Over-production, relabeling seen as harming China's seafood image
High density aquaculture is harming the Chinese aquaculture sector, forcing down prices and lowering quality standards according to a detailed action plan written by three prominent researchers attached to the ministry of agriculture in Beijing.
Aquaculture volume rose by 8.41 percent in the first 11 months of 2015 while the overall value of output rose 3.58 percent. But while average prices of sea water species rose by 0.42 percent average freshwater prices fell 1.70 percent according to the report, authored by Liu Jingjing and Zhang Jinyi from the ministry of agriculture’s Rural Economic Research Centre and Shen Chen at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
Over-density in China’s aquaculture sector has “increased the prevalence of disease” while also “lowering the quality of our fisheries output,” warns the document, which also blames over-intensive stocking of ponds for a collapse in domestic market prices for freshwater species. A “structural surplus” in freshwater output will only be solved by adding new higher-value species, note the authors.
Inconsistent quality seafood is a reason given by the researchers for the relabeling and re-export of Chinese seafood from neighouring states like Vietnam. The authors claim “widespread” practice of Chinese seafood exporters transhipping seafood through Vietnam to western markets in order to bypass “trade barriers” faced by Chinese produce on sanitary grounds. “The international image of China’s aquatic products has suffered, warn the authors “and this leads to frequent re-labeling by exporters”. Interestingly, they suggest that the large surge in Chinese seafood exports to the Assocation of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc in recent years is partly down to a phenomenon of Chinese exporters trans-shipping their seafood out of Vietnam and other members of the bloc.
The authors also claim that shellfish from China is being sold as Japanese-produced in order to fetch higher demand and prices on the Japanese market. This is being done, say the authors, through “informal channels” and is happening in part because many Chinese exporters are unable to afford the costs of complying with Japanese quality and inspection standards towards Chinese seafood.
Meanwhile the authors also point to problems with seafood imports. They also call for a crack-down on “rampant” smuggling of seafood into China through southeast Asia: the problem, which is particularly bad in Guangxi and Yunnan provinces (bordering Vietnam) is having a “distorting” effect on pricing in China, says the report which was compiled using data from the agriculture ministry’s price monitoring office.
Another phenomenon is the exodus of aquaculture facilities from “developed” fisheries areas. Wealthy coastal provinces like Zhejiang –a province on the wealthy east coast, south of Shanghai – are moving inland, with north-westerly provinces the favoured destination, according to the report. The provinces of Hunan and Jiangxi in particular offer “lower wage and land costs” and have displaced other low-cost producing regions like Sichuan, according to the report which also points to a pilot plan by the Zhejiang regional government for “ecological” standards for aquaculture ponds as a reason for the exodus of pond operators to less regulated inland provinces.
Other worries pointed out by the report include a “feed price war” among producers of aquafeed which are facing falling sales due to aquaculture producers cutting back feed use as a result of falling prices for fish. The report also points to the need for “deep processing” and a shift away from low value processing of seafood.