China-Vietnam fishery cooperation in the gulf of tonkin revisited, by Li Jianwei & Chen Pingping

Thursday, 21 July 2011 02:12 tuan anh

Six years have passed since the the China-Vietnam Fishery Agreement came into effect. It is time to reflect on what has been happening in the fishing activities in the Gulf and how the fishing communities adjust to the new changes. This paper intends to examine the new mechanisms on fishery management in accordance with the related bilateral agreements as well as implementation practice bilaterally and within China




The Gulf of Tonkin is a shared semi-enclosed sea area, embraced by the Vietnamese and Chinese coasts at its western and northern sides and China’s Leizhou Peninsular and Hainan Island at its eastern side.[1] Located in tropical and semi-tropical zones with a typical monsoon climate and a large amount of continuous discharge of nutritious substances from rivers, the Gulf is an ideal ecosystem for a variety of fish stocks to spawn, breed, feed and mature. The abundant fisheries resources of the Gulf of Tonkin have supported the livelihood of Vietnamese and Chinese fishermen for centuries.[2] The fishing area and activities are influenced by the location of fishery resources as well as the development of international legal system over the seas. Meanwhile, other factors strongly influence the fishing scenario in the Gulf, such as the increasing demand for protein from fish among the fast growing coastal urban population and highly rising fishing capacity with great improvement of fishing technology. Fish catch rate began to decline in the 1970s with sharper decline registered in the min-1980s. With bottom trawlers coming into widespread use in the 1990s, many species are now threatened with collapse.[3] The competition for fishery resources among the fishermen from both countries led to both the increase of fishery disputes between the two countries and the fast depletion of common resources.[4] It had been widely recognized at the renewal of China-Vietnam maritime delimitation negotiation in early 1990s that given the migratory pattern of many species and the common pool nature of the Gulf, no single country would be able to manage or conserve their common migratory fish stocks. United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 1995 United Nations Fishstocks Agreement[5] in particular require collective action to avoid a collapse of regional fisheries. Negotiators of China and Vietnam took seriously into consideration the fishery issues from the beginning of the negotiation process. In December 2000, the governments of China and Vietnam signed two agreements, their first maritime boundary agreement[6] with delimitation of their territorial sea (TS), the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf in the Gulf of Tonkin and the China-Vietnam Fishery Agreement in the Gulf of Tonkin[7] with new fishery arrangements in three designated water areas.

The Gulf defined in the Delimitation Agreement covers an area of 128,000 square kilometers and its width ranges from 110 to 180 nautical miles. As Zou noted, the defined area is different from other sources such as one example of 44,238 square kilometers.[8] The 2000 Fishery Agreement together with the 2004 Protocol and the following implementation regulations promulgated by joint China-Vietnam fishery authority functions to reach the aim of preservation of essential fish stocks and smooth development of mutual traditional friendly relationship between the two countries.

Six years have passed since the bilateral Fishery Agreement came into effect. It is time to reflect on what has been happening in the fishing activities in the Gulf and how the fishing communities adjust to the new changes. This paper intends to examine the new mechanisms on fishery management in accordance with the related bilateral agreements as well as implementation practice bilaterally and within China. By doing so the authors highlight the existing difficulties still facing both countries and concludes that to cherish the traditional friendship between the two neighbouring countries and for the long-term survival and prosperity of local communities around the Gulf further cooperation between the two governments are needed to coordinate the fishing activities and explore new measures in conservation and utilization of common fishery resources.

Features in Fishery Management Arrangements in the Gulf


The key document designing the current fishery management arrangements in the Gulf of Tonkin is the China-Vietnam Fishery Agreement. It respects the sovereignty, sovereign and jurisdictional rights in their related maritime zones delimited by the Delimitation Agreement. Meanwhile it shows the mutual intention of both countries on “reasonable utilization and sustainable development of living resources” reflected in the Delimitation Agreement.[9] The Fishery Agreement laid down the principles in relation to management of common fishery resources with the overarch objectives of maintaining and further developing “the traditional friendly neighbouring relations between the peoples of China and Vietnam” and of “conservation and sustainable utilization” of marine living resources in the Agreed Water Areas.[10] Three Agreed Water Areas—the Common Fishery Zone (CFZ), the Waters in Transitional Arrangements (TA) and the Buffer Zone for Small Fishing Boats (BZ)—are arranged in the delimited EEZ and part of the TS across the maritime boundary line in the Gulf (see Figure 1). Different specified management schemes are to be implemented in the three water areas. The Fishery Agreement only laid down the exact outer limits of the CFZ and BZ, while the TA is drawn by the Supplimentary Protocol to the Fishery Agreement[11] which was reached in February 2004 and formally signed two months later after over three years of negotiations. The Protocol is considered as an integral part of the Fishery Agreement. To effectively implement the Agreement the newly-formed joint fishery committee (JFC) promulgated the Regulations on Conservation and Management of the Fishery Resources in the Gulf of Tonkin.[12] The four bilaterally-binding documents—the Delimitation Agreement, the Fishery Agreement, the Protocol and the Regulations—conform to the same features in tandem over cooperation on managing the shared living resources between two coastal countries in their adjacent waters after maritime delimitation.

