Across China: Lakeside economies fishing for alternative revenue streams

Updated: 2016-04-11

  NANCHANG, April 8 (Xinhua) -- After fishing on Poyang Lake for over three decades, Zhan Zhenghua is worried about his future.

  With an annual income from fishing of no more than 30,000 yuan (4,500 U.S. dollars), he finds it difficult to support his family of six. His 20-year-old son has abandoned fishing and found a job in the city.

  Located along the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, Poyang is China's largest fresh water lake, famous for its fish. But in recent years, drought, pollution and over-exploitation have greatly diminished its stocks.

  A month into an annual fishing moratorium to preserve these precious resources, this body of water is at the heart -- literally and figuratively -- of China's work to develop the network of trade hubs known as the Yangtze River Economic Belt. Authorities are trying to achieve the difficult balancing act of strengthening local industry while safeguarding the environment and rural livelihoods.

  Last month, the Communist Party of China Central Committee approved a guideline saying the program must be "driven by market principles and follow a green path."

  Zhan said of his son, "These young people do not like fishing. The work is hard and not very profitable.

  "We catch fewer fish these days, and what's worse, the price of fish has been decreasing. A kilogram of fish is now worth less than a kilogram of vegetables."

  The people in Zhan's lakeside village in Duchang County, Jiangxi Province, have no farmland and rely almost exclusively on fishing.

  There are more than 10,000 fishermen and 2,600 boats in the county, with most fishermen aged between 45 and 60 and poorly educated. They are generally unreceptive to training for a new career, so it is difficult for them to find alternative jobs. But the fact remains that the lake cannot provide a living for all who feel entitled to one.

  "For the three months of the fishing moratorium, I have nothing to do all day but wander around," said Chen Xiubai, 56.p Local officials are being more active in looking for alternative revenue streams while identifying and trying to eliminate the generally industrial causes for the lake's degradation.

  Zhang Feng, deputy director of Poyang Lake Fishery Bureau, blamed sand dredging and other industries around the lake.

  Chen Laichu, Party secretary of Jinsha, another lakeside village, hopes his village can develop tourism to create new jobs for former fishermen. He wants funding from the provincial government to develop infrastructure and improve education for the fishermen's children to give them a better chance of making a living locally, without fishing.

  Chen Zeshan, deputy director of the environmental protection bureau in nearby Xingzi County, said Poyang Lake protection had improved since a national strategy for the Yangtze River Economic Belt was introduced in 2014, coordinating and regulating local jurisdictions along the Yangtze.

  For example, Xingzi had more than 100 stone-working enterprises in 2015, now reduced to 31 after inspectors ordered the closure of all those found to have inadequate waste water disposal systems.

  Fishermen around Poyang Lake have also gradually accepted the fishing moratorium and become aware of the importance of environmental protection, said Zhang Feng.

  Some locals have abandoned fishing and started new careers on the lake.

  "People in our village bought ferries to transport passengers and goods across the lake," said Zhang Jiaming, party secretary of Datang Village in Xingzi.

  In Datang, which has some 350 households and a population of about 1,500, more than 200 former fishermen are now engaged in shipping. They each make an annual income of 100,000 to 200,000 yuan, many having built fancy new houses.

  "We still make our living from the lake. but in a new way," Zhang said.



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