Water pollution fears could cost Chinese aquaculture sector

A looming conflict between several Chinese ministries over water could spell serious trouble for China’s aquaculture sector, judging by harsh action being taken to track and tackle pollution.

A wave of closures of pig farms this spring in several provinces is seen as part of an effort by some regional governments to cut chronic pollution rates before a central government index starts publishing data.

China’s central government wants to establish a public database of water pollution data, similar to the index on air pollution set up in 2013 to assuage public anger over chronic pollution. That air index has been credited with helping to curb chronic air pollution, particularly since political promotion in China is now increasingly linked to regional environmental performance.

The central government had demanded 20,000 monitoring stations be built nationwide by the end of this year, but only a handful are operational, while the Ministry Of Water Resources, Ministry of Environmental Protection and Ministry of Land Resources have been disputing the scale of the problem. (The water ministry claimed 80 percent of Chinese groundwater was unfit for human consumption but later retracted that).

Incomplete and unpublished data, overlapping jurisdiction and contradictory statements have thus far characterised the relationships between three ministries. Each has each been collecting its own data to try to quantify water pollution in a bid to fix the problem.

Central government successfully knocked heads together on air pollution and may now do so on the water index, even as regional officials seek to get their own water contamination figures down. So far, officials have mostly targeted agricultural water pollution for scrutinty – particularly poorly built feedlots and enormous pig farms – but the aquaculture industry could be next.

Overstocking and liberal use of antibiotics in China’s fish and shellfish farms have already given the sector a bad name in populous provinces like Guangdong, where desalination works are underway to repair disused aquaculture sites. Extensive coverage and promotion of the new water quality data system on provincial websites of the Ocean and Fisheries Bureau suggests that the intensive aquaculture sector will almost certainly face scrutiny soon.


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