Figure 2 The three Agreed Water Areas in the Gulf of Tonkin


Source:The authors drew the map with the help from the IT staff in the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, 2009.

Key features

Zoning Management

Like the other two fishery agreements which China has signed separately with South Korea and Japan, the China-Vietnam Fishery Agreement takes the same scheme of zoning management.[13] Though it is not clear how the outer limit of different zones were finally decided it can be surmised that the seemingly losing party of a delimitation negotiation would be likely to push for wider defined area while the other defend by minimizing the size. However with the concept of shared resources and shared responsibilities over conservation and exploitation, the situation can move into a win-win approach. According to Zou, during the maritime boundary negotiation China considered fisheries issues as an important component of maritime boundary delimitation, and that China’s traditional fishing rights need to be recognized and taken into consideration.[14] On the other hand, Vietnam considers fishery as a separate issue from maritime delimitation.[15] The signing of the two separate agreements on maritime delimitation as well as on fishery issues at the same time coupled with the scheme of zoning arrangements can be considered as the result of mutual comprise taking into consideration of the concerns from both sides.

There are three defined zones in the waters along the delimitation line. Article 3(2) of the Fishery Agreement provides with coordinates of 16 points and the CFZ is the water area of 15 sections of straight lines by connecting the 16 points.[16] The CFZ covers an area of 33,500 square kilometers. It stretches southward from the parallel of 20oN, with a breath of about 28 to 30.5 nautical miles from the line of delimitation of both sides.[17] Physically, it accounts for one fourth of the whole Gulf and includes the most productive fishing grounds.[18] Articles 4 and 5 provide that both countries undertake long-term fisheries co-operation in the CFZ, and jointly take measures to conserve, manage and maintain sustainable utilisation of the living resources in accordance with the natural conditions and status of the resources.[19]

Article 11 of the Fishery Agreement only sets the basic principle on the TA arrangements such as the line of the southmost limit being the parallel of 20oN,annual reduction of fishing activities of one party in the EEZ of the other party, the four-year time span for the transitional period. It is the Protocol that specifies the extent of the TA and the mechanisms on managing such an arrangement. According to the Protocol, the TA covers the EEZ of both parties by connecting the 12 points from A to L defined by their coordinates.[20]Except the section between K and L which is a circular line with the lighthouse on Bech Long Vi Island as the center and a semi-diameter of 15 nautical miles. The number of fishing vessels for the first year of the transitional period is set to be 920 with an annual reduction rate of 25%.[21] The aim is to put the TA under the EEZ regime at the end of the transitional arrangements by preventing one contracting party’ fishing vessels from entry into the other’s EEZ without further bilateral arrangements, meanwhile Article 11(3) of the Fishery Agreement requires reciprocal priority entry rights under the same conditions. However the “same conditions” are open for further interpretation. This zone was set up to help the governments to relocate and find new jobs for fishermen who are to be displaced from the overlapped area because of the Delimitation Agreement.[22]

The BZ is defined in Article 12(1) of the Fishery Agreement. It starts at the first coordinate of the demarcation line and extends 10 nautical miles southward. Like the CFZ and TA, the BZ is also divided into two sections by the maritime boundary line and extends three nautical miles either side of the line.[23]The BZ was arranged to protect small fishing boats with poor positioning devices which may easily enter the TS of the other party by mistake. Small fishing boats refer to those with the capacity of less than 20 horsepower. Most of the fishing boats from both countries fishing near shore belong to this group. The constraint measures include “no detention, no arrest, no punishment and no use of force”.[24]

Coastal state management

The establishment of the CFZ and the management responsibilities given to the JFC reflect the essence of the UNCLOS provisions for coastal states’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction regarding the conservation and management of fisheries resources in their EEZs. The management measures of the Fishery Agreement together with the Protocol and the Regulations genuinely follow the EEZ regime and set up its cooperation mechanisms on the basis of that regime. In this sense, it is a thorough and faithful implementation of the UNCLOS fisheries framework.[25] Article 7 of the Fishery Agreement and Article 3 of the Protocol provides that fishing vessels of one country need to apply for a license to fish in the other country’s EEZ and that they have to comply with the terms of the Fishery Agreement as well as the domestic laws and regulations of that country.[26]

The Annex of the Fishery Agreement reads that China’s liaison department is the state Fishery Management Bureau (FMB) under the Ministry of Agriculture and that of Vietnam is the Bureau of Aquatic Resources Protection under the Ministry of Aquatic Production (BARP).[27] The regulations define several competent authorities with China’s implementing authority being the FMB and that of Vietnam Ministry BARP. The monitor, supervision and control (MSC) authorities within both countries include several departments. On China side the MSC authority comprise of the FMB, the Border Protection Section of the Public Security Ministry and the Navy. Besides the BARP, the Border Protection, the Navy, Marine Police are also involved in MSC programmes.[28]

