Yellow Sea large marine ecosystem

December 15, 2011, 10:39 am
Source: NOAA


caption Location of the Yellow Sea Large Marine Ecosystem. (Source: NOAA)

A monsoon regime prevails over this Large Marine Ecosystem (LME). Intensive fishing is the primary force driving the LME, with climate as the secondary driving force. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is supporting an LME project in the Yellow Sea to address critical threats to the coastal and marine environment, and to promote ecosystem-based management of coastal and marine resources. China, North Korea and South Korea are the 3 countries bordering the semi-enclosed Yellow Sea LME. Book chapters and articles pertaining to this LME include She, 1999; Tang, 1989; Tang et al, 1999; and Zhang and Kim, 1999.


For a map of general surface layer circulation in February and August, see Tang, 1989. For a map of bottom topography of the LME, see Zhang and Kim, 1999, page 164. The Yellow River (Huang He) and the Yangtze River form large deltas and flow across the continental shelf, emptying large quantities of sediments into the Okinawa Trough. These discharges peak in the summer and have important effects on the LME’s salinity and hydrography. The Yellow Sea LME is an important global resource, supporting substantial populations of fish, invertebrates, marine mammals and seabirds. It is considered a Class I, highly productive (>300 gC/m2-yr) ecosystem based on SeaWiFS global primary productivity estimates. The dominant phytoplankton species are Skeletonema costatum, Coscinodiscus, Melosira sulcata, and Chaetoceros. The dominant zooplankton species are Sagitta crassa, Calanus sinicus, Euphausia pacifica, and Themisto gracilipes. The Yellow Sea has marked seasonal variations and supports both cold temperate species (eel-pout, cod, flatfish, Pacific herring) and warm water species (skates, gurnard, jewfish, small yellow croaker, spotted sardine, fleshy prawn, southern rough shrimp). It includes mammal species such as whales, fin-less porpoise, seals, and sea cow lions. Natural fluctuations in the recruitment of some species have led to reductions in body size and trophic level of catch in this LME.

Fish and Fisheries

caption (Source: NOAA)

The resource is threatened by overfishing. This LME was once one of the most intensively exploited in the world (see Tang, 1989). Today, the major fisheries are at an extremely low level (the average total catch is 200,000 tons) compared with 3 decades ago. They are no longer economically sustainable. There was a major change in catch composition from the 1960s to the 1980s. Larger sized and commercially important species such as yellow croaker and hairtail were replaced by smaller-bodied and low value forage fish, such as anchovy (see Tang, 1989). For catch per unit of effort, from 1960 to 1984, for small yellow croaker, hairtail, Pacific cod, flatfish, cephalopods, skates and daggertooth pike-conger, see Tang, 1989, p. 18. For the annual catch of Pacific herring, Japanese mackerel, anchovy, and scaled sardine from 1952 to 1984, see Tang, 1989, p. 28. For distribution patterns and stock size fluctuations of 7 pelagic fishes from 1981 to 1990, see Tang and Jin, 1999. For specific data on Korea, see Zhang and Kim, 1999. Other commercially important species are fleshy prawn, southern rough shrimp, and Japanese squid. The Japanese anchovy is presently believed to be the most abundant species in the Yellow Sea, with a potential catch of 1/2 million tons a year (see Tang and Jin, 1998). The stress of overfishing has affected the self-regulatory mechanism of the LME. The Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA) has issued a matrix that ranks LMEs according to the sustainable exploitation of fisheries and the predicted direction of future changes. GIWA characterizes the LME as severely impacted in terms of overfishing, with destructive fishing practices. These impacts are increasing (see the GIWA web site). Progress is being made in the introduction of ecosystem based management for this LME (see Zhang and Kim, 1999). A fisheries recovery plan requires the cooperative effort of all countries bordering the LME. The Yellow Sea LME Project will assess fish stocks and establish TACs. The University of British Columbia Fisheries Center has detailed fish catch statistics for this LME. A graphical representation of the data can be obtained by clicking on the figure below.

Pollution and Ecosystem Health

The fishing resource is threatened by both land and sea based sources of pollution and habitat loss resulting from extensive economic development in the coastal zone. There is significant international shipping traffic with associated threats from spills and collisions with marine mammals. For more information on pollution sources in the western Yellow Sea and in the Eastern Yellow Sea, see Duda and Sherman, 2002. GIWA characterizes the LME as severely impacted in terms of eutrophication, and loss and modification of ecotones. These impacts are increasing (see the GIWA web site). She, 1999, analyses the sources and concentrations of pollutants entering the LME (river inputs, heavily polluted bays). The article also examines the disappearance of species, the increased occurrence of red tides, and the concentration of pollutants in organisms. Outbreaks of harmful algal blooms have increased along the Yellow Sea coast, particularly in the presence of islands, and in areas where huge artificial constructions such as dams and dikes have been built. These constructions restrict water circulation. The HABs cause losses to the aquaculture industry. The quality of human health is sometimes poor, with unsanitary conditions on many beaches, as well as contaminated fish and sea products. China and the two Koreas have massive populations living in the Yellow Sea drainage basin. Many environmental problems are of a transboundary nature: industrial wastewater containing major pollutants from port cities; non-point source contaminants of agricultural origin (pesticides); oil discharged from vessels and ports; and oil and oily mixtures from oil exploration. Many marine resources are threatened by these sources of pollution as well as by loss of biomass and biodiversity and climate variability in the Yellow Sea Large Marine Ecosystem. Natural conditions may be playing an important part in the changes in dominant species (see Tang, 1989). As part of the GEF Strategic Action Plan for the Yellow Sea LME, China and Korea will be augmenting pollution assessment and control activities in coastal waters around the margins of the LME.

