Yellow Sea Large Marine Ecosystem (YSLME) Video on Enabling the Return of Fish Species in the Yellow Sea

Over-exploitation of marine living resources is one of the primary environmental concerns in the Yellow Sea, resulting to low value and depleted fish stocks. This phenomenon signals a number of underlying causes and multiple pressures facing the fisheries sector and industries in the Yellow Sea region.

As early as 2009, PR China and RO Korea adopted the Strategic Action Programme (SAP) of the Yellow Sea Large Marine Ecosystem (YSLME). Based on the concept of ecosystem carrying capacity, the YSLME SAP has set management actions and targets to be achieved by 2020. In particular, to restore fisheries resources and rebuild marine living resources, the SAP identified two key targets and supporting management actions:

Target 1: 25-30% reduction in fishing effort Management Action 1-1: Control fishing boat numbersManagement Action 1-2: Stop fishing in certain areas/seasons

Management Action 1-3: Monitor and assess stock fluctuations

Target 2: Rebuilding of over-exploited marine living resources Management Action 2-1: Increase mesh sizeManagement Action 2-2: Enhance stocks

Management Action 2-3: Improve fisheries management

To achieve these SAP targets, the GEF/UNDP YSLME Phase II Project set on course a number of measures in support of the collaborative efforts of its member countries, China and RO Korea.

In particular, the following initiatives have been put in place with a number of significant results already being observed:

Target 1- Management Action 1-1:

  • Reduction of fishing vessels

In China, the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) has set a national target to reduce 20,000 fishing vessels with a total capacity of 1.5 million KW and reduce fishing landings by 15%. Based on China Fisheries Yearbook, the number of motored fishing vessels has been reduced from the baseline of 54,068 in 2015 to 42,182 in 2018, with a total reduction of 11,886 in the provinces of Liaoning, Shandong and Jiangsu in the Yellow Sea area, representing a 22% reduction.

In the case of RO Korea, according to the Five-Year Plan for Reducing Fishing Vessels in Littoral Seas (2014-2018, and 2019-2023), a total of 4,413 vessels will be reduced by 2023 based on the baseline year of 2013 (45,598 vessels). A reduction of 2,315 vessels is targeted under Phase I (2014-2018). Monitoring by RO Korea have shown a reduction in the number of fishing vessels in the Yellow Sea from 26,439 in 2011 to 21,929 in 2017, representing a 17% reduction.

Target 1- Management Action 1-2:

  • Enforcement of seasonal fishing closures

An effectiveness assessment on fishing closures carried out by the Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute (YSFRI) in China, showed that the strict fishing closure issued by the Bureau of Fisheries of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA) in the Bohai Sea and Yellow Sea for four months north of 35oN and 4.5 months south of 35oN have resulted to increase in catch per unit effort (CPUE) from 40.95kg/h in August 2016 to 48.51kg/h in August 2017, representing an increase of 18.4%. While in RO Korea, a comprehensive no-fishing season for all fishery resources is put into effect from April 1 to October 31 in certain seas, such as Gunsan and Buan in Jeollabuk-do.

Target 1- Management Action 1-3:

  • Conduct of stock assessment or fishery resource surveys

In China, the Guidelines in stock enhancement were issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA). Monitoring and assessing of stock fluctuations were carried out by taking into consideration changes in biomass yields, changes in species composition and trophic level, and changes in biodiversity. Based on study conducted in China, there was no significant decline in biomass, trophic level and biodiversity of fishery resources in the Yellow Sea since the 1980s, however, the dominant species changed from demersal, higher value species (1958-1959 to 1998-2000) to pelagic, lower value species (1998- 2000 to 2014-2015).

Since 2006, RO Korea has strengthened its standards for spatio-temporal surveys of fishery

Resources. Over the years, the geographic scope of the country’s resource survey has expanded and the number of target fish species designated for restoration increased to 16 species as of 2017 data.

The China-Korea Joint Stock Enhancement Program (2018) also provides a good beginning to further strengthen regional collaboration on the conservation of fishery resources in the Yellow Sea.