The vessels are to be clearly marked and must complete a fishing logbook and submit it to their respective competent authorities within a prescribed time. The names of the authorised fishing vessels are to be exchanged.[29] Any violation is subject to legal procedures of the country controlling the EEZ where the fishing takes place.[30] Articles 12-16 of the Regulations and Article 4(2) of the Protocol stipulate procedures on coastal States’ detecting and punishing IUU fishing within its EEZ. In the case of seizure or detention, the fishing vessels and crew must be promptly released upon posting a bond or other form of security.[31]

“Flag state control” gives way to coastal state control in the CFZ and TA. Fishing vessels violating the management measures of the agreement are subject to domestic laws and regulations of the state in whose waters the fishing takes place. The abandonment of the “flag state control” doctrine has been recognized as to ensure the compliance of fishermen and to improve the effectiveness of the agreement.


The principle of equity is based on equality and mutual respect. This principle is shown through related arrangements in the formation of the JFC, quota of fishing vessels allowed into each other’s EEZ of the agreed areas, consideration of all aspects regarding to fishing such as natural geographic conditions, the location of fish stocks at their different stage of growth and respective development of fishing industries of different countries.

The establishment of the JFC is to regulate fishing in the agreed areas in a coordinated manner between the two parties. JFC consists of reciprocal equal number of representatives from both countries. The JFC has the power to decide on conservation and management measures, including the allocation of fishing quotas and the maintenance of fishing order.[32] They all must ensure that fisheries are not endangered through over-exploitation to keep fishery therein sustainable. The total allowable catch (TAC) and the total number of vessels are to be shared equally by the two parties. The determination of TAC and the number of operating fishing vessels is to be determined based on the results of regular joint surveys of fishery resources and the need to respect sustainable development. Fishing vessels which intend to operate in the CFZ are required to have a permit from their competent authorities and to be marked in accordance with regulations set forth by the JCF. These vessels also have obligations to comply with the regulations on preservation and management of fisheries resources laid down by the JFC.[33] Article 13(4) requires that recommendations and decisions be made by consensus. Article 13(5) provides that the JFC holds one or two meetings annually at alternative venues between the two states. Ad hoc meetings may be held when necessary.

The Agreement allows the necessary flexibility to accommodate particular circumstances. Through transitional arrangements for the existing fishing operations and a buffer zone for small fishing vessels, the Agreement shows practical considerations for minimizing the impact of the regime change on traditional fishing activities, fishermen’s livelihoods and the socio-economic losses of the local communities.[34] The equity is also reflected in the communication between the two parties regarding to law and regulation of each country[35], education and training of local fishing communities on related arrangements[36], reciprocal report over law enforcement activities[37].


Basically there are two methods to guarantee sustainable development of living resources: control of catch rate and conservation of living resources. In the formal documents signed between the two countries the direct methods on control of catch rate include control of the number, type and capacity of the fishing vessels to be permitted to fish in the Agreed Water Areas. The major task of each JFC meeting is to determine each year how many fishing vessels of each country to permit in these joint resource management areas. The JFC employ a “quantity control approach” that quantifies the TAC of several target species, the status of each resource, the extent of traditional fishing activities, modern fishing methods and management, and then derives the allowable numbers of vessels.[38] Article 7(1) of the Fishery Agreement and Article 2 of the Protocol provide that the fishing licensing system is employed in the CFZ and TA. To strictly control the number of fishing vessels detailed marking measures are laid down in the Annex II of the Regulations.[39] Meanwhile MSC measures are enforced such as keeping logbooks in the pre-designed format as Annex 3, increasing frequency of patrol and installation of advanced high-tech devices as well as organizing joint patrols at sea by both countries.[40]

The fight against IUU fishing intends to both control the TAC and conserve the living resources. Measures to be taken include prevention of over-exploitation as well as protection of the ecosystem. Articles 8-9 provide that illegal fishing methods are banned and rare marine animals protected. A moratorium scheme[41] is required in the CFZ and measures shall be taken to prevent pollution for the preservation and improvement of ecological environment fit for the growth of related living resources[42]. The shared nature of fish stocks suggests that sustainable fisheries management would not be effective unless concerted efforts are made by both states. In recognition of this reality, China and Vietnam also signed a Protocol for the Conservation and Management of Fisheries Resources of the Common Fishing Zone when they signed this Protocol. These management approaches for the shared stocks have made the Fishery Agreement go beyond the demarcated political boundaries, and it made up for the deficiency of the zoning approach under the UNCLOS framework.[43]

Implementation Practice


Joint implementation measures

During the past six years, relevant authorities in both China and Vietnam strengthen their cooperation for the aim of smooth implementation in line with the principles reflected in the four fishery-related documents between the two countries.

