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Tuatara: Volume 1, Issue 2, May 1948

Fishing Industry in China

page 13

Fishing Industry in China


A sojourn of six months studying the fisheries of China hardly fits one to write extensively on the subject. This account must, therefore, be at best very incomplete and unbalanced.

The Chinese fishing industry was prior to World War II the fourth largest in the world based on landed catches (2,890 million pounds). Approximately two-thirds of the total catch consisted of marine species, the remainder being taken from the extensive fresh-water fisheries of the interior. In common with many of the Eastern countries such as Philippines, Malaya, Japan and Formosa, China has vast subsistence fisheries, i.e., fishing units supplying food for a restricted group of families who operate the gear. None of the supplies from these groups reach the market but the total catch taken annually by them is gigantic. The concentration of subsistence fishing by almost every known primitive method is so heavy in some areas as to cause a fish conservationist to wonder how the stocks are replenished. Some sections of the coastline for mile upon mile have traps set out into the water every 50 yards and stretching out up to half-a-mile. In many rivers traps and set-nets are so numerous that navigation is definitely hazardous. The production of the area has been maintained at a very high level despite this intensive fishing, and indicates a high rate of successful reproduction and a good food supply.

Although the equipment is primitive judged by western standards, the extensive units engaged in the industry compensate for the inadequacy of the gear. The catch per man-hour is low.

Damage due to the Sino-Japanese war was heavy and was further intensified by the Allied attacks on the occupied ports of China. Fishing junks were not permitted to put to sea and deteriorated rapidly. An interesting problem arises in this connection. Junks from many of the ports find anchorage in the mouths of the rivers and the constant movement to and from sea-water to fresh-water prevents the depredations of the marine borers so prevalent in those waters. This prolongs the life of the junks. Actual bomb damage to junks and powered fishing vessels was heavy in some ports. In Shanghai, for instance, approximately 12 powered trawlers were operating prior to the war. In 1946 only 2 were left, these were in a delapidated condition and although used by the Chinese, were really not sea-worthy.

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The UNRRA programme of relief for China gave special emphasis to the rehabilitation of the fishing industry. Protein from fish was regarded as one of the urgently needed requirements of China for it must be remembered that other sources of protein are not plentiful. The whole fishing industry had reached a very low ebb. Approximately 60% of the fishing junks were either destroyed or inoperable. It was generally agreed that this economic unit in the fishing industry should be restored as soon as possible. At the same time it was realised that more rapid relief was needed for China's hungry people, and the only way this could be provided was by modern powered fishing vessels.

The whole relief and rehabilitation programme had to fit into the economic structure of the fishing industry, and this has not been achieved without a great deal of difficulty. Assistance was given to the Chinese fishing co-operatives (guilds, unions, etc.), in kind and in money to rebuild and repair 50,000 fishing junks. Fish processing plants and ice and refrigeration plants were brought to China to assist in the distribution plans. Some 200 powered fishing trawlers were purchased for the off-shore fishing fleet. These latter were for use on the fishing banks beyond the reach of the fishing junks. It must here be emphasized that any new fishing methods which interfere with the junk fleet will seriously upset the balance of the industry.

Description of the Fishing

My general remarks must be confined to the Yellow and East China Seas. These are among the richest fishing areas in the world, and the island group (Chusan Islands) at the mouth of Hangchow Bay are the centre of vast operations. In addition, the rivers and the net work of lakes (including Tai Lake) just inland from Shanghai, and especially the pond cultures, supply great quantities of fresh-water fish. The culture of fresh-water fish in the rice paddies is fairly well known to most biologists. Fry are hatched in specially prepared ponds and are sold to farmers.

The tremendous catch of fish from these areas is masked to a certain extent by the fact that the bulk of the fishing is for subsistence purposes as mentioned earlier.

The rather costly fresh-water fish produced locally tends to move to the cities and the dried and salt water fish from the coast to replace it in the rural areas. Owing to the primitive facilities aboard the junks and the fact that they are propelled by wind the fish has to be salted or dried as caught. Comparatively little fresh salt-water fish reaches the market. For instance a junk may take up to a week to beat up the Yangtze River to Shanghai from the fishing grounds at the mouth, depending on the winds and tides.

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The volume of the salt water catch was, during the pre-war years, highly irregular, and prices fluctuated widely both from year to year and during the year. The development of steam trawling and other improvements in the industry were discouraged for this reason. Piracy on the seas and rivers, a highly restrictive guild monopoly system, unfavourable tax and credit policies and intrusion by the Japanese, all served to keep production low. It seemed evident that by the expedients of rational organization and policing, the sea catch could be increased considerably over the pre-war volume provided vessels and other facilities were available.

Although some fishing was carried on throughout the year the major sea hauls were taken during spring (April-June) and early summer. Salted and dried fish prepared during this period serves to extend the season. The fresh-water fisheries supplement the autumn and winter shortages.

The introduction of western type powered fishing vessels to the area was a most interesting experiment. The Yellow Sea and East China Sea are comparatively shallow for very great distances from the coast. Fishing banks exist far beyond the range of the wind-operated junk, and although these had been fished by the Japanese in pre-war days they were not now permitted to operate on them. The 100 fathom line in the East China Sea is approximately 400 miles east of the mouth of the Yangtze River. To us in New Zealand with our narrow Continental Shelf this wide fertile area offers wonderful prospects for seining and trawling. Much of the area needed surveying, and it was fortunate that most of the vessels sent under the United Nations programme to China were equipped with depth recording gear and ship to shore and shore to ship radio receiving equipment. Vessels working in concert can cover likely sea bed quickly and locate productive fishing grounds. In addition all vessels were equipped to carry crushed ice and land their catches fresh in the markets. These innovations presented the Chinese with immediate marketing problems, and these took time to overcome.

