Researchers: China aquaculture ‘dangerous’ to wild fisheries


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
January 9, 2015

China’s booming aquaculture industry is putting “dangerous pressure” on global fish supplies, according to a research project spearheaded by researchers at the University of Stirling (U.K.) and Stanford University (USA).

In a new paper in the journal Science, the researchers detail the impact China is having on wild fisheries and present a more sustainable alternative to the current practice of using wild-caught fish to feed farm-raised fish.

“Our research shows that so significant is China’s impact on the world’s seafood supply chain – the future availability of global seafood will be dependent on how China develops its aquaculture and aqua feeds sector,” said University of Stirling’s Wenbo Zhang, who conducted the research while completing his Ph.D. at the university’s Institute of Aquaculture.  

China is the world's leading producer, consumer and processor of fish, contributing one-third of the global supply, according to the researchers. Its aquaculture industry relies increasingly on fishmeal made from wild-caught fish, a practice they said depletes wild fish stocks and strains fragile ocean ecosystems. Fishing in coastal waters of China, they added, are poorly regulated and take large volumes of “trash fish,” or species that are undesirable for human consumption.

The research team concluded that recycling waste byproducts from seafood processing plants across China, which can be 30 to 70 percent of the incoming volume of fish, could satisfy between half and two-thirds of the current volume of fishmeal used by Chinese fish farmers.

“This is a critical juncture for China,” said lead author Ling Cao, a postdoctoral scholar at the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University. “If the country makes proactive reforms to its aquaculture sector, like using fish processing wastes instead of wild fish, and generally reducing the amount of fishmeal in aqua feeds, it can greatly improve the sustainability of the industry. If not, the consequences for the entire global seafood supply chain are going to be really serious."

Zhang worked with colleagues from Leiden University, the Netherlands; the University of Wollongong, Australia; Stockholm University, Sweden; The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sweden; and Shanghai Ocean University, China.

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