China's mariculture alliance to set standards – but who’ll enforce them?

Published on
November 30, 2015

China appears to have made a move towards expanding its mariculture industry with the recent establishment of the "Mariculture Industry Standards Alliance," a collection of over 60 firms and institutions involved in the sector.

With the stated goal of coming up with a new code of standards for the industry the new body has been set up with the prompting of the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute, an influential state research body. Among the big names which showed up for the inaugural meeting at the Pearl River Hotel in Guangzhou earlier this month were leading players from the corporate side, like Zhangzidao Group, Homey Group Co and Guangdong Evergreen Feed Industry Co.

Government in China appears to have stepped in to force better standards and higher production in mariculture. A document distributed to new members sets the Alliance’s goal as “improving the standardization of marine aquaculture, ensuring quality and safety of aquatic products” and in turn boosting output from the sector.

Chinese seafood producers have been trying to shift some of the nation’s aquaculture to the nation’s seawaters. Yet the establishment of the Alliance also comes at a time when major mariculture producing regions have been struggle to continue growth of mariculture and “sea ranching,” a popular local term for the use of offshore sea areas to grow out species like shrimp and shellfish for later harvesting. Mariculture firms have struggled with competition for use of coastline from industry, real estate and oil exploration. Worsening water pollution has been another issue.

The Mariculture Industry Standard Alliance includes more than 60 leading companies in the sector, from seedlings to breeding and feed production. Other members of the includes Joint Tianjin Bohai Sea Fisheries Research Institute, Rizhao City-based Shandong Province Fisheries Research Institute and Shanghai Institute of Seawater – all of them institutions known for researching species and cultivation techniques for the sector.

But it will certainly be worth watching what kind of “marine aquaculture industry standardization system” emerges from the group. While the alliance is also pledging to assist government and “self-discipline” the sector the term which appears the most is “standardization”.

The experience of aquaculture in China indeed shows that clear standards are indeed needed. China has long concentrated on quantity rather than quality and that’s why processors and exporters of seafood struggle to secure seafood of a consistent quality from the country’s millions of aquaculture facilities. The trouble is implementation. Will the new Alliance be able to count on government or internal resources to police the standards it sets?

The founding documents of the organisation paint in very broad strokes the mission: the new Alliance vows to “enhance the core competitiveness of enterprises” in the sector and promises “mutual benefit” and “win-win cooperation” through the development of standards for the industry. It would be useful to see more details of how this will be realised in practise.

The newly elected chairman of the Alliance, Chinese Academy of Sciences Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute deputy director Li Jian, promises that stakeholders will participate in framing a “fair, transparent, voluntary standards system” for mariculture “as soon as possible”. In an address to new members, Li Jian described the “urgency” and “necessity” of the formation of the new alliance. He’s also pledging to provide a “communication platform” for companies, officials and research institutes involved in mariculture.

Interestingly, there’s no mention of what role the other industry body China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Association (CAPPMA), plays in this new Alliance. It has also dedicated itself to be a platform for industry exchange and standards promotion. In any case, China needs a strong, independent voice for seafood producers. It remains to be seen if the new Alliance is that body.

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