EDF working with China to improve fisheries, aquaculture practices

China’s ongoing efforts to improve fisheries management have grabbed public attention, as millions of freshwater aquaculture cages continue to be removed from environmentally sensitive areas and a lengthier fishing moratorium in domestic waters is being more zealously enforced by Chinese authorities. But behind the scenes, fishery management officials and researchers are also collaborating with U.S. counterparts to improve fisheries policies and management systems.  

The country’s top fisheries research academy has enthusiastically worked with the U.S.-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to acquire knowledge on more sustainable management practices. To get a sense of how this collaboration is built and what results it’s delivering, SeafoodSource talked with EDF Marketing and Communications Senior Specialist Violet Zarriello about its ongoing work and the presence of EDF scientists at high-profile fisheries management conferences in China.

SeafoodSource: How did EDF find itself at the recent fisheries management conference in China – were you invited or sought out by the organizers?

Zarriello: Environmental Defense Fund has been working with the Chinese Academy of Fisheries Sciences for the past year-and-a-half or so to develop a program of research and capacity building focused on some of the biggest challenges and more forward-looking ideas in fisheries management and ocean conservation more broadly. In 2018, we ran a workshop on the effects of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture, which expanded this year into a larger conference on harmonizing seafood supply with biodiversity conservation. So, EDF is part of the core organizing team, alongside CAFS and FAO [Food and Agricultural Organization]. 

SeafoodSource: What were the key topics you spoke on at the recent conference?

Zarriello: Our chief oceans scientist, Doug Rader, spoke about techniques for ecological restoration that have been utilized across the three great estuaries of the U.S. Mid-Atlantic – Delaware Bay, Chesapeake Bay, and the Albemarle-Pamlico. The senior director of our oceans work in China, Jake Kritzer, spoke about [a] toolkit of approaches for managing numerous stocks in a multispecies fishery. He drew upon case studies considered in a workshop on multispecies management held last year in Fujian Province that we also helped to organize.

SeafoodSource: What were some of the most important learnings you took from your recent meetings in China?

Zarriello: An important motivation for the conference theme is the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity [CBD] being held next year in Kunming, China. It is very clear that China is working hard to assume strong leadership and bring innovative ideas into COP15 so that the next decade of the CBD can see greater success in meeting its targets than the one coming to a close. China recognizes that success will depend on a strong environmental ethic – encapsulated in the concept of “ecological civilization” that is increasingly permeating Chinese policy and consciousness – which is grounded in the practical realities of providing livelihoods and ensuring food security.

SeafoodSource: What kind of capacity or skills can you bring to China?

Zarriello: The EDF Oceans Program has decades of experience from around the world in supporting fisheries reform efforts through sound science, economic pragmatism, and novel partnerships. We approach our work from a systems perspective, working with elected officials, regulators, scientists, industry members, community leaders, and others who shape and are affected by policy decisions. China is a nation that places high value on technical proficiency and international experience, and we are able to channel both into the country’s fisheries management system, with the collaborative mind set needed to help adapt lessons learned for the Chinese context. The assets of our Oceans Program are paired with a Beijing-based China Program that has spent decades supporting environmental policy transitions in pollution management, carbon emissions, agricultural practices, and more. This combination of deep experience in the Chinese political, economic, and cultural contexts with diverse international experience in fisheries management is unique, as evidenced by the very positive reception we have received from a variety of institutions in China.

SeafoodSource: How do you see attitudes towards sustainability at the level of government and industry evolving in China's fisheries sector?

Zarriello: Like many nations, China went through a period of rampant development of fisheries in the mid-20th century, which led to overfishing and resource declines. China made some initial efforts at fisheries management reforms, but turned more to aquaculture as the future of its seafood supply. However, the limits of aquaculture production and its adverse impacts soon revealed themselves, causing China to revisit reforms of wild fisheries to create a more stable and balance portfolio of seafood supply. At the same time, a rising middle class was introducing new attitudes toward sustainability, and these factors culminated in an incredibly ambitious fisheries reform agenda being outlined in recent years. There are concerted efforts underway to learn from international experience, experiment with new approaches, invest in science and capacity building, and forge new partnerships. These are tangible evidence of the genuineness and momentum of the commitment.

SeafoodSource: What kind of collaboration is China (at government or industry level) seeking with organizations like yours?

Zarriello:  As discussed earlier, China seeks technical proficiency and international experience in shaping policy reforms, which are particularly important assets of EDF.

SeafoodSource: How would you compare the state of fisheries and ocean protection in China compared to the U.S. in terms of policy and enforcement?

Zarriello: When Chinese officials visit the U.S., they applaud the progress we have made in reforming our fisheries, while noting how far China seems from building such a system. Yet, they recognize that the U.S. system has been decades in the making, and there was a time when we did not have strong provisions for science-based management, habitat protection, risk-averse approaches, improved monitoring and other elements of our success. The two countries are in very different places right now in terms of the economic and ecological status of fisheries and the types of practices in place, but China is adopting the right types of policies to start moving them on a trajectory similar to the one U.S. fisheries have followed.

SeafoodSource: When will you return to China or Asia and how will you continue to work with your associates or partners there?

Zarriello: [Rader and Kritzer] will both travel to Japan in November to meet with our staff and partners there. EDF has a variety of U.S.-based staff with diverse expertise who regular travel to China for a variety of objectives. These include collaboration on biological and economics research projects, capacity building activities, partnership building, policy advising, and more.

SeafoodSource: Where do you see the greatest impact to be made by increased collaboration between China and the U.S. or E.U. on fisheries conservation?

Zarriello: When countries with the resources and influence of China, the U.S., and E.U. work together on priority challenges, the scale of what can be achieved rises dramatically and the rest of the world pays attention. Demonstrating success across a wide range of fisheries, inspiring other nations that change is possible, and actively building momentum toward those changes can move country-by-country reforms in fisheries management toward a global tipping point through these sorts of collaborations.

Photo courtesy of EDF


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