Feb 16, 2019 05:10 PM

Photo Essay: No Country for Fishermen

Two elderly women work on a small piece of farmland near a thermal power plant in Kecuo village in Quanzhou, Fujian province, on Nov. 13. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin
Two elderly women work on a small piece of farmland near a thermal power plant in Kecuo village in Quanzhou, Fujian province, on Nov. 13. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin

If you live by the sea, you make a living from the sea — or so the Chinese saying goes.

Fishing is an old industry in China. For thousands of years, coastal people have made a living off the water.

As of 2016, 59.6 million people worldwide were working in the fishing and aquaculture industry, according to the latest official data available. Of every four fishers in the world, one is from China.

The country is the largest consumer and producer of aquatic products, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. China’s marine fishery production and inland water fishery production in 2016 both ranked first in the world. China is also a major producer and exporter of aquaculture, accounting for 61.5% of all the farmed edible fish in the world.

Yet, as China urbanizes, it has grown harder and harder for fishers to hold on to their lifestyle — and their livelihood.

Rivers, shoals and swaths of sea have been swallowed up by industrial developments up and down the coast, posing a threat to the environment. Older fishers have been forced to come ashore to make a living.

China’s central government has made the environment a priority, but many Chinese fishing villages are a shadow of what they used to be.

According to a Dec. 24 report by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, nearly one-tenth of China’s harbors are heavily polluted.

In addition, years of overfishing have depleted fish stocks. The government stepped up fishing bans, but that made it even tougher for fishers to get by.

All these changes beg the question of what will happen to China’s fishers as their traditional lifestyle evaporates.


As a result of land reclamation for industry, Kecuo’s original coastline has been pushed forward nearly 500 meters (1,640 feet). It used to be an excellent harbor that could accommodate hundreds of fishing boats. But once a thermal power plant was built nearby, the harbor became surrounded by factories for construction materials, chemicals and asphalt. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin


On the coast in Xiaocuo village in Quanzhou’s Quangang district, the government organized villagers to clean up trash on the shore that had been chemically contaminated. A week before the photo was taken on Nov. 11, the pipeline for the nearby Donggang petrochemical pier suffered an accident, allowing nearly seven tons of chemicals to spill into the water. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin


A 63-year-old fisherman, Tang Lirong, gathers clams on Dec. 6 from a pond in Sanyan village in Leqing, Zhejiang province. In 1984, in response to a national call to do so, the village developed its tidal flats into salt pools, but then redeveloped them as ponds for aquaculture. The constant expansion of nearby industrial parks in recent years has gradually pushed local farmers to turn to the sea to make a living. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin


Six months since the nearby industrial park called off production, the quality of the water near this crab farm in in Guanyun county, Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, has gradually recovered. The photo was taken on Dec. 14. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin


A boat carries a catch of hairy clams on Dec. 14 to Yanweigang Pier. For generations, the residents of Yanweigang, the only coastal town in Guanyun county earned a living from fishing. Yet overfishing and pollution have caused the stocks of sea life near the town to dwindle. Fishers had to go farther and farther out on the water to make a living, sundering the village’s once rich fishing culture. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin


Xie Chunhong, a 63-year-old fisherman, still makes his living on the water, residing on his boat. His boat sits next to the chimney of a paper mill in the town of Fuqiao, Tangcang, Jiangsu province, on Dec. 10. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin


Only eight families of fishers still live on the once lively Liu River in Fuqiao. This woman’s family is one of them. Her brother-in-law, Guo Liang, has five sons — all of whom are all fishermen. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin


Chen Jiayou visits the place where he once moored his boat on Dec. 9 in Fuqiao. The former fisherman got into the internet business after giving up on fishing in 2012. Before that, he lived on his boat for almost 20 years. His home ashore is more comfortable, but he still misses the life he once had on the water, unreliable but free. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin

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