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Looking South: Sansha fishermen


06-19-2014 06:48 BJT

For generations, Chinese fishermen have been living on the islands of Xisha, Dongsha and Nansha in the South China Sea. They are known in English as the Paracel Islands, the Pratas Islands, and the Spratly Islands. Two years ago, China established the city of Sansha to administer the islands and their surrounding waters, and one group benefiting from this is the fishermen there. Today in our special series “Looking South”, reporter Han Bin goes to Zhaoshu Island in the Xishas. He heads out on a boat with fishermen and finds out about their connection to the waters.

Morning comes early in the South China Sea. This tiny Zhaoshu island is home to some 200 fishermen. Most have been here for generations.

46 year-old Chen Yihu learned the fishing skills from his father. Today, his 20-year-old son Chen Siyu follows in his footsteps. Almost every day, they go out to sea. Life is not easy, but they are committed to their trade ... and heritage.

“We have to travel quite a far away from the coast, and to find a place where the tide is not too high for safety reasons,” Chen Yihu said.

Siyu has many options in life, but he says he wants to work alongside his father -- and he’s proud of being a fisherman in the South China Sea.

Diving gives him a special perspective. Over the past few years, he’s seen the numbers and varieties of sea snails and fish in coastal waters decline, so the fishermen have to sail further out.

Still, father and son believe life is good.

“I had been fishing in the Zhongsha and Nansha islands for many years before coming here to the Xisha Islands. And I decided to settle here as I found the water full of resources. We now can harvest some 20 kilograms of sea snails each day, earning some 200 yuan” Chen Yihu said.

Rich in fishery resources, the South China Sea has been a traditional fishing ground of Chinese fishermen. And it’s part of a national strategy to boost China’s maritime power, by improving the marine economy with fishing. Sansha provides a place to test the water.

Zhaoshu is one of the main islands of the Xisha Islands. No soldiers or police are stationed here, but many of the island’s fishermen have joined the militia to guard against any foreign illegal fishing activities.

Like Chen Yihu, many fishermen have the bitter experience of being detained and having their property confiscated by Vietnamese authorities for fishing in some disputed waters. Zhaoshu’s population is overwhelmingly male, as the living conditions here are still harsh.

Nighttime doesn’t mean the work stops. It’s also the time for calculating the day’s income and preparing for the next day. And the establishment of Sansha city has given them new hopes for a better life in the future.

“The most inconvenient thing on the island is the shortage of drinking water and vegetables, as well as daily necessities. The new Sansha municipal government has promised to improve our living conditions. We are very grateful and looking forward to all the changes,” said Huang Lianghua, wife of Chen Yihu.

For all the fishermen in Sansha, the establishment of the city means it will be easier to earn a living around the South China Sea.

They will also be better protected in pursuing their trade.

A sea of gold, with priceless treasures. It’s the only life they’ve ever known.

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