The Rio Declaration of 1992 called for states to integrate environmental protection in their process of development in order to achieve the ultimate goal of sustainable development (Principle 4). The paper investigates to what extent the People's Republic of China (PRC) has integrated environmental protection into her fisheries policy. The environment/development nexus is analysed in relation to the adoption and implementation of the Fisheries Law of 2000. Official documents and, more importantly, interviews conducted in several organizations at multiple levels of governance disclose a complex reality beyond the formal commitment to sustainable fisheries. Diverging interests, goals and strategies can be traced beyond formal policy documents in Beijing, Guangdong and between the Centre and the Province. Inter-organizational divergences at the central and local levels, as well as between them, hinder the pursuit of environmental protection in the development of China's fisheries sector. The paper highlights the political complexity of pursuing more responsible fisheries in the multi-actor and multi-level political-administrative system of the PRC. Here, as well as in many other developing countries, economic development constitutes the policy priority. Environmental protection often remains not only an ambitious objective but also an unperceived need.