Socio-economic Conditions

caption (Source: NOAA)

For a map of changes in fishing grounds used by Korean fishermen in the Yellow Sea, see Zhang and Kim, 1999, p. 168. When bottom trawlers were introduced in the early twentieth century, many stocks began to be intensively exploited by Chinese, Korean, and Japanese fishermen. All the major stocks were heavily fished in the 1960s, which had a significant effect on the ecosystem. Pacific herring and chub mackerel became dominant in the 1970s. In the 1980s, anchovy and scaled sardine, smaller-bodied and economically less profitable, took a prominent position. 600 million people, or 10% of the world’s population, inhabit the areas that drain into the Yellow Sea Large Marine Ecosystem. The coastal areas are heavily dependent on the Yellow Sea LME for economic development, recreation, tourism and food. Aquaculture and mariculture are a major use of the coastal waters (see Duda and Sherman, 2002). Seaweed is an important crop. For more information on aquaculture in this LME, see Lee and Sutinen, 1999. The sea is extremely important as a highway for international shipping. Trade is growing between the three countries that border the LME. China has major ports, as have South Korea (Inchon) and North Korea (Nampo). Offshore oil exploration is taking place in China and North Korea. For more information on petroleum and shipping, see Lee and Sutinen, 1999. Tourism is in its infancy. Several sites of picturesque beauty along the coastline could be promoted as tourist attractions (granite mountains of China, swimming beaches of South Korea). The Yellow Sea LME Project focuses on socioeconomic benefits as they relate to resource sustainability options.


Notable progress is being made in the GEF-sponsored International Waters Project (see Global Environment Facility (GEF), which involves China and South Korea. The three countries surrounding the LME share some aspects of historical and cultural background, but differ in political systems, political and economic alignment, and levels of economic development. For more information on the problems and constraints of fisheries management, see Lee and Sutinen, 1999. The transboundary issues that need to be addressed are the management of marine resources, industrial pollution and ecosystem health. There is a lack of a formal infrastructure to bring about international collaboration and cooperation in monitoring and research activities within the LME. This infrastructure is needed for developing resource assessments, baseline studies and emergency plans for mammal die-offs, oil spills, and toxic hazardous materials. The three countries already cooperate in other regional initiatives such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC), Fisheries Marine Resources Conservation Working Groups, and the GEF/UNDP/IMO East Asia Seas project. These already-existing institutional structures will play a crucial role by providing umbrella agreements between the countries. See Yellow Sea LME Project.


Articles and LME Volumes

  • Alfred M. Duda and Kenneth Sherman. 2002. A new imperative for improving management of large marine ecosystems. Ocean and Coastal Management Vol 45 797-833.
  • Lee, S.G. and J.G. Sutinen, 1999. Large Marine Ecosystems, socioeconomic and governance: implications for Korea. Korea Observer, vol. XXX, No. 1, Spring. 9-58.
  • She, Jun, 1999. "Pollution in the Yellow Sea Large Marine Ecosystem: Monitoring, Research, and Ecological Effects," in Q. Tang and K. Sherman (eds.), Large Marine Ecosystems of the Pacific Rim 1998).
  • Sherman, K. 1986. Measurement strategies of monitoring and forecasting variability in large marine ecosystems. In: Variability and management of large marine ecosystems. Pp. 203-236. Ed. By K.Sherman and L. Alexander. AAAS Selected Symposium 99, Westview Press, Boulder. 319 pages.
  • Tang, Qisheng. 1989. "Changes in the Biomass of the Yellow Sea Ecosystem," in Kenneth Sherman and Lewis M. Alexander (eds.), Biomass Yields and Geography of Large Marine Ecosystems, (Boulder: Westview Press) AAAS Selected Symposium 111, pp.7-35.
  • Tang, Qisheng and Xianshi Jin. 1999. Ecology and Variability of Economically Important Pelagic Fishes in the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea. In Q. Tang and K. Sherman (eds.), Large Marine Ecosystems of the Pacific Rim 1998).
  • Zhang, CI and S Kim, 1999. Living marine resources of the yellow sea ecosystem in korean waters: status and perspectives. In: K. Sherman and Q. Tang (editors). Large Marine Ecosystems of the Pacific Rim. Assessment, Sustainability and Management. 163-178.

Other References

  • Deng, J., and Zhao, Q. (eds). 1991. Marine Fisheries Biology. China: Agriculture Press.
  • Lee, J. 1977. Estimation of the age composition and survival rate of the yellow croaker in the Yellow Sea and East China Sea. Bull. Fish. Res. Dev. Agency, Busan, 16:7-31.
  • Lui, X. 1979. Status of fishery resources in the Bohai and Huanghai Seas. Mar. Fish. Res. Paper 26:1-17. In Chinese.
  • Lui, X. (ed.) 1990. Investigation and Division of the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea Fishery Resources. Beijing, China: Ocean Press.
  • Yang, J. 1985. Estimates of exploitation potential of marine fishery resources in China. In: Proceedings of the strategy of ocean development in China. Pp.107-113. China Ocean Press, Beijing.
  • Zhang, Y., and Q. Zhao (eds). 1983. Inshore Fish Egg and Larvae off China. Shanghai, China: Shanghai Science and Technology Press.
  • Zhao, Q. (ed). 1990. Marine Fishery Resources of China. Zhejiang, China: Zhejiang Science and Technology Press

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



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