By SeafoodSource staff
Published on 07 February, 2013
Government and tilapia producers and processors in Hainan province are planning to launch a regional brand for tilapia, to distinguish local tilapia from tilapia produced in other regions of China and pursue domestic and export market opportunities.
The island province is seeking to brand a higher quality, higher-priced type of tilapia, leveraging what it claims are better water quality and environmental standards. A geographic label on tilapia will allow the industry to show a premium product, explains Han Han, program manager at the Chinese Tilapia Aquaculture Improvement Project run by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Foundation (SFPF), an NGO advising Hainan authorities and fish farmers on sustainable cultivation.
Hainan authorities have been keen to expand market share for local aquaculture. Last September, a SFPF-organized Aquaculture Policy Roundtable in Hainan saw U.S. tilapia buyers sit down to talk with producers and officials in Hainan. Out of that, a Sustainable Tilapia Alliance emerged, involving SFPF, government, producers and local research academies (Hainan Research Academy of Environmental Sciences and Hainan University) which is helping the local tilapia industry evaluate disease risks and environmental impacts while sharing best management practices with Hainan tilapia farmers.
Sharing know-how is particularly useful for small to medium-sized farms which are usually not geared to meet global standards required by international buyers, says Han. Lately, Hainan tilapia farmers have struggled with exports: volumes were up in 2012 but unit prices continue to slide, says Han. Some of the smaller fish farms have already gone out of business. “Weaker demand in traditional export markets is continuing to push producers to exit the sector,” explains Han. “Weaker sales of young fish show farmers are not willing to invest in inputs like feeds and fingerlings.”
Competition for coastline is another challenge. While fish farms in Hainan have been less affected than counterparts in more industrialized southerly Guangdong province — the victim of industrial pollution — competition is heating up for coastline, given local government plans to make the island a Dubai-style tourism mecca.
Hainan’s move to a regional brand may be timely, given more stringent environmental standards in China may also force tilapia producers out of the sector, says Han. Experts have pointed out that pollution of local coastal waters by intensive farming of monocultures such as tilapia is contrary to the FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, to which China is a signatory.
The Hainan tilapia sector may be betting a more sustainable, high quality Hainan brand of tilapia will capture global market share. Brazil, Russia and Africa are both emerging as important replacement markets for Chinese tilapia producers, says Han. Weakening export demand and competition from Vietnamese pangasius/bassa production are both challenges for China’s tilapia sector, which thrived on favorable government policy as well as demand for cheaper warmwater fish in the U.S. and E.U. markets. U.S. imports of tilapia fell 10.4 percent in 2011, the first time in a decade shipments fell: value, however, was down only 0.5 percent. China’s tilapia shipments nonetheless in 2011 rose 2.3 percent in volume and 10 percent in value with the fall-off in U.S. sales partly compensated by a rise in exports to Africa: sales to Ghana, the Ivory Coast and Nigeria rose between 1,000 and 8,000 tons according to data published by the FAO.
Two SFPF research projects in Hainan have assessed the impact of tilapia farming on the local environment with oneproject, started in April 2011, monitoring water quality on selected farms in the province, with field data collected by the Hainan Institute of Aquaculture in February 2012. A second project, an assessment of the water bodies surrounding an aquaculture farm, will be conducted by the Hainan Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, the leading state environmental agency in the province.