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Fish Depletion Could Happen Again in China, Explains Scholar

March 8, 2010 – China should stop overexploiting its fisheries if it doesn't want to end up like a Chinese city in the  past, says Georgetown historian Micah Muscolino.

In his new book, Fishing Wars and Environmental Change in Late Imperial and Modern China (Harvard University Press, 2009), Muscolino, assistant professor of history, looks at the history of fisheries in China, one of the world’s leading exporters of fish. 

Muscolino focuses on the east coast Chinese city of Zhoushan as an example of what could happen elsewhere in China, if the government doesn’t take a more active management role. 

The Zhoushan Archipelago was China’s most important fishery from its 19th-century expansion until the 1970s, at which point stocks of its most important fish species had been depleted. 

“The transformation of Zhoushan’s marine environment reached unprecedented levels during the 18th and 19th century, when intensified commercialization and demographic expansion drew China’s growing population to move into previously unexploited ecological frontiers,” Muscolino writes.

“Their migrations involved clearing hillsides and tilling grasslands for agriculture, as well as opening up marine fishing grounds.”

In the book, the professor examines changes in the region’s marine environment, along with social, economic and political ramifications.

“Coming to grips with contemporary challenges demands a better understanding of how people have historically generated, perceived and responded to environmental change,” writes Muscolino.

Muscolino concedes that, today, the Chinese government recognizes the problem of its fisheries.

“But the Chinese state’s environmental policies might prove more effective if they recognize existing social practices and try to point them in more sustainable directions,” he writes. 

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