of over fishing and water pollution, said fishery experts.

Ministry of Agriculture reports indicate that China had nearly a quarter-million offshore fishing boats in 2000, more than four times as many as 20 years ago.

The annual size of the catch from China's longest river -- the Yangtze -- has dropped to 100,000 tons in recent years, less than one-fourth of what Yangtze River valley fishermen caught in 1954, the report said.

Stepping up from the "zero growth" offshore-fishing policy in place since 1999, the Chinese Government is determined to secure "negative growth" in offshore and inland-water fishing in 2002 and beyond, Yang said.

To achieve this, boats are being removed from the fishing fleet and affected fishermen are being transferred to other jobs, Yang said, adding that the development of aquaculture (fish farming) is another important facet.

With government subsidies, beginning this year China will take 6,000 fishing vessels out of operation each year for up to five years, and transfer 60,000 offshore fishermen to new jobs in aquatic breeding centers, processing plants and non-fishing sectors, Yang said.

Meanwhile, the country's aquaculture sector should be developed so that by the end of 2005, 67 percent of the country's aquatic output will swim out of the sector, he said.

China's offshore catch already shrank by 1.28 percent to 5.98 million tons in the first half of this year compared with the same period last year, the latest statistics from the ministry show.

Jim Harkness, chief representative of the World Wildlife Fund China, said aquaculture can reduce demand on wild fisheries, but also has negative environmental consequences such as water pollution and the destruction of coastal and wetland habitats.

(China Daily September 2, 2002)

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