China’s coastline in transition

Photographer Liu Yuyang captures the tides changing for aquaculture on the Bohai Sea


Aquaculture has spurred economic growth in Shandong province, but it has also seriously polluted its coastline. In the last two years the government has responded by curtailing fish farms in wetlands and mudflat ecosystems. Liu Yuyang visited the peninsula to document what’s happening to the aquaculture farms there, as well as the farmers. His images show us the fates of both the coastline and the people affected by China’s “ecological civilization” and “blue economy”.

“In China, three of every four consumed fish are farmed. Globally, two of every three farmed fish are Chinese,” explains a Ministry of Agriculture official. A 2018 report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation shows that China’s aquaculture sector has produced more than the rest of the world combined since 1991, with China currently accounting for 60% of global output.

But unmanaged development has meant large expanses of China’s shallow waters and wetlands have been occupied by fish farms, sometimes too intensively and with the over-use of chemicals such as antibiotics.

The situation in the Bohai Sea is particularly grave. Unlike the deeper East China and South China seas, the Bohai is semi-enclosed, shallow and largely calm, so aquaculture has expanded rapidly there. Industrialisation and urbanisation along the coast have also meant more pollution and land reclamation. This has weakened the environmental capacity of the Bohai.

In 2018, the government published an action plan to improve management of the Bohai, setting targets for marine pollution and ecological restoration.

Certain areas have been instructed to improve standards and reduce the scale of coastal aquaculture. The aims are to bring the sector in line with environmental requirements, promote more environmentally-friendly and attractive aquaculture approaches and encourage deep-sea aquaculture and marine ranching. An earlier plan also called for the restoration of China’s wetlands, requiring a coverage of more than 533,333 square kilometres by 2020. This plan stipulated that wetlands converted to other uses without permission should be reinstated.

One of the areas named in the 2018 action plan was Laizhou Bay, where Liu Yuyang captured some of the photographs above.