Fishermen along the coast of Shandong are anxious: this year's fish harvest is even worse than in previous years

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Abstract: Day after day, each link in the vast fishing chain is busy with livelihoods and maintaining a stable supply of seafood.

Fishermen are working.

On September 1, in Chuwang Village, Yantai City, Shandong Province, 71-year-old Niu Chunxia did not wait to come to the Open Sea Festival.

She grew up in the village, and in early September of the previous year, the four-month fishing moratorium in the Yellow Bohai Sea ended, and 100 fishing boats left the port amid singing and dancing, which is the most important time of the year for fishermen.

This year, the show has not yet started, and the village suddenly received a message: "Don't let it go." Niu Xiaoli was a little annoyed, and the villagers worked overtime to build the platform and had to tear it down. As soon as she inquired, everyone rumored that because of the "discharge of nuclear sewage", the opening of the sea should not be "too quiet".

On August 24, contaminated water from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was released into the ocean, which is expected to last for 30 to 40 years.

Chuwang Village, one of the four major fishing grounds in China, has the largest mass fishing port in Jiaodong area.

When the internet is full of anxiety about seafood and fishing, the real village of Chuwang seems calm. In fact, before the exact pollution, fishermen were more concerned that changes in catch yields were affecting livelihoods.

With the decline of marine resources and the increase in the cost of going to sea, reducing ships and switching to production has long become a common trend in fishing villages. Where will the traditional fisheries that cannot be returned go?

Fishing boats call in port in the morning. Photo by Feng Rui

More worrisome than "nuclear sewage"

Since the end of August, there have been many rumors on the Internet: "Can seafood be eaten?" "Is the fish already contaminated?" "Don't go to the beach again for safety." "There are still 240 days to go, and we will go to the domestic seas."

For a time, many consumers poured into the seafood market and stocked up.

"Now the market is very good, the supply is outstripping the demand, and the price has been rising." Wu Yujie, a seafood dealer, said he had little time to spare during the two weeks that the contaminated water went into the sea. On September 2, he sold 1,200 boxes of seafood for 790,000 yuan in one day. Many of their peers have doubled their orders. Until September 8, he saw the rising turnover gradually stabilize.

Offshore fishing, which is rumored to be the backbone of Chuwang Village, has been a pillar industry for generations. But life and business here do not seem to have been affected much.

"There is a discussion in the village about Japanese sewage discharge, there are all kinds of theories, whether it is true or false, whether the discussion is correct or not, I don't know anything." Niu Chunxia muttered, causing "panic", but since September, few villagers have mentioned this incident again.

On September 7, at 7 a.m., Chuwang Fishing Port was crowded. Fishermen set up umbrellas and foam boxes for passing fishmongers to find and pack. Within hours, the catch can be transported to wholesale markets, seafood suppliers and restaurants.

People wait at the pier for a catch. Photo by Feng Rui

Liu Xiaoli set up a parasol in front of her stall. Photo by Feng Rui

Niu Chunxia's daughter, Liu Xiaoli, sells fish at a stall by the dock. When she married at the age of 24, she and her husband bought their first boat. The two have been working for 22 years.

"They all say pollution, pollution, and I don't know what's going on." Liu Xiaoli shook her head and repeated.

What she is anxious about right now is that this year's fish production is even worse than in previous years. "There are fewer and fewer resources in the sea, and the work is even more difficult to do."

At this time, fishmongers Zhang Peng and Wu Yujie were picking fish on a large boat in port. An hour and a half later, Zhang Peng, who brought 5 baskets, only loaded one and a half baskets of skin shrimp, adding up to a total of 5 catties. Many fish sellers and villagers returned empty-handed.

Zhang Peng collects fish at the dock. Photo by Feng Rui

Zhang Peng and Wu Yujie collected a basket and a half of skin shrimp. Photo by Feng Rui

"Now the fish caught offshore are tattered." Wu Yujie said that excluding small fish and fish with poor taste, it would be good to have one-tenth left.

Zhang Peng smiled bitterly, today's encounter is the norm in recent years, and the golden period of abundant traditional fishery resources and abundant income is gone.

"I wasn't particularly worried about nuclear wastewater until the actual harm was detected," he admitted, "and even without nuclear wastewater, how long can this industry last?" ”

In fact, more than unproven pollution of unarrived sewage, fishermen are feeling changes in fishery resources that are affecting their livelihoods and futures.

The transporter waited by the side. Photo by Feng Rui

Fishing boats moored in the harbor. Photo by Feng Rui

"Can't keep up with the speed of catching."

In 1991, 3-year-old Zhang Peng spent time at the beach every day. He carried the fishing line in his hand and lifted it upwards, catching a dozen at a time. "At that time, there were a lot of fish." He laughs and recalls that each fish he caught was nearly half a meter long.

