Chinese Coastal Communities Making Progress in Conservation Area Stewardship and Promoting Sustainable Fisheries

We implement our work in China through close partnerships with a leading local NGO named Qingdao Marine Conservation Society (QMCS) — which was established with technical support from O2. This update from our partners at QMCS highlights the work we are doing on the ground to improve small-scale fisheries and conservation outcomes along the coastline of the Yellow Sea.

Project Overview

Langya Township is one of the most representative small-scale fisheries along the coastline of Qingdao, a major seafood hub on the North central coast of China near the Yellow Sea. Fishers in the village have been fishing in their traditional fishing grounds for generations, with fishing skills passed down from family to family. As fishery resources have been declining over the past decades, local fishers have had to increase their fishing efforts and turn to fishing methods with lower selectivity. This has threatened biodiversity in the waters surrounding Langya. A few years ago, Japanese Seahorse (Hippocampus Mohnikei), a small yet fascinating marine fish species, was discovered in Langya’s waters. All Hippocampus species are currently under the protection of national legislation, but are frequently caught as bycatch from unsustainable fishing methods, especially from bottom trawling, one of the less selective fishing methods commonly used by local fishers.

Small-Scale Fisheries Coastal Communities China Langya fishing vessels headed out to fish on the first day after the 2021 summer fishing moratorium. © QMCS

Acknowledging that seahorses were being accidentally caught, a group of local fishers stepped up to protect these ecologically valuable marine creatures — the group called themselves the Blue Bay Guardians (BBG). For years the BBG have been regularly patrolling seahorse habitats, and persuading fishing vessels to avoid working in these areas, creating a growing awareness of bycatch issues and voluntary conservation efforts of local fishers.

Funded by the Small Grants Project of Global Environmental Facility under the United Nations Development Programme in China, QMSC broke ground on a project in April 2021 called “Stewarding Coastal Community-Conserved Areas and Promoting Sustainable Fisheries in Langya Township, Qingdao Municipality” to promote the awareness of sustainable fisheries among fishing communities in the region. The project explores the co-management paradigm of China’s offshore community protected areas, as an example of other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs). Additionally, QMCS is working with local fishers who are key partners in the management of offshore communities and sustainable fisheries.

Small-Scale Fisheries Coastal Communities China Collecting dockside catch monitoring and sampling provide data help to inform management and conservation strategies. © QMCS

Through cooperation with the BBG, QMCS plans to better understand the current status of the fishery and its impacts by determining catch composition through dockside monitoring, observing protected species interactions, and formally mapping the whereabouts of core seahorse habitats. In order to involve more fishers in developing a co-management plan, QMCS provides themed training sessions to raise conservation awareness, recruit new BBG members and introduce fishery improvement opportunities. In addition, QMCS intends to draw public and government attention to Langya’s fishing communities by promoting and disseminating local ecological and fishery knowledge.

As part of the project and in close collaboration with the BBG, QMCS will systematically provide technical support in science, policy and management to assist these fishing communities by strengthening demarcation of protected marine areas, management capacity and marine biodiversity conservation, as well as promoting social and economic development. If successful, this project strategy provides a replicable model for sustainable fisheries and conservation efforts in the Yellow Sea.

Small-Scale Fisheries Coastal Communities China Catch sampling classification from Langya fisheries harvest. © QMCS

Small-Scale Fisheries Coastal Communities China College students conducting a sampling analysis, identifying species such as Rapana venosa, Octopus ocellatus and Corythoichthys schultzi. © QMCS

Project Achievements

Since the launch of the project in April 2021, QMCS have helped the BBG to update their regulation framework and patrol log template. After distributing the revised log, a total of 100 patrols were taken by 10 fishing captains who are BBG members. Meanwhile, a dozen catch sampling analyses have been conducted and species composition documented, including species with both high and low economic value. Three training sessions, focusing respectively on the concept of sustainable fisheries, case studies on small-scale fisheries around the world, and sustainable supply chains of aquatic products, were held separately during the fishing moratorium and winter season with approximately 100 attendees. In August 2022, QMCS cooperated with Duke Kunshan University and provided guidance to the trainees of the Blue Pioneers Program for the field research at the project site. Professional photographers have made several visits to the Langya docks and neighboring villages to record and showcase local fishing culture and local small-scale fishing communities and the improvement work they are undertaking.

Small-Scale Fisheries Coastal Communities China The first training session for fishers in June 2021 focused on the introduction of sustainable fisheries. © Blue Bay Guardians

Small-Scale Fisheries Coastal Communities China The second training session for fishers in January 2022, showcasing the practices of sustainable small-scale fisheries and some insightful cases around the world. © QMCS

Small-Scale Fisheries Coastal Communities China Helping BBG members organize fishery documents and data. © QMCS

Small-Scale Fisheries Coastal Communities China Fishing community representative Mr. Liu Shujie presenting their patrol flag at the third training session for fishers in June 2022. © QMCS

Small-Scale Fisheries Coastal Communities China QMCS provides guidance to the trainees of the Blue Pioneers Program for field research. © QMCS

Future Work

The project continues to progress as planned — in 2023, with fresh long-term support from funders including the Zhilan Foundation, the Oak Foundation, the Packard Foundation and Oceans Five, the joint team of BBG and QMCS will continue analyzing catch composition and collecting fishery data. Relying on the summarized catch composition data as a baseline for future improvement, fishing gear improvement trials will be conducted to test the effectiveness and sustainable performance of different types of nets (e.g. changing the shape of the mesh from rhombus to square in order to improve size selectivity and reduce mortality of juveniles and small species.) Another themed training session will be held for local fishery stakeholders, with content adapted according to feedback from the previous sessions. Additionally, the QMCS team will work closely with the fishing community to conduct ecological, social and economic research, while recording their local culture through photography.

Small-Scale Fisheries Coastal Communities China Dockside monitoring of gear and catch will help to inform subsequent trial use of alternative, more sustainable gear types. © QMCS

Small-Scale Fisheries Coastal Communities China Preparation for fishing gear improvement trials. © QMCS

Small-Scale Fisheries Coastal Communities China Preparation for fishing gear improvement trials. © QMCS

IYAFA 2022 and Our Efforts in China

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2022 the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (IYAFA 2022). IYAFA 2022 highlights small-scale fishers, fish farmers, and fish workers around the world and their contributions to human health and wellbeing, healthy food systems, and poverty eradication through the responsible and sustainable use of fisheries and aquaculture resources.

At the beginning of 2022, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs issued the 14th Five-Year Plan for National Fishery Development. This document showcases the many challenges as well as new opportunities facing Chinese fisheries. The development of sustainable fisheries in China, especially recovering offshore fishery resources, cannot be achieved without the participation and co-management of fishing communities. QMCS and O2 support IYAFA 2022 so that small-scale fishers, fish farmers and fish workers can be fully recognized and empowered. By adopting more sustainable fishing gear and practices, and implementing inclusive and comprehensive management tools, fishers can greatly contribute to the conservation of marine biodiversity and key marine habitats, as well as the sustainable development of the blue economy, thereby playing an indispensable role in the modernization of global fisheries governance.

To learn more about QMCS’s work, please see QMCS’s 2021 annual report here.