A hard year for Chinese seafood exporters

Published on
April 1, 2016

Last year was officially a tough one for Chinese seafood exporters.

China’s seafood output last year totalled 66.9 million tons, up 3.8 percent year-on-year. Exports of seafood (aquatic products is the term used in China’s customs data) exports reached USD 20.33 billion (EUR 17.96 billion) – a 6.3 percent year-on-year slide on the 2014 figure, according to official data.

Imports at USD 8.9 billion (EUR 7.86 billion) were down 2.2 percent on USD 9.18 billion (EUR 8.11 billion), though a volume figure isn’t yet available. In 2014, import volume and value rose by 2.65 percent and 6.34 percent, respectively. China’s trade deficit (the difference between exports and imports) contracted 9.3 percent on the previous year.

The data comes as China’s top fisheries officials are meeting this week in Beijing for the National Fisheries Fishery Work conference which sets state policy priorities for the sector. Output value, meanwhile, grew faster, reaching CNY 1.09 trillion (USD 170 billion), an average annual increase of 10.1 percent, which suggests China is moving to higher-value species.

While it should be noted that China’s export and import figures in value terms have doubled on the figures recorded for 2005, what’s clear is that growth in exports, which averaged in double figures in the previous decade, has slowed dramatically and more quickly than many expected. China’s total output of seafood in 2014 totalled 64.5 million tons, up 4.5 percent over the previous year – the figure is the same as the growth figure reported for 2013, when China’s aquatic products totalled more than 61.72 million tons, an increase of 4.5 percent year-on-year.

One of the more surprising figures published at the work conference was the per capita consumption of aquatic products - at 48.65 kg for urban and rural residents, seafood now accounts for one-third of all animal protein consumed in China. While the bulk of that figure is made up of lower-end freshwater species like carp, there is also increasing trading up to higher-value species.

Growth in average net per capita income for fishermen reached CNY 15,594 (USD 2,408), an average annual increase of 11.71 percent, which is considerably faster than average income growth for migrant workers staffing China’s factories – growth in their incomes fell to just seven percent year-on-year in 2015, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. This suggests an increase in pricing for ever-scarcer fish products, in line with the 10.1 percent increase in output value in 2015.

China needs to further expand its overseas fishery operations, Agriculture Minister Han Changfu, who also has responsibility for fisheries, told the work conference. Han pointed to damage done to East China Sea fishing areas caused by environmental pollution and overfishing.

“Coastal fish spawning grounds have been seriously damaged,” said Han, who warned of “desertification” of the seas.

He also pointed to a serious fall-back in freshwater production on the basin of the Yangtze River, China’s key waterway. Han called on aquaculture producers to “reduce stocking volumes and upgrade and improve the quality and efficiency of fisheries and competitiveness.”

The top official overseeing the fisheries sector, Vice Minister for Agriculture Niu Dun, has said his priorities are encouraging more innovative types of seafood processing and improving the quality and range of species in the aquaculture sector. He also promised to give the fisheries sector more government support to improving insurance coverage and its access to credit.

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?