Niu Chunxia said that 2,000 years ago, in Chuwang Village, "those who engage in fish" and "grow crops" were about five to five points. Liu Xiaoli's family decided to buy a boat because they thought that the village was rich in fishery resources and could "eat the sea by the sea".

At that time, Liu Xiaoli and the fishing boats around her bought "color probes" (color fish finders) in order to increase fishing production. On the screen of the visitor, the big fish are circles, the small fish are triangles, and the dense points are schools of fish, so that the fish can be "caught in one net" no matter where they are.

She found that some fishermen wanted to catch more small fish, so they changed their standard nets to small nets with a mesh of only one or two centimeters; When particularly small juveniles are caught on board, they will not be released, and these small fish cannot be eaten when they go ashore, so they notify the factory to pull them away to feed cattle and sheep for feed, processed products, etc., and some are directly discarded on the dock ground.

Some of the catch was discarded on the ground. Photo by Feng Rui

Many small fish in the catch are made into feed. Photo by Feng Rui

"The speed of natural reproduction cannot keep up with the speed of fishermen's catching." Zhang Peng said. Of the huge catches, the amount available is becoming less and less.

According to the China Fisheries Yearbook, the domestic offshore catch was 5.944 million tons in 1990 and increased to 12.0346 million tons in 1999, exceeding the annual fishing load limit of 8 million tons, of which 30% are juvenile fish used as feed. Studies have shown that fishing before the fish matures makes the fingerlings smaller, so that in order to catch more fish, fishermen's mesh is also smaller, creating a vicious circle.

According to the China Ocean Development Report, there were only 180 species left in the Bohai Yellow Sea around 2000, a 40% decrease from the first 300 species. Therefore, in 1995, the Yellow Bohai Sea began to implement a fishing moratorium, which increased from the first two or three months to four months. During the fishing moratorium, the fisheries administration releases various types of fry in the offshore waters.

Despite this, Zhang Peng feels, "the current offshore resources are not so optimistic. ”

Liu Xiaoli mentioned that taking the small mackerel as an example, in the past, it was the norm to catch more than 10,000 catties on a boat, not to mention seven or eight thousand catties, but now it is more than four or five thousand catties in a trip. She remembers one year when the sea was open, and a car pulled up to 3,000 mackerel. "In so many years, just once." She said that in the past few days, a car has pulled up to three or four mackerel, "directly chopped 1,000 times." ”

"The variety of fish is also decreasing, and many fish are gone, such as the Yangtze River knifefish, and some fish I can't call." At the terminal, Liu Xiaoli added, fish prices "follow the market": fishing boats and fishmongers negotiate a uniform price based on market conditions, with prices fluctuating slightly according to the size and quality of the fish. If the product is scarce and expensive, if the output is small, the market will naturally go up.

Larger fish tend to fetch good prices. Photo by Feng Rui

"But a high price of fish doesn't mean you can make more money, because there is no quantity." Liu Xiaoli said that even if it is a small fish for a dime and a pound, the money earned by 560,000 jin and 10,000 or 20,000 jin is far from the same.

Now, Zhang Peng and Wu Yujie point out the helplessness of fishermen: on the one hand, the decline in production has made some fish a rare commodity, but the fishermen's asking price needs to be controlled in a reasonable range; On the other hand, because there are not many "good goods", some fish cannot be sold, and fishermen have to let refrigerated trucks take them away at low prices. "Unification is just two pieces, you can't put the goods in the port, and the next day it stinks." Zhang Peng said.

"Maybe you lose money if you go out."

At 12 noon, Liu Xiaoli, who had just returned home from the pier, had a salty fish catch on her coat. "When a lot of people get closer to me, they dislike the smell." Liu Xiaoli teased: "I will say, this is clearly the smell of money." ”

At one time, Chuwang Village became Yantai City's "100 million yuan village" with its fishing production, and the village was covered with two-story small buildings. Liu Xiaoli remembers that in the heyday, the gross income during the fishing period could reach 5.6 million yuan.

"Now the income is not low, but it is very unstable, it depends on the heavens to eat." Liu Xiaoli said that in recent years, the minimum gross income during the fishing period was more than 200,000 yuan.

Liu Xiaoli and her husband used their savings to gradually change from the earliest small wooden boat to a small steel-hulled boat, and five years ago, they finally bought the long-awaited "big steel hull". "For more than 20 years, I have been fighting in the present."

But she calculated the expenses for "raising a boat" and sighed.

