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Policy-driven changes in enclosure fisheries of large lakes in the Yangtze Plain: Evidence from satellite imagery

Dai, Yanhui, Feng, Lian, Hou, Xuejiao, Choi, Chi-Yeung, Liu, Junguo, Cai, Xiaobin, Shi, Lei, Zhang, Yunlin, Gibson, Luke
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.688 pp. 1286-1297
aquaculture, coasts, ecological function, environmental monitoring, environmental policy, fences, fisheries, humans, lakes, remote sensing, synthetic aperture radar, China
Enclosure fisheries have accommodated the widespread expansion of aquaculture in many lakes throughout the Yangtze Plain (YP), China, for over four decades. Such practices have increased food provision but have also triggered various detrimental environmental consequences. To restore ecosystem functions, the Chinese government recently implemented specific regulations to remove enclosure fences from lakes throughout the YP. However, little information is available on the spatial and temporal distributions of the enclosure fences, particularly in relation to the enforcement of recent policy changes. Using synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite images taken between 2002 and 2018, we conducted the first comprehensive assessment of the interannual changes in enclosure fences in 17 large lakes throughout the YP. Consistent decreases in fence density were found in most lakes after 2015; 15 lakes had >50% of their fences removed, while 9 lakes had >90% removed. The timing and implementation of the development and destruction of enclosure fisheries were related to government policy; before 2015, regional dynamics in enclosure fisheries were attributed to provincial policies, whereas the nearly ubiquitous fence demolition after 2015 was likely a response to national policy. This study represents remotely sensed evidence that demonstrates the importance of both local and national environmental policies and their effectiveness in mitigating ongoing human impacts on vulnerable and valuable natural resources. These findings provide valuable baseline information for future lake environmental monitoring and restoration in the YP region, and the methods used here could be applied to other lacustrine and coastal regions experiencing similar aquaculture activities.