Japan, South Korea, China Fishing Disputes: Could U.S. Trade Policy Help Restore Fisheries?
Stoa debaters who researched the marine natural resources topic will find some familiar stories in fishing disputes between China, Japan, and South Korea.
This February 15, 2015 Bloomberg News article, “How Two Small Rocks Stop Japan and South Korea Getting Along“
The Sea of Japan rocks have been controlled by South Korea since 1954. None of the 1,200 fishermen on Okinoshima, the nearest inhabited Japanese island, have ever been there. While the territorial tensions can ebb and flow, a more nationalistic government in Tokyo and media reports highlighting the dispute have again brought Okinoshima into the public eye.
U.S. officials argue that ongoing Japanese/South Korean disputes over the island only benefit China and North Korea. But nationalism is a trump card for both Japanese and South Korean officials, and memories of the brutal thirty-five year Japanese occupation of Korea still survive. This thoughtful essay explains some of this history: “My Korean Grandmother’s Memories of the Japanese Occupation and the Korean War.”
The ongoing fishing dispute is generally overshadowed by trade, foreign direct investment, and tourism between Japan and South Korea. From Bloomberg News:
Warmer government ties could give a boost to economic links. South Korea and Japan are already each others’ third-largest trading partner after China and the U.S., with two-way trade of $95.9 billion in 2013, down from $104.9 billion in 2012. About 2.8 million South Koreans visited Japan last year, a rise of 12 percent on the previous year.
Japanese direct investment into Korea fell to $2.7 billion in 2013 from $4.6 billion in 2012, the year Lee visited the rocks, according to official Japanese figures. A three-way free trade agreement between Japan, South Korea and China, initially expected to wrap up by the end of 2014, may take another year, the Nikkei reported last December.
The Senkaku Islands, located in the East China Sea, are administrated by Japan but claimed by both China and Taiwan under the name of Daioyu Islands. Japan is also in dispute with South Korea over the Liancourt Rocks in the Sea of Japan, called Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean (Korea holds effective control over these islets). The South Kuril Islands, located north-east of Hokkaido, are under Russian administration but claimed by Japan.
Fish is central to the Japanese diet and culture, which helps explain why, even as the Japanese have become prosperous, disputes over contested fishing grounds can quickly become national controversies:
Japan is surrounded by some of the world’s richest fishing grounds: the Northern Pacific, which includes Japan’s EEZ, accounts for almost 23% of the global fish production.
This October, 2014 article looks at the East China Sea fishing dispute:
China’s military may be backing down when it comes to patrolling the waters surrounding the disputed islands in the East China Sea, known as the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan, but that does not mean it is retreating. New reports show that the number of Chinese military surveillance ships in the disputed maritime zone has decreased following a warming of diplomatic relations between the two countries — but Chinese fishing boats in the area have more than doubled.
A post for the earlier Stoa topic on marine natural resources, “Good Fences for Mitigating Global Fisheries Conflicts,” discusses conflicts between Iceland and England over fishing rights along with ongoing China-Japan conflict (Google full Economist title at link to read article):
China and Japan could be pulled into war over disputed islands and area fisheries. The Economist reports on the “five tiny, uninhabited Senkaku or Diaoyu islands.”
Who owns the various islands and is able to manage (or mismanage) the fisheries there is the international dispute. It is likely though that better management of the fisheries in question could lead to for more fish for all the countries involved. Environmental Defense Fund assembles research on property-rights based fisheries management, and advocates further fisheries
EDF supported a conference to share oil spill and catch share experiences from the Gulf of Mexico with Japanese fishermen and government officials. After discussing the Gulf of Mexico spill, catch shares were discussed, as reported in this May 29. 2015 article in the Japan Times:
But what was even more challenging for Guindon was spearheading a move in 2007 to introduce the catch share system, an individual fishing quota, to stem the depletion of red snapper.
The system imposed quotas, but fishermen were allowed to harvest all year round, stabilizing the supply and thus prices. Previously, fishermen were allowed to fish in the first 10 days of the month without limit, eroding both stocks and prices.
Like many others, Guindon was reluctant to try the system. He even voted against two referendums on it as he didn’t understand the benefits.
“For me, it was the best vote I’ve ever lost,” he said, laughing.