Fishery coordination and management mechanism

Soon after the Fishery Agreement came into effect, the two Contracting Parties set up a Joint Fishery Committee consisting of representatives from the departments of Fishery Administration, Foreign Affairs, Public Security and Border Protection as well as navies in both countries. Meanwhile two other mechanisms have been established to effectively implement the Agreement—the China-Vietnam Experts Group on fisheries resources in the Gulf of Tonkin and the Law Enforcement Mechanism.

Up till now the JFC has held seven annual meetings.[44] At each meeting the main topics include assessment on the implementation situation of the previous year; decision on the number of fishing vessels which are to be allowed to fish in the EEZ under its jurisdiction and the total capacity of horsepower; the validity date of new fishing licenses and exchange of opinions in regard to such specific issues as joint research on fishery resources in the CFZ, joint fishery MSC and hotline of the JFC. Ad hoc communication and exchanges were held accordingly. At the 3rd annual meeting in 2006 both contracting parties signed an implementation programme on the joint MSC in the JFZ[45]; at the 2008 annual meeting, both sides agreed to postpone the expiry date of TA from 30 June to 31 October 2008 taking into consideration of the actual timing of fishing period.[46]

Bilateral fishery coordination and management mechanisms have been improved by cooperation and exchanges between the two countries. The annual meeting of JFC is the main channel of coordination and the JFC has played a positive role for the successful operation of the fishery arrangements.

Fishing arrangements in the Agreed Waters

The geographic and biological features in the Gulf decide that the fishery resources have been traditionally shared, maintained and exploited jointly by Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen. The related arrangements in the three agreed water areas are to guarantee this group of people some time to adjust to the change brought about by the maritime delimitation. Accordingly both neighbouring countries allow certain amount of fishing vessels of the other country to fish in the waters under their own jurisdiction. From 2004 to 2009 over 5,800 Chinese vessels was permitted to enter the Vietnamese waters in the CFZ to fish, with the total capacity of 1.4 million horsepower, while the reciprocal number for Vietnamese fishing vessels is 9,000 with the capacity of over 1 million horsepower. These mutual beneficial arrangements are in line with the fishing practice features of the fishermen.

The Agreement provides that the TA is under EEZ jurisdiction of related countries at its expiration date of 30 June 2008. To maintain the sustainable fishery development and long-term stability in the Gulf the governments of both countries initiated bilateral negotiation in relation to new fishing arrangements in each other’s EEZ in March 2009. This new round of negotiation will be based on mutual respect of jurisdictional rights in their respective EEZ and traditional fishing rights of related fishermen, taking into consideration of the situations of fishery resources and fishing industry.

Joint research programmes on fishery resources

To ensure long-term cooperation in the CFZ and sustainable development of fishery resources, joint research over fishery resources by the two countries have been stipulated in the Fishery Agreement, which would provide basic data for the JFC to decide the scale of operation in the related Agreed Waters. After the Fishery Agreement was signed, the Expert Group of Fishery Resources in the Gulf of Tonkin was also organized to discuss how to carry out joint research on fishery resources in the CFZ.

On 5 January 2006 the joint research programme was initiated from two port cities, Beihai of China and Haiphong of Vietnam. So far, 17 aerial surveys of two phases have been finished. During the joint research process, vessels from both countries participated in the programme and observers were sent to station on each other’s ships. 11 Expert Group meetings were held to discuss the collected data to analyse the situation of the fishery resource in the Gulf. Based on their study the Expert Group submitted related data to the JFC who will make decisions on the annual TAC in the CFZ.[47]

According to the research results, the sustainable catch rate in the Gulf is about 700,000 tons each year. The catch rate by China and Vietnam, however, far exceed that amount with one China’s coastal region of Guangxi already reaching 650,000 tons in 2008.[48] This draws concern on the effectiveness of fishery control method in CFZ on the whole Gulf. To prevent fishery resources from further depletion, China started practicing a moratorium scheme in some areas of the South China Sea, including the Gulf of Tonkin. The annual moratorium starts on 16 May and ends on 1 August.[49] This practice is in line with the principle of the JFC’s Regulations Article 7 of which provides that “a moratorium scheme shall be implemented in CFZ.”[50]Vietnam has no moratorium arrangements in the CFZ which may lead to the practice that Vietnamese fishermen enter the waters of China’s EEZ in the CFZ during the moratorium.[51] Over-exploitation requires tougher measures from both countries on the one hand. Meanwhile, further coordination is needed within the JFC.

