Fisherman Li Keping loves the loneliness of the open sea and is normally a man of few words, but ask him about the industry he has served for 37 years and he will talk for hours.
He has been a National People’s Congress deputy for eight of those years, and has devoted himself to promoting the interests of fishermen.
He pioneered the development of the booming pelagic fishing industry based in Zhoushan, Zhejiang province. Boats travel away from the coast to fish for squid in open waters, a part of the ocean known as the pelagic zone.
The 53-year-old spoke to other fishermen to gather their views and compiled pages of handwritten notes that he showed to delegates at the NPC’s annual session.
“I regard myself as a representative of my fellow fishermen,” he said. “I dropped out of junior high school to be a fisherman, so I lack the writing skills to express my opinions thoroughly. But I cannot fail my fellows in bringing their suggestions to the top leaders.”
Li was the first fisherman from Zhoushan to work in the pelagic zone in the late 1980s, and is regarded as a leading figure who guided thousands of his fellows toward wealth and prosperity.
At that time, fish stocks near the coast could no longer provide a living for the fleet. Li traveled in the Pacific on his secondhand boat for more than six months and returned with squid worth 2.6 million yuan ($419,000). The average annual income in Zhoushan in 1990 was 1,776 yuan.
“When I first tried pelagic fishing, there was only my one boat,” he said. “Now Zhoushan has 21 pelagic fishing companies with more than 450 modern boats.”
Zhoushan now provides 20 percent of the country’s total supply of squid, and 80 percent of the squid sold in Zhejiang province.
Li owns a company with 32 boats and annual production of more than 50,000 metric tons.
“I have been to every ocean on Earth,” he said. “I was the first to take the step, and I am glad it turned out well.”