Target 2- Management Action 2-1:

  • Limiting mesh size

In 2018, MARA of China announced the limit of catchable size of 15 commercial fishery species and the limit of their juveniles and young fish proportion in the total catch. The proportion of these species in the catch should not be beyond 50%, 30% and 20% in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. Based on 2020 standards, the proportion of juvenile fish in the catch should not be beyond 20% after 2020.

In RO Korea, the Enforcement Decree of the Fisheries Act stipulates the size of mesh that is prohibited by fishing type. In particular, the use of properly sized nets for fishing areas takes into consideration the external factors of change by adjusting the size depending on the amount of resources and environmental changes.

 Target 2- Management Action 2-2:

  • Enhancing fish stock through innovative programs (i.e., marine ranching; artificial reefs; fish fry release; marine forestation; and license system)

In terms of marine ranching through artificial reef, in China three groups of marine ranches with a total of 64 operations have been piloted by MARA in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea in 2017. In RO Korea, a total of 36 marine ranches have been established including in the Yellow Sea area. Based on exchange visits conducted in both countries in 2019 (Fuhan, Haiyang, Hailufeng in China, and Jeju and Gunsan in RO Korea) it was confirmed that marine ranching through artificial reef is cost effective, providing 5 to 6 times return of investment.

 Target 2- Management Action 2-3:

  • Improving fisheries management through Total Allowable Catch (TAC)

Currently, RO Korea applies TAC system to 11 species with 70 TAC observers, while PR China piloted the system in 2017 starting with two species. The application of TAC in RO Korea has shown a decreasing trend in exhaustion rate since 2011, meaning that fishery catches have not been exceeding the allowable catch. In the case of China, the target is for total catch in China’s coastal waters to be no more than 10 million tons in 2020, while the proportion of reducing catch in each province is not lower than 23.6% of that in 2015. In both countries, the Swimming Crab (Portunus trituberculatus) is under TAC, providing an ideal example for learning in application of TAC to improve management effectiveness of fish stocks.

 Implementation of Social Safeguards

Apart from the aforementioned actions, to compensate for the effects of reduction of fishing vessels to fishermen’s livelihood, the YSLME Phase II Project has also implemented social safeguards and intervened by way of vocational skills training. In 2019 for instance, through a collaboration with Yantai University and YSFRI, 207 fishermen were given occupational training in marine ranching and recreational fishery, with 54 trainees certified on marine ranching and recreational fishery safety, 69 certified on recreational fishing guide, and 84 certified as marine ranching technical manager.

 Remaining Challenges

The combination of these various initiatives implemented in China and RO Korea have contributed significantly to recovery of fish stocks as well as to fishermen’s revenue. However, several challenges still remain, including: (1) the observed increase in horsepower of marine capture fishing vessels and the need for continued efforts in reduction in fishing efforts; (2) the decreasing trend of catch per unit effort (CPUE) in the Yellow Sea; (3) derelict discard of fishing gears and nets; and (4) inadequate representation and effectiveness in conservation of the spawning, nursery and wintering grounds. Adaptive management will be applied and responded in the update and implementation of the SAP/YSLME (2020-2030).

Meeting Regional and Global Targets

Based on the results of the initiatives and innovations undertaken in support of YSLME SAP’s objective to sustain the provisioning services of the Yellow Sea, the region was able to achieve its YSLME Phase II Project target of 5 percent improvement in catch per unit effort (CPUE) by 2020. Through the SAP implementation, the Yellow Sea countries are also able to contribute in meeting its international commitments, particularly the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The undertakings on SAP Targets 1 and 2, directly contribute and impact on SDG14.4 on Sustainable Fishing, and provide instrumental contributions to SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 2 (Zero Hunger and Food Security), SDG9 (Industry innovation and infrastructure), and SDG 12 (Sustainable production and consumption).

In line with the continuing efforts to restore the ecosystem carrying capacity and restore healthy fish stocks in the Yellow Sea, YSLME Phase II Project is launching an information video entitled, “Restoring the Ecosystem Carrying Capacity and Enabling the Return of Fish Species in the Yellow Sea” with the aim to increase awareness of the status of fisheries in the Yellow Sea, showcase the progress being made on reduction and stocking efforts through stakeholder feedback, and to build more support on advancing sustainable fisheries in the region under its shared vision in the future.


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