China-Vietnam joint inspection arrangements

To better implement theFishery Agreement and protect the fishery resources in the CFZ, the Regulations provide that the competent authorities in China and Vietnam can carry out joint inspections in the CFZ to monitor, control and supervise the fishing activities in the Gulf. The FMB of China and the Marine Police of Vietnam are the liaison organizations of the two nations. The main tasks of the joint inspections include supervising the fishing operations in the CFZ, inspecting and punishing the fishing vessels violating the Fishery Agreement and rescuing fishermen in danger and maintaining the order of fishery production. In September 2006 China and Vietnam carried out the first joint inspection. Up to now, six Working Group Meetings and five joint inspections have been held by the two sides.[52] In 2008, the joint inspection groups for the first time boarded fishing vessels from both countries.[53] In 2009, the Chinese and Vietnamese supervisors for the first time boarded and visited each other’s inspection vessels.[54]

After years of exchanges and cooperation, a mature mechanism of joint supervision has gradually taken into shape. A study meeting was held after each joint inspection to assess each practice and discuss about the existing problems. The new joint inspection plan was also elaborated at the meeting.[55] The cooperation has promoted mutual trust and maintained the order of fishing activities in the Agreed Waters. Furthermore, the joint practice provides valuable experience for future management and cooperation in the EEZ.

Friendly cooperation between the Navies of the two countries has also contributed to the order and stability in the Gulf. On 26 October 2005, the Ministers of Defense of Vietnam and China signed the Agreement of Joint Patrol by Navies of People’s Republic of China and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which provides that the two countries carry out joint patrol twice a year, namely in May and December, and the patrol area is a S-shaped sea area with a distance of 1 nautical mile from the standard patrol route. On 27 April 2006 the first joint patrol was implemented[56]. Up to now the two countries have had 9 joint patrols and 1 joint search and rescue drill. The cooperation between the Navies helps to promote exchanges, mutual trust and friendship between the two countries.[57]

China’s implementation measures

The signing of related fishery documents is only the first step towards a sustainable fishery in the shared sea area of the Gulf. Careful preparation needs to be carried out before the signing. Painful but necessary steps have to be started to cope with the situation of shrunk fishing grounds. The number of fishing fleets needs to cut down and redundant labour need to reallocated in order to conserve and manage the vital fishing resource.

Preparation efforts before the signing of the fishery documents

Before the Fishery Agreement came into effect China’s FMB had carried out an amount of work to assure its smooth implementation. The Guiding Group was first formed to be in charge of the implementation. It consists of representatives from the South China Sea Branch of the FMB as well as the chiefs of the Fishery Departments of three coastal provinces of Guangxi, Guangdong and Hainan. Under it the leading groups at provincial as well as local community levels have been set up. The formation of different layers of administration groups work together to help full implementation from top to grass-level, and can also contribute to quicken the information communication speed.

Administration departments of local governments carried out research programs to study the production and living situation of the affected fishing communities for the aim of drawing up related counter-measures to respond to the changes after the maritime boundary was drawn. In June 2004, China issued an Urgent Circular on the Preparation for the Implementation of the Sino-Vietnamese Fisheries Agreement for the Gulf of Tonkin. This was followed by an Announcement on the Implementation of the Sino-Vietnamese Fisheries Agreement. Both instruments underscore compliance with the Fishery Agreement by Chinese fishing vessels and anticipate possible problems during the initial implementation.[58] Communications were also done to help local fishing communities better understand the importance of the related agreements.[59]


Publicity and training programmes       

The South China Sea Branch of China’s FMB continuously organized large-scale education and training programmes among fishermen and fishery administrations to promote awareness of the Fishery Agreement and related documents. 25,000 copies of Instructions on the Water Areas Applicable to the China-Vietnam Fishery Agreement,28,000 copies of maps of the delimited sea areas, 7,000 copies of textbook on fishery administration, and 3,000 copies of brochures and other information materials had been delivered to fishermen and relevant local administrations before the Fishery Agreement came into effect. 6,500 fishermen and fishery administration staff in Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan undertook training courses on related issues on the Fishery Agreement. Since 2005, the South China Sea Branch of China’s FMB have been training more than 30,000 people with 371 training sessions and workshops on fishery related laws and regulations.[60]

Thanks to the education and training programmes during the several years, the Chinese fishermen along the coastal area of the Gulf have grasped some basic knowledge of the Fishery Agreement. With the awareness of law-abiding increasing the cases of violation decreased to an obvious extent.

Joint fishery supervision and management mechanism

Besides the already-existed China-Vietnam JFC and the joint supervision arrangements, in September 2004 China’s four ministries, namely Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Headquarters of the General Staff and Ministry of Public Security co-launched a joint domestic fishery supervision and management mechanism to maintain the order of fishery production in the Gulf (The Beibu Gulf Model)[61]. The Joint Supervision Office, the Beibu Gulf Headquarter of Marine Police and the Headquarter of Joint Supervision were set up by the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Public Security, and the Administration of Fishery and the South China Sea Branch of China’s FMB respectively to jointly supervise and manage fishing activities in the Gulf.

