Land of rice, without fish


There has been a some talk about China and fish of late, and while I generally don’t like me too posts, I think China’s relationship with fish is interesting. Basically, as China modernizes and gets richer there are fewer fish. The Yangzi river ecosystem has lost thousands of species as runoff, pollution overfishing and poor management have taken their toll. To some extent the Chinese have dealt with this by sending fishing fleets to West Africa to vacuum up every bit of piscine goodness they can get. While it is interesting to think of a new Zheng He returning from Africa with treasure in the form of fish, this is a pretty modern problem. With modern technology it gets easier and cheaper to overfish. You can deal with this in part by re-naming the junk Patagonian Toothfish the Chilean Sea Bass and serving it up, by cheating on your fishing quotas, etc. but there are limits to how much of that you can do.

I suspect that China (and the world) may be headed for a real disaster here, a disaster with Chinese characteristics. One thing that leads to overfishing is the tragedy of the commons. Especially in a hyper-capitalist system resources that are not owned by anyone will be exploited to the point of destruction. Another way to get an ecological disaster is to have huge Stalinist style state projects like the Three Gorges Dam, which was built without much attention being paid to what it would do to fish populations and spawning patterns. How many countries have both the yen (desire) and yuan (cash) for big Stalinist projects and a hyper-capitalist economy? Only China.

P.S. I’m not real up on the literature on China’s environment, but the various works of Vaclav Smil are a good place to start.

P.P.S. for our non-Chinese readers, Land of rice and fish (鱼米之乡) is the equivalent of the Land of milk and honey,  a place of great wealth and prosperity.


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