MANILA – 2 Sept 2022 – Despite disputes across the South China Sea, neighbours must work together to protect vital fish stocks from the risk of collapse. Demonstrating this cooperation, scientists from five countries have delivered a landmark analysis of the region’s shared fish resources that provide food and livelihoods for many millions of people.

With fish stocks in the region down 70% to 95% since the 1950s, the launch of the 1st Common Fisheries Resource Analysis (CFRA) illustrates the benefits of international collaboration and provides a base of scientific evidence to build more sustainable management of the South China Sea’s resources.

The working group of scientists from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam focused on Skipjack Tuna – a highly migratory species – because the actions of one fishing country can affect many others.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) imposes a special responsibility on coastal states to manage Skipjack Tuna stocks cooperatively.

The policy brief that accompanies the scientific report concludes that although “the current fishing levels of adult Skipjack Tuna are probably sustainable in most parts of the South China Sea,” risks remain regarding the overfishing of younger tuna.

“Throughout the South China Sea, there is increasing use of fishing equipment that can catch juvenile Skipjack Tuna. If left unmanaged, this could result in too many juveniles being caught before they can breed, which would result in a rapid decline of the population,” it says.

Policy brief

Scientific paper


In her keynote speech, Dr Clarita Carlos, the Philippines’ National Security Adviser, said she is keen to promote fisheries management cooperation as a way to defuse tension over sovereignty disputes.

“The mindframe is that there is only one ocean,” she said. “There is only one heritage of one kind. There is only one ecology.”

Participants from the five countries convened eight times between 2018 and 2022, with more than 100 scientists and other experts contributing to the group’s first analysis.

“A single fish can breed in the waters of one country, feed in a second country and be caught in a third country. By working together, we can achieve more than any country working alone,” said Dr Mudjekeewis Santos, a CFRA participant from the Philippines National Fisheries Research and Development Institute.  

“This joint analysis shows that regional scientists can work together to develop the scientific evidence that is essential for an effective regional response.”

The new report and continuing work on the shared evidence base are part of efforts by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) to informally convene scientists and policymakers from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam to assess and protect key fish stocks in the region.

The initiative, started in 2018, aims to identify practical steps for sustainable management of South China Sea fisheries resources and promote wider dialogue and collaboration.

The work is part of HD’s private diplomacy, multitrack mediation and peacemaking efforts in more than 75% of armed conflicts around the world.

Photo: Scientists from the five-country working group and HD staff at the launch of the 1st Common Fisheries Resource Analysis. © HD