During the past six years, twelve joint MSC patrols have been carried out with over 100 vessel-times from the fishery administration and marine police being involved. Over 1,000 vessel-times were implemented to effectively drive away the foreign fishing vessels which are found out illegally fishing with over 50 being penalized. All these efforts contribute to the order and security of fishing as well as to the social stability along the coastal areas.[62]

TheSouth China Sea Branch of China’s FMB has been deploying one fishery administration ship patrolling and supervising the fishing activities in the CFZ when sea conditions permit. According to statistics, from 2004 to 2009, 263 vessel-times have been deployed, with the total patrol journeys of 2,655 days. During these patrols, over 48,080 vessels were recorded with 885 Chinese vessels and 488 foreign vessels being detected as carrying out IUU fishing followed by respective punishment measures. Furthermore, 89 ships in distress with 715 fishermen were rescued.[63]

The mechanism of joint supervision and management by the four Chinese Ministries has been a new attempt and experiment for management of maritime affairs after China’s first maritime boundary. The daily routine patrol by the FMB has ensured the smooth fishery production and protected the interest of Chinese Fishermen.

Restructure of local industry to accommodate redundant fishermen

After the Fishery Agreement came into effect, a large number of fishermen from Guangxi, Guangdong and Hainan have to pull out from their traditional fishing ground. To move to a new profession is not easy for them due to either old age or lack of other professional skills. For example, about 10,000 fishermen in Hainan have to quit their career as fishermen[64]. The Chinese central and local governments face big challenges to accommodate this group of redundant labour, which is crucial for the smooth implementation of the bilateral agreements as well as for social stability in the affected areas by providing them with decent living. To speed up the industry restructuring process and assist the redundant fishermen to find new jobs, the following three measures have been taken by the South China Sea Branch of China’s FMB together with related provincial departments of the Guangxi, Guangdong and Hainan:

·          Supervise and ensure the funds and financial support from the central government to be transferred to the affected fishermen who have to move to other professions;

·           Carry out vocational training for affected fishermen for targeted new jobs;

·           Develop new fishing grounds in the high seas.

Until the end of 2009, RMB 458 million has been dispensed. With 5,129 vessels being opted out of fishing, 28,470 fishermen were transferred to other jobs after training. With all these efforts, the adverse effects have been reduced to some extent.

The limited sources that the authors could reach regarding Vietnam’s implementation measures and regulations make it difficult for the paper to elaborate any lessons and internal difficulties Vietnam experienced during the past six years. However, it was noted that Vietnamese government also showed supportive efforts in making arrangements for the implementation of the agreements. While announcing its ratification of the Delimitation Agreement, Vietnam also made known that it would enact an overall plan to implement the detailed stipulations of the Agreement.[65] It has been recognized that the agreements are a fair go to both countries, which act as a foundation for friendly ties between the two countries.[66] The implementation is based on the five principles of peace and co-existence, but also on the co-operative conservation of the marine living resources of the Gulf of Tonkin.[67]

Way Forward

After the Fishery Agreement and the other two follow-up documents came into effect in 2004, great efforts have been made from both China and Vietnam to reduce the shock of change for the local communities, fishermen along the Gulf in particular, and to implement the new cooperation mechanisms required by the new maritime order that the Delimitation Agreement has brought about. New regulations have been promulgated in line with the new maritime legal order. New bilateral or domestic MSC measures have been introduced to strengthen the enforcement of related rules and arrangements. The evolving network of bilateral agreements for cooperative fisheries resource management is a constructive step to fully achieve sustainable fisheries in the Gulf.[68] However, further assessment over the arrangements indicated their limitations.

Firstly, from a resource management perspective, one limitation of the present fishery management arrangements is that they focus on managing fishing activity in agreed areas that only comprise part of the fishery ecosystem.[69] Unregulated waters still exist for unrestricted exploitation of fish stocks. This is the main reason why though joint efforts have been made to control the number of fishing vessels in the Agreed Waters, the fishery resources in the Gulf as a whole still head towards fast depletion due to over-exploitation problems. It should be considered that the current JFC take the initiatives of a bilateral fishery cooperation organization for the management of fishery resources beyond the Agreed waters to cover the whole Gulf. The a moratorium scheme promoted by the JFC can never be very effective if it continues only applicable to some defined areas since fish stocks swim across the maritime boundary as well as any other man-made lines.

Secondly, there also exists the limitation of the present MSC arrangements, which affects the effectiveness of enforcement.[70] Frequent IUU fishing cases occurs in the Gulf such as fishing with forbidden gears, using such fishing methods as fishing by poison or dynamites, fishing in protected waters, or fishing without qualified certificates. This situation requires coordination and cooperation among the MSC departments from both countries to work out a more effective scheme to close the net against IUU fishing. These measures can combine joint patrols together with domestic patrols, installation of vessel-position devices, and establishment of bilateral contact arrangements to facilitate fast exchange of information.

