While it had achieved renown—or notoriety—for the protracted political tug-of-war, the South China Sea is, first and foremost, one of the most diverse and productive marine ecosystems in the world. The area covers some 3.5 million square kilometers of rich waters, responsible for an estimated 10 million to 16 million tons of fisheries landings, or about 12 to 15 percent of the total global catch.
As the plot thickens, Ma. Carmen Ablan Lagman of the Biology Department and Center for Natural Resource and Environment Research of De La Salle University tackled a spectrum of issues in a special paper “Converging on the Fisheries in the South China Sea” as part of Stratbase ADRi series of commissioned studies. These are salient points of the paper.
In the region, this translates to some three-million jobs associated with fisheries and some $66.7 billion in total economic activity supported by fishing. Because it is bounded by some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, this means about two-billion inhabitants in this region rely on fishing in terms of food security, livelihood, or export.
And because fish stocks in the Yellow Sea, Gulf of Tonkin, East China Sea, all the way to the Gulf of Thailand are fully fished or depleted, this puts additional pressure on the South China Sea, whose stocks harbor healthy coral reef habitats and abundant fish.
The Philippines in its arbitration case against China appropriately sought to clarify national fisheries jurisdiction. Tracing back to 1982, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or Unclos, resulted in competing claims from countries based on their definitions of their Exclusive Economic Zones, or EEZ. More recently, China’s contentious nine-dash line territorial claim in 2009 highlighted the economic value of the marine resources in the region.