Fish catches also suffered a steep decline of 75 percent in the past two decades.
According to the CSIS, increasing tensions in the East Sea are putting critical habitat at risk.
It said China has spent billions of USD to strengthen its fishing vessel fleet, and in 2018, some 7.2 billion USD was splashed out for Chinese fishermen to ensure that they can go on long offshore fishing trips in the waters.
Fierce disputes in the East Sea intensify competition among fishermen, and the resulting scramble for fish inflames the disputes. In the disputed waters, fishermen of China’s neighbouring countries have been driven nearer to their shores, forcing fish prices to increase.
Director of China Ocean Institute Tabitha Mallory has reportedly insisted China has a huge advantage over its neighbours such as the Philippines, as it is able to dodge certain fishing regulations.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, she revealed one of the things China does is to dodge some of the resrictions that host countries put on foreign fishing vessels by registering its fleet in another country.
She quoted a recent report as saying that up to 1,000 fishing vessels operating this way are actually owned by China.
Meanwhile, Professor John McManus from the US University of Miami said fish population in the East Sea has been overexploited and driven to near the red line, while China has been the world’s top fish catcher and one of the world’s biggest sponsor for offshore fishing vessels.
Encompassing 1.4 million square miles, the South China Sea is of critical economic, military, and environmental significance: Some $5.3 trillion in international trade plies its waters annually. It is richer in biodiversity than nearly any other marine ecosystem on the planet, and its fish provide food and jobs for millions of people in the 10 surrounding countries and territories.
The South China Sea is one of the world’s most important fisheries, employing more than 3.7 million people and generating billions of dollars every year. But after decades of free-for-all fishing, stocks are dwindling, threatening the food security and economic growth of the rapidly developing nations that rely on them.
China asserts a right to almost the entire sea. It has demarcated a broad, U-shaped area that it says has historically been China’s but that under international law includes the waters of other nations (see map). Every other country in the South China Sea dispute, including the Philippines, bases its claims on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the international pact that defines maritime zones and first went into effect in 1994.
When coastal waters became depleted, many fishermen were forced to venture beyond national limits and into disputed areas to make a living. Meanwhile China began bolstering its claims by aggressively supporting its fishermen. It has consolidated the coast guard, militarized fishing fleets, and promoted its subsidies for fuel and better boats. There’s even a subsidy specifically for Chinese fishermen to work the waters around the contested Spratly Islands, more than 500 miles to the south of China’s southernmost point (a port on the island of Hainan).
As it now stands, the South China Sea’s most important resource—its fish—is disappearing, and countries are either passively standing by or actively encouraging their fishermen to take more./.