The compensation efforts on the China side contribute to help fishermen who have been phased out from fishing activities to temporarily solve their survival problems. However, in a long-term perspective, more creative arrangements should be promoted to assist those who were left out of the skills training programmes either due to old age or low early education level to move to other professions.

Taking the above-mentioned limitations in mind, actions by both countries jointly as well as domestically are suggested to revise the present measures in a holistic way. It requires taking into consideration of all possible aspects necessary for sustainable utilization of fishery resources which include biological, technological, economic, social, environmental and commercial aspects./.[71]

Author’s Biography

Li Jianweiis Deputy Director and Research Fellow at the Research Center for Maritime Economy, China’s National Institute for the South China Sea Studies, Haikou, Hainan, China. Her research interests are dispute resolution in the South China Sea region, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing activities and their impacts, and comparative study of the trade unions in China and the UK. After joining the National Institute for the South China Sea Studies in 2005, she has been involved in the research programmes on the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea Issues and on promoting economic cooperation in the South China Sea region. Her research and conference papers include: The Bi-Annual Report on the Situations in the South China Sea, 2008-9, The Annual Report on the Situations in the South China Sea, 2006, “Cooperation in the South China Sea: A Way to Regional Peace, Stability and Prosperity” (Hanoi Conference 2009),“Hainan’s Role in the Management of the South China Sea Issues—a Case Study of the Gulf of Tonkin“ (co-author with KANG Baiying, Stockholm Conference 2009), “Closing the Net against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing: the Case of China” (Mannado Conference 2009), and “Strengthening Economic Cooperation in the South China Sea Region: China’s Perspective” (Kuantan Conference 2008). She has also participated in the series of workshops on Managing Potential Conflicts in the South China Sea hosted by Indonesia.

Chen Pingpingis Research Fellow, Research Center for Maritime Economy, National Institute for the South China Sea Studies.

[1]Baiying Kang and Jianwei Li, Hainan’s Role in the Management of the South China Sea Issue: A Case Study of the Gulf of Tonkin, Paper prepared for the International Workshop on:”Dispute Settlement and Conflict Management in Pacific Asia” Organized by the Department of Oriental Languages, Stockholm University,Stockholm, 21-22 August 2009, p.8.

[2]Keyun Zou, Maritime Boundary Delimitation in the Gulf of Tonkin, Ocean Development and International Law, 30, 1999, p. 248.

[3]David Rosenberg, “Managing the Resources of the China Seas: China’s Bilateral Fisheries Agreements with Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam,” the Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus [online],, p.1.

[4]Kang and Li, Hainan’s role, p.8.

[5]The full name of this international fishery law is“the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (UNFSA)”.

[6]Hereafter refer to as the Delimitation Agreement.

[7]Hereafter refer to as the Fishery Agreement.

[8]Keyuan Zou, The Sino-Vietnamese Agreement on Maritime Boundary Delimitation in the Gulf of Tonkin, Ocean Development and International Law, 36, 2005, p.14.

[9]Art. 8 of the Delimitation Agreements provides that “the contracting parties agree to carry on negotiations on related issues regarding the reasonable utilization and sustainable development of living resources in the Beibu Gulf (the Gulf of Tonkin) as well as in the EEZ of both countries in the Gulf.” 

[10]Preamble of the Fishery Agreement.

[11]Hereafter refer to as the Protocol.

[12]Hereafter refer to as the Regulations. It was signed by the representatives of China and Vietnam governments on the same day as the Protocol of 29 April 2010.

[13]For further reading on the three fishery agreements China signed with its neighbouring countries, see Guifang Xue, “Bilateral Fisheries Agreements for the Cooperative Management of the Shared Resources of the China Seas: A Note,” Ocean Development and International Law, Vol. 36, 2005 and Rosenberg, Managing the Resources.

[14]Zou, Maritime Boundary Delimitation, p. 248.

[15]Nguyen, Hong Thao, Maritime Delimitation and Fishery Cooperation in the Tonkin Gulf, Ocean Development and International Law, 36, 2005, p.30.

[16]Article 3 of the Fishery Agreement.

[17]Nguyen, Maritime Delimitation, p.30.

[18]Y. Huang and S. Huang, The Impacts of the Sino-Vietnamese Fishery Agreement in the Beibu Gulf on China’s Marine Fisheries in the South China Sea, Journal ofShanghai Fisheries University (in Chinese), 3, 2001, p. 226.

[19]Articles 4 and 5 of the Fishery Agreement.

[20]Article 1 of the Protocol.

[21]Article 2 of the Protocol.

[22]Nguyen, “Maritime Delimitation,” p.32.

[23]Article 12(1) lists the coordinates of the 7 points the straight lines of which specifies the outer limit of the BZ.

[24]Article 12(2) of the Fishery Agreement.

