UMaine experts create new learning network to help China protect its fish resources

A team of researchers from the University of Maine is developing a new network of international experts, including scientists and policymakers who are interested in China’s fisheries, to investigate the path forward to protect the country’s marine fish populations from overfishing and related sustainability challenges.

The UMaine Fisheries Learning Network project, spearheaded by Yong Chen, professor of fisheries population dynamics, and Bowen Chang, coordinator of the new network, received a $163,300 grant from the Paradise International Foundation. The international network will provide pertinent research and recommend management practices to help China’s policymakers and fisheries managers make the necessary changes to more quickly achieve sustainable fisheries in China.

The learning network project follows and complements the Marine Fisheries Partnership (MFP) project, another international collaborative funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, also coordinated by Chang and based in Chen’s laboratory in UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences. MFP conducts annual study tours to bring key scientists, fishery managers, lawmakers, and nongovernment organizations from China and beyond to the same table for exchange and collaborations, with the ultimate aim of generating additional ideas for better fisheries management in China. 

By offering an opportunity for more Chinese fishery experts to join the cutting-edge, international conversation about how best to preserve marine fish from existing and emerging threats, the learning network project should strengthen science-based policymaking in China and other countries, and foster more collaboration among officials, says Chang. 

“We strive to create a platform of science and policy exchange and collaboration,” he says. “We want people to work together and bring their expertise to the table.” 

China is the largest fishing and fish exporting nation in the world. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the country harvested 65.2 million metric tons of fish through capture and aquaculture in 2015, when its fishing fleet consisted of 672,000 motor-powered ships and 370,000 non-powered ships.  

Overfishing has threatened the sustainability of China’s fisheries and a source of food supply, prompting lawmakers and fishery managers to fight back with protective regulations.   

“Sometimes catch is way above what science says is sustainable,” Chang says. 

While China wants to achieve fishery sustainability, and is eager to adopt new technology that will improve fishery management, Chang says, their efforts are not maximized due to a lack of cohesion among fishery policymakers, scientists, and managers across the national, provincial, and local levels. The new learning network, Chang says, should help “break the silos” separating them and collate their efforts, increasing efficiency. 

“Trying to manage these fisheries as solitary entities seems unproductive sometimes,” Chang says.

The multiyear effort to develop the learning network includes composing papers that tackle broad questions about fishery management policy, forming a think tank that will work with Chinese lawmakers to implement reforms effectively and with strong scientific backing, and create additional working groups to tackle emerging problems. The group also hopes to craft a policy toolbox that will offer policymakers easy access to research and institutional fishery management knowledge from various experts in Europe, South America and other areas. 

The new network will explore the feasibility of various policies implemented in various fisheries for China, such as imposing capture limits for certain fish species and fisheries — also known as total allowable catches (TAC) — which have been incorporated on a trial basis at small Chinese fisheries. As well as Territorial Use Rights for Fishing programs (TURFs) and growing cooperatives that would unite fishermen and advocate for their rights and interests, Chang says. The group also wants to increase data collection, particularly through electronic monitoring, to help guide policy advice.

“There’s a lot of political will to achieve fishery sustainability,” Chang says. “In order to achieve that, we need more data collection.”

The learning network unites fishery experts worldwide to share recommendations for best practices with each other and government officials to prevent the depletion of fish populations and inability for fishermen to harvest them. 

The UMaine-based collaborative has advised Chinese central and provincial policymakers on fishery management since 2018. The group has also facilitated research partnerships among experts from the U.S. and Chinese Academy of Fisheries Sciences and supported inter-university relationships between the University of Maine and three Chinese universities: the Ocean University of China, the Shanghai Ocean University and the Zhejiang Ocean University. 

Chang says by bringing scientists from across the globe together and garnering more expertise for Chinese fishery officials to rely on, the learning network builds off MFP’s goal to serve as a platform for collaborative research, training and scientific exchange. 

Contact: Marcus Wolf,; Bowen Chang,