Liu Xiaoli said that the cost of a large ship alone is about 4 million yuan, and it must be sent to the shipyard for maintenance and repair from time to time. The boat not only had to send nets and pull nets, but also had to pre-treat the fish catch, so in addition to her husband, she had to hire 13 workers.

"Workers' wages are rising every year." Liu Xiaoli pointed out that the captain's salary is 90,000 yuan, and the chief engineer and the captain's assistant are about 80,000 yuan. In three and a half months, she had to pay nearly 900,000 yuan.

She mentioned that the fuel cost of ships going to sea has now risen to nearly 6,000 yuan a ton. In this way, it is necessary to pull 2 million yuan of goods this year to preserve the capital. Spread it out evenly, and you have to pull 20,000 yuan of goods every night. In recent years, when the market is not good, fish can only be sold for more than 10,000 yuan a night, and it is also common to sell for several thousand yuan.

"There is so little to fish in the sea, but the cost of going to sea is soaring." Zhang Peng remembers that in the past, each fishing boat had a fuel subsidy, which was distributed according to the horsepower and mileage of the boat, and the more you run, the higher the amount. In 2009, he saw that a small boat received at least 100,000 yuan a year, and some large boats could get 600,000 yuan. But fuel subsidies have since tapered until they were eliminated entirely last year.

"Last year, the fishing boats in the port went to sea, and seventy percent were losing money." He said.

Before 2018, Liu Xiaoli would go with her husband to Weihai Shidao, one of the largest piers in the north, just after the New Year, about the 15th of the first month, and return to Yantai until the fishing moratorium.

It was winter, and on a rough day, the sea water hit the deck and did not go down, forming a thick ice that could not be shoveled off with a shovel. The fastest trip to sea is 12 hours and the longest is 30 hours. Three or four months of work can allow Liu Xiaoli and his wife to get a gross profit of 100,000 yuan, which is subsidized for the two children in the family to go to school abroad.

"If you go out now, you may lose money, and you will get it in the second half of the year for three and a half months." Liu Xiaoli said that more and more fishing boats around are reducing their time at sea. When she is not at sea, many people go to do odd jobs, so she grows dates and figs in the village, and when they are ripe, they sell them at stalls. But after all, it is not as good as fishing, "faster money" and "more money".

"Fishermen still can't do without the sea, and only when they go to sea can they have a source of livelihood." She emphasized.

Liu Xiaoli sells figs to make extra money. Photo by Feng Rui

Liu Xiaoli rides a tricycle to the dock. Photo by Feng Rui

"There are only 4 left."

In 2011, Zhang Peng, who had finished university in Beijing, returned to his hometown, coinciding with the large-scale demolition and relocation of the Yantai Development Zone.

He recalled that at that time, the development zone was going to build chemical plants and transportation ports, and there were originally 36 natural villages in the town, but only about 3 remained, of which the two major fishing villages of Chuwang and Luyang, and the fishing port of Chuwang, were retained. Many fishermen have been allocated resettlement houses in the urban area of the development zone, more than 10 kilometers from the coastline.

"Some people don't know what to do, they don't have any skills, and they can't stand the time constraints of the factory." Zhang Peng said that the village committees of these villages have found connections for the fishermen in the Chuwang fishing port, allowing them to rent houses in the local area for three to four months, so that they can continue to "rely on the sea to eat the sea." However, more people have left the industry because of the distance and the difficulty of finding ships. "Many people went directly to work in chemical plants, and nearly half of the ships were withdrawn."

Mr. Zhang's father first contracted more than 30 fishing boats, all from demolished villages. This year, Zhang Peng watched more than 20 boats of fishermen forcibly scrap their fishing boats, and finally "only 4 remained."

One of the remaining fishing boats of Zhang Peng's family. Photo by Feng Rui

Zhang Peng was greeting the fishing boat he had contracted. Photo by Feng Rui

He smiled wryly that the demolition was "certainly suitable" for the villagers who worked in agriculture, but it was "not cost-effective" for the families who contracted the ship, and the operating profit had shrunk to one-tenth of the pre-demolition level. "A boat can create at least 100 yuan of profit a day, and those 20 boats are 2,000 yuan, which is not an exaggeration."

When Niu Chunxia was young, she knitted rope for the fishing production team at the shipyard. She described how there used to be twice as many boats as it is now, and in the early morning, boats lined up one after another along the coast, with no end in sight.

"Young people are looking for work, and there are very few young people fishing." Niu Chunxia sighed that 45 or 46 years old is almost the youngest generation of fishermen.

When he graduated from high school, Zhang Peng went to sea once on his father's fishing boat. At that time, there were no nets on fishing boats that automatically anchored. Under the scorching sun in June, he and two fishermen dragged their nets upwards little by little, hundreds of meters at a time. "After that time, I never wanted to go to sea again." Zhang Peng said that after graduation, he still liked the free and lazy life by the sea, so he chose to return to the fishing port, but more descendants of fishing villages will go to work or start businesses, and they are getting farther and farther away from the sea.