[25]Guifang, Xue, “Improved Fisheries Cooperation: Sino-Vietnamese Fisheries Agreement for the Gulf of Tonkin,”the International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law, 21:2, 2006, p.230”

[26]Article 7 of the Fishery Agreement.

[27]Paragraph 1 of the Annex to the Fishery Agreement.

[28]Article 2 of the Regulations.

[29]Article 4 of the Regulations.

[30]Article 9(3) of the Fishery Agreement.

[31]Rosenberg: Managing the Resources of the China Seas, Japan Focus, p.4; Article 9 of the Fishery Agreement.

[32]Rosenberg: Managing the Resources of the China Seas, Japan Focus, p.2.

[33]Nguyen, “Maritime Delimitation,” p.30.

[34]Xue, “Improved Fisheries Cooperation,”p.230.

[35]Article 3(4) and (5) of the Protocol.

[36]Article 4(1) of the Protocol.

[37]Article 3(2) and Article 4(3) of the Protocol and Article 9(2) of the Fishery Agreement.

[38]Rosenberg: Managing the Resources of the China Seas, Japan Focus, p.3.

[39]Article 3 of the Regulations.

[40]My own paper.

[41]Article 7 of the Regulations.

[42]Article 10 of the Regulations.

[43]Xue, “Improved Fisheries Cooperation,”p.231; Nguyen, “Maritime Delimitation,” p.30.

[44]“The China-Vietnam Joint Fishery Committee Held their Seventh Annual Meeting in Vietnam,”, accessed on 8 October 2010.

[45]“The China-Vietnam Joint Fishery Committee Held their Third Annual Meeting in Vietnam,”, accessed on 8 October 2010.

[46]Zhu, Baoying, “The China-Vietnam Joint Fishery Committee Held their Third Annual Meeting in Vietnam,”,accessed on 8 October 2010.

[47]The 11th Meeting of Expert Group of Fishery Resources in the Beibu Bay held in Guangzhou,, accessed on 28 October, 2010.

[48]“The fishing amount by Guangxi almost equals the total fishing amount permitted for sustainable development in the Beibu Bay (the Gulf of Tonkin),”, accessed on 1November 2010.

[49]Yuan Lin, “Catch rate rises by 296.7% with execution of moratorium system in the South China Sea”,, accessed on 1November 2010.

[50]Article 7 of the Regulations.

[51]Ji Yu and Ouyang Shenghua, “31 foreign fishing vessels were deported by Marine Police in Hainan during the fishing-ban period,”, accessed on 28 October 2010.

[52]Chen Wen, “The 6th working group meeting of joint supervision in the Beibu Bay by China and Vietnam held in Vietnam,”, accessed on 28 October 2010.

[53]Joint supervision in the common fishing zone of Beibu Bay implemented by China and Vietnam,”, accessed on 26 October 2010.

[54]“Joint supervision in the Beibu Bay by China and Vietnam of 2009 finished,”, accessed on October 2010.

[55]Mingshuang Li and Donghua Zhou, “To strengthen joint supervision and maintain the stability and harmony of fishery production in the Beibu Bay,” Journal of Fishery Sciences of China(in Chinses), 9, 2009, p.9.

[56]Huan, Fuhui, “The first joint patrol implemented by China and Vietnam,, accessed on 3 October November 2010.

[57]Chengqing, Xue and Guangyao Zhu, “9th joint patrolto be held by Vietnam and China,”, accessed on 3 November 2010.

[58]Xue, “Improved Fisheries Cooperation:” p.233.

[59]LIU, Yusong, “Five years after the Fishery Agreement came into effect: interview with WU Zhuang, Director of the South China Sea Branch of the Fishery Management Bureau,” Aquaculture of China, 7, 2009, p.4.

[60]Ibid, p.5..

[61]Beibu Bay is the Chinese Name for the Gulf of Tonkin

[62]“Joint supervision of 2010in the Beibu Bay launched,”, accessed on 16 October 2010.

[63]China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Introduction to the China-Vietnam Delimitation Agreement,”, accessed on 3 July 2010.

[64]Mo, Chengxiong, “Fishery Agreement between China and Vietnam came into effect and 10,000 fishermen in Hainan have to find new jobs,”, accessed on 6 October 2010.

[65]H. Huang,”Vietnam Ratified the Sino-Vietnamese Demarcation Agreement for the Gulf of Tonkin“, People’s Daily (Chinese Edition), 16 June 2004, p. 7.

[66]China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Introduction to the China-Vietnam Delimitation Agreement,”, accessed on 3 July 2010.

[67]Nguyen, “Maritime Delimitation,” p.33.

[68]Rosenberg: Managing the Resources of the China Seas, p.4.

[69]Ibid, p.5.

[70]Ibid. p.4.

[71]Marine Stewardship Council, MSC Fishery Standard: Principles & Criteria and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing,, 2010, accessed on 18 November 2010.

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