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This study rescales the current state-centric understanding of the development of China’s distant water fishing (DWF) and explores the instrumental role of Chinese provinces in actualizing and shaping this development. The rapid growth of China’s DWF during 2011–2020 can be attributed primarily to five subnational provinces and actors. As a case study, this article shows that the Fujian provincial government proactively carved out development space for boosting its DWF industry, despite Beijing’s growing efforts to tighten central control out of concern over environmental externalities. Central–Local relations remain a critical perspective for those who seek to understand the challenges faced by China’s central government as it tries to rein in the rapid expansion of the country’s DWF activities. 

Hang Zhou

Post Doctoral Researcher