Under the catch share system, supplies of red snapper in the region have tripled and fleet-wide revenue and fishing limits have more than doubled.
I don’t mean to suggest that Stoa debaters turn the Japan, China, SK Taiwan trade policy topic into another debate about catch shares. But it is worth noting that fish is the major source of protein in the diets of all four countries. Rapid economic growth, in China especially, had led to much higher consumption of fish. Mismanagement by all four governments has caused depleted fisheries within their EEZ borders and to some extent in the open ocean. Depleted fisheries in offshore and EEZ waters also energized disputes over contested fishing ground.
The connection between trade policy for the United States and the four Asian countries listed in the Stoa topic is the Pacific Ocean. Oceans carry 90% of the world’s trade, and are a major source of of nutrition, especially for poor countries. Asian fishing fleets (especially South Korean) have been accused of depleting fisheries off the coast of Africa, as have fleets from other countries).
A shareholder in the largest U.S. tuna fleet issued a press release Tuesday decrying the ‘no deal’ conclusion Saturday of American treaty negotiations with Pacific Island nations that leaves the United States tuna fleet without fishing access to the Pacific Ocean in 2015. …
… Hines further commented that there is a real concern by stakeholders representing U.S. commercial interests that the U.S. government is not showing a commitment to the Country’s distant water fisheries in the Pacific region. One feared consequence is that China and other nations will further expand their influence through fishing and other commercial interest in the region.
Proposed closure in U.S. territories in the Pacific currently under review by the Administration to revise the status to “Protected Monument Marine Parks,” without consultation with Industry or science, has created an environment of increased pressure to secure fishing access within the remaining ocean, the press release says.
… “The loss of our Country’s influence in the Pacific fisheries has a direct impact on thousands of Americans—from Samoa to Hawaii onto the Mainland in California and even Georgia—who rely on raw tuna material for jobs, as well as a consistent supply for the American consumer,” Hines said.
And on the other side of that story, the Center for American Progress website reports on “Protecting the Natural Treasures of America’s Remote Pacific Islands” where the federal government is now “preventing industrial activity within … an area larger than the states of Texas, California, Montana, and Arizona combined.”
At the U.S. Department of State’s Our Ocean conference last month, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry announced the administration’s intent to expand the boundaries of that monument—potentially out to the full extent of the EEZ. Such an action would make the Pacific Remote Islands monument the largest network of marine-protected areas anywhere on the planet, preventing industrial activity within an additional 1.74 million square kilometers of ocean space—an area larger than the states of Texas, California, Montana, and Arizona combined. For those accustomed to measuring by a smaller state, that adds up to roughly 550 Rhode Islands.
Washington Post story, September 2014 “Obama to create world’s largest protected marine reserve in Pacific Ocean” here.
Government managed national parks are one way to try to protect ecosystems and natural resources on land and at sea. PERC.org looks at the ongoing debate over management (and mismanagment) over U.S. National Parks in their Back to the Future July 4, 2015 issue of PERC Reports.
Searching online for articles on TURFs (Territorial User Rights in Fisheries) stories or proposals for pacific fisheries, this Nature Conservancy article on Chilean abalone turned up. It’s a long way from Japan, China, SK, Taiwan, but the success story could perhaps suggest how Asian fisheries could be restored and conflicts between countries reduced:
Today, Chile is seen as a poster child for responsible near-shore fisheries management. The emblematic Chilean abalone, and other important seafood like mussels, limpets and sea urchins live in the rocky and sandy bottoms along the Chilean coast and support the livelihoods of 50,000 artisanal fishermen and their families as a primary source of income.
But, as recently as the 1980s, poor management plagued Chile’s artisanal fisheries and key resources, like the Chilean abalone fishery, were so overexploited that the fishery had to be shut down by the late 1980s.
During this period the academic community — together with fishermen — carried out different management experiments that limited fishing in different regions with promising results and key lessons. Those lessons led to the establishment in 1991 of a system of Territorial Use Rights in Fisheries (TURF), which are use rights that are granted to artisanal fishing associations in a given territory, allowing them to take the responsibility of managing the marine resources found therein. The participation and acceptance of the TURF policy by fishermen took some time, but the more they learned from their increased interactions with scientists and government agencies, the more they saw the benefits of having exclusive access rights to the resource.