During my period at sea some isolated observations of the fishing areas may be of interest.

My journeyings took me many times out of the port of Shanghai, into the Yellow Sea, off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, around the Chusan Islands and south to the north coast of Formosa. The population of screeching sea-birds normally following a fishing vessel were nowhere in sight. Only an occasional sea bird was seen.

Surface fish were not in evidence at this time of the year. It was not until I reached the area near the Pescadores Islands (centre of vast herring fisheries) that the shoals of surface fish were seen.

The bottom over very large areas was covered with a thin layer of mud, particularly around the mouth of the Yangtze River. Coral page 16 was encountered in the southern areas of the East China sea, particularly to the north-east of Formosa.

Fishing Areas and Types Caught

The Gulf of Chihli, Yellow Sea, East China Sea, Formosan waters and the Pescadores all yield enormous catches of fish. The bulk of the fishing is demersal—only that in the Pescadores being for pelagic types.

Little is known of the problems of the area. The life-history of the main food fishes, the migrations, spawning habits, growth, etc., are a virgin field for study. The Chinese have only a handful of trained biologists who cannot hope to undertake more than a fraction of the work the area presents.

Some of the problems are indicated in the following brief account of the main types of fish caught on the area.

Marine Fishes

Pseudoscianea crocea. Rich. (Big croaker) Taken April-June round Chefoo-Weihaiwei coastline and September-December around Chusan Islands and south to Foochow. Definite migration in summer from north to south and reverse in winter. Bottom feeding fish. Forms one of principal food fishes. Not unlike a cod in shape. Taken with seines (hauled between two junks), gill net, set lines and stake nets.

Pseudoscianea undovittata. Jordan and Seale. (Small croaker.) Also called yellow croaker. Information as for P. crocea.

Nebia ming Basil and N. albiflora. Rich. Also croakers but taken in less numbers than the two above.

Trichiurus japonicus. Temm and Schl. (Hairtail.) This fish is taken May-September on the north coast and October-March on the east and south coasts. It is a semi-demersal type. A laterally compressed fish, no scales, tail fin modified into long hair like appendage—hence name. Not unlike our Barracouta in some respects. Taken by lines and trawls and highly prized by Chinese. One UNRRA powered fishing trawler took 100,000 lbs. of this fish in 36 hours' fishing in 20 fathoms water near Taichow.

Ilisha elongata. Bennett. (White herring.) The season varies from August-September on the north coast to November-May on the east and south coast. The fish was not seen in shoals on the surface. Some quantities were taken at times in trawls up to 25 fathoms. A large flat sided herring.

Pampus argenteus Bloch and P. cinereus. (Pomfret.) This is a common food fish in the area around the Chusan Islands and taken in trawls and set lines. A demersal feeder it is taken all the year round. In shape it resembles our Trevally.

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Sepiella japonica, Sepia exulenta (Cuttlefish), Squalus spp. (Sharks); Raja spp. (Rays) form a very large proportion of the total catch and although relatively rarely utilized in New Zealand are highly prized in the Chinese diet. Other types of fish taken in smaller quantities include the following:

Red pargo and Sea Breams:

Pagrosomus major Temm and Schl.

Sparus macrocephalus Basil.

Sparus latus Houttuyn.

(Closely allied to our schnapper).


Anguilla japonica Temm and Schl.


Scomberomorus japonicus Temm and Schl.

S. guttatus. Bl. Schn.

(I did not have the opportunity of investigating the extensive run of tuna reported in the Kuro Siwa current off the east coast of Formosa.)

Soles and Flounders:

Cynoglossus abbreviatus Gray.

C. macrolepidotus Bleeker.

Zebrias zebra Bloch.

Verasper variegatus Temm and Schl.

The nature of the bottom would indicate much larger catches of these fish than was achieved by the powered vessels. Modification of fishing gear, etc., are being investigated.


Neptunus pelagicus L.

Charybdis crucifera Fabr.


Peneus carinatus Dana.

P. japonicus Bate.

These are extensively taken in the spring and summer of the year by beam trawls and hand nets.

Fresh-water fishes:

River and lake catches of carp are the most important and are maintained throughout the year. Great river fisheries of other species occur in the Tsien Tang River in April to June, and again from August to November. Pond cultures are another supply source which continues to produce during the season when the salt-water fisheries are slack.

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The following are the main types:

White fish—Culter brevicauda.

Golden carp—Cyprinus auratus.

Shad—Helsa reevesii.

Silver carp—Hypophthalmichthys molitrix.

Grass carp—Mylopharyngodon aethiops.

Carp—Cyprinus carpie.

Eel—Fluta alba.


The future productivity of the whole area must be planned with the help of fisheries biologists. Vast resources remain untapped, and while the East remains in want the development of this area must be pressed ahead. China needs trained technical and scientific assistance and a co-ordinated plan is now being formulated and brought into operation by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. The world shortage of trained fisheries biologists will be one of the main factors in hampering progress.