The competition for the growing demand of seafood has led to a severe depletion of the world’s fisheries and marine organisms. Part of this is due to warming ocean temperatures, but it is mostly caused by wasteful and inefficient fishing practices. A 2006 Science study has estimated a complete collapse of global fisheries by 2050. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, 52% of the world’s marine fish stocks are fully exploited, 17% are fully exploited, and 7% have collapsed. Only 23% of fisheries have room for any kind of sustainable growth, leading to a scramble over remaining hunting ground. Fishermen have resorted to illegal fishing off the coasts of foreign countries, creating a competition between China and its neighbors in East and Southeast Asia. Those rocky islands in the South China Sea you keep hearing about that everyone is fighting over? That is valuable fishing territory. It is so valuable that conflict has escalated between Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese fishermen, one of the several reasons the South China Sea has escalated into regional tensions.
It is vital to Chinese national and economic interests to have a steady supply of food. China alone consumes over a third of the world’s seafood supply, at 50 million tonnes a year, followed by Japan and the United States, who consume roughly 7 million tonnes each. Even though 70% of China’s fishing supply is farm based, the burgeoning middle class prefer wild catches, such as sea cucumber, tuna and so forth. With over a billion citizens, and the largest middle class population on Earth, China has a more profound impact on marine life and than its neighbors or OECD counterparts, and can thus rise as a leader in sustainable seafood production.
Source: The Guardian UK
Although the United States must also work on implementing more sustainable seafood regulations and practices, our population isn’t growing exponentially as the rest of the world. The Asian continent is expected to reach a population total of 5.2 billion by 2050, accounting for slightly over half of the global population and the entire food supply. Individuals highly dependent upon marine organisms for protein, as the majority who reside on the Asian continent are, may become priced out from such products, even farmed raised, as a pending collapse would lead to a surge in pricing. Such an event would be detrimental to the food security of the region.
OK, so you’re asking yourself why I’m discussing such an issue on a Human Security themed blog. Well, seafood is highly critical for the food security of East Asia. It is the main source of protein throughout East and Southeast Asia, meaning unaffordable (and eventually non-existent) staple seafood products can lead to a severe nutritional deficit. After all, China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are not exactly geographically conducive to cultivating mass livestock production. Beef and chicken are imported from trade partners like Brazil, Australia, the U.S., Paraguay, India and others. The ocean provides a large source of cheap, nutritious protein for several billion individuals.
Oceans are interconnected, and the fact that Chinese fishermen are fishing well away from China’s coastlines signifies the fact that an effort must be made in regulating fish production and promoting sustainable fishing and aquaculture. Earlier this month, an Argentinian coast guard ship sunk a Chinese fishing vessel that was illegally trespassing in its waters, leading to diplomatic tensions. Similar incidents have occurred in East Africa and even Indonesia, where Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti has demanded the Chinese government curb illegal trawling off Indonesian coastlines. The Indonesian government has claimed losses of $20 billion from illegal fishing USD, and has began to deploy its limited naval forces to prevent encroachment in hopes of growing its maritime sector.
Despite consumer preference in marine seafood products, the environment can no longer sustain the sheer quantity of organisms that are already buckling under the pressures of environmental change. If there is no considerable effort made to promote sustainable aquaculture (and aquaculture is by no means a perfect solution), the majority of individuals across East Asia will be priced out of staple protein. Instead of looking at this issue as just one of the many catastrophic environmental issues we face today, it can be an opportunity for policymakers and business leaders to create cost-effective solutions to mutually benefit consumers, governments and businesses. Overfishing and encroaching into maritime territory is not an effective solution for any nation; instead, leaders across Asia must look at developing long-term solutions to ensure that it will be able to feed generations to come without compromising the entirety of the world’s oceans.