Wu Yujie remembers that when his father knew he wanted to be a seafood dealer, he told relatives at home: "A graduate student who raised well became a fishmonger." Liu Xiaoli's daughter told her mother, "I want to stay in the big city and give my children a better life." ”

At present, according to Zhang Peng, there are about 150 more boats in Chuwang Fishing Port.

Liu Xiaoli had planned to work until she was 55 years old. The news of the discharge of nuclear sewage into the sea made her even more uncertain about the future.

"How long you can work, you have to see the environment in the sea." She and Niu Chunxia heard that a high-speed rail station and container terminal may be built here. "I don't know how long the two fishing villages will last." Niu Chunxia complained that living in the village, she couldn't burn radiators in winter, and it was inconvenient to go out to the toilet, but when it came to moving, she quickly waved her hand: "No, no, can't see the sea, it's really uncomfortable." ”

Liu Xiaoli looked at the chemical factory behind the mountain. Photo by Feng Rui

18,000 km of coastline

Fisheries economist Lejiahua began to engage in fishery research after returning to China in 2007.

At this time, he found in his research that the decline of offshore fishing resources and the reduction of ships and the conversion of production have become common phenomena.

"No one can guarantee how much can be caught today, there are so many boats in the sea, everyone is fishing, the fishing intensity is not up, how to make money?" Lejiahua said frankly that there are many contradictions in the implementation of fishery protection measures, and comprehensive marine pollution, climate change and other factors, offshore fishery resources have not returned to the level of the late 90s of last century.

At the same time, he is seeing tighter regulations on fisheries. In addition to the extension of the fishing moratorium and the restrictions on the number of nets and mesh sizes, in recent years, some parts of the country have begun to pilot quota fishing: according to the maximum allowable catch of various fishery resources, assessing the local economic level, fishing capacity, etc., and limiting the number of fishermen catching various types of catch.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, domestic offshore fishing production has shrunk to less than 10 million tons per year in 2022. "Coastal and offshore production will gradually decline, and will not exceed 10 million tons in the next few years." Lejiahua estimated. In 2022, marine capture accounted for only 19.3% of domestic marine product production. Correspondingly, the number of fishing vessels decreased from 1,065,600 in 2010 to 511,000 in 2022.

However, "the transformation of fishermen to production faces some difficulties. Wang Songzi, who works at the fishing nonprofit Zhiyu, said. She has traveled to more than 30 fishing villages to investigate. "Most of the fishermen are older and less educated." She found it difficult for fishermen's fishing skills to be transferred to other aquatic jobs, such as farming. Inland aquaculture requires technology, and the investment in deep-water cages for deep-sea aquaculture is too high, making it difficult for individual fishermen to participate.

Lejiahua has seen retired fishermen go to work in service and aquaculture, and within a few years they have returned to the sea. Most people still prefer careers related to the sea. He and Wang Songzi both believe that lightweight recreational fishery, aquatic product processing and circulation and other auxiliary industries will become the direction of many retired fishermen in the future.

"But offshore fishing is not going to die." There are still more than 5 million traditional fishermen on the 18,000-kilometre coastline, and while local young people are dropping out of fishing, the economic level and relatively high incomes of coastal communities are attracting more migrants to fill the gap.

Fishermen work hard, but their income is not low. Photo by Feng Rui

Zhang Peng often bent over and had injuries to his waist. Photo by Feng Rui

Wang Songzi hopes that as fishing becomes more standardized, fishery resources slowly recover, and a new balance between fishermen and the sea is reached, traditional fisheries will be revitalized.

Regarding the potential impact of nuclear sewage on the fishery, Lejiahua and Wang Songzi admitted, "There is definitely an impact, but it is difficult to say at present." Wang Songzi said that in the uncertain future, fishermen should be guided to find new opportunities to build a more sustainable fishing community.

At the end of August, Zhang Peng and his friends began making light meals for the newly built university town nearby. Wu Yujie cooperates with the village's aquatic product processing factory, and the skin shrimp caught by the fishermen will be processed and packaged by the villagers and soon sent to supermarkets and restaurants across the country.

At 7 p.m., Zhang Peng, who came back from the pier, finally had dinner with his family, a few leftover yellow croakers bought and sold, accompanied by a dozen beers, "This is the daily life of people on the beach, nothing, that's it."

Day in and day out, each link in the vast fishing chain is busy with livelihoods and maintaining a steady supply of seafood.

(The fishery practitioners in the article are pseudonyms)