China explores ‘blue carbon justice’

Two people found guilty of fishing with prohibited gear have purchased “blue carbon” credits rather than paying to restore the fish stocks they had damaged.

“Blue carbon” is the carbon stored by the world’s ocean and coastal ecosystem.

This is the latest case in which purchases of carbon credits, including blue ones, have entered China’s judicial system as an alternative means of ecological restoration.

The two people caused 6,352 yuan (approximately US$883) of damage and purchased 242 tons of credits to make up for it, according to the People’s Procuratorate of Wenzhou City, as reported by China National Radio Network.

The law states they should bear responsibility for fixing the damage within a reasonable time period. Fish stocking would be the main method, but requires specific technical skills and timing, Zhejiang Daily explained.

Zhejiang Daily had last year reported that the “blue carbon justice” transaction funds will go to a special blue carbon account and be used for maintaining mangroves, fish stocking and improving the quality of river water.

Courts in some coastal provinces have begun to explore this idea blue carbon justice. China National Radio Network reported in 2021 that the country’s first blue carbon ecological protection tribunal had been established in Fujian.

According to the judicial interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court, when direct ecological restoration is not feasible, buying credits can be used as an alternative.

However, the interpretation only clarifies that forest carbon credits can replace liability for forest damage compensation. According to the Procuratorate Daily, China has not yet established a national marine ecological compensation mechanism. Blue carbon is still in its infancy in China, with unclear measurement methods and a lack of standards for assessment and identification.

Read China Dialogue’s analysis of forest carbon credits as an alternative to direct restoration.