China braces for Typhoon Megi

Fish farmers, fishermen and seafood processors in southern China are bracing for Typhoon Megi, as the storm and its 175-kph (110-mph) winds barreled toward southern Guangdong province on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Megi hammered the Philippines, killing more than 20 people and damaging or destroying nearly 5,000 homes with 225-kph (140-mph) winds. Though it weakened on Thursday, the storm is expected to regain momentum when it makes landfall more than 250 kilometers (155 miles) east of Hong Kong by Saturday.

Megi, the Korean word for “catfish,” is expected to bring heavy rains and winds to China’s Guangdong, Hainan, Guangxi and Fujian provinces, a hotbed for fish farming, fishing and seafood processing. At press time on Thursday, the storm moved slowly across the South China Sea about 430 kilometers (267 miles) east-southeast of Hong Kong.

In Hainan, an island province southwest of Hong Kong, 26,000 fishing vessels returned to harbor, according to a report from Xinhua News Agency.

Norbert Sporns, CEO of Seattle-based HQ Sustainable Maritime Industries, a vertically integrated tilapia producer in Hainan, told SeafoodSource on Thursday that Megi won’t directly impact Hainan, though heavy rains may accentuate flooding.

“The damage we have suffered [so far] is limited to our fry-breeding facility and to our cooperative farms, [which] we do not own,” said Sporns. “Total damage in dollar terms [isn’t high] since our fry-breeding facility account for less than 2 percent of our revenues.”

The storm is hitting at a bad time, said Sporns, because China’s tilapia industry is still trying to return to “normal” after the brutal winter of 2007-08, when snow and ice storms and lower-than-usual temperatures in southern China hampered production.

“We’re at the tail end of [the effects of] this cold weather spell a year-and-a-half ago that killed off production in Guangdong and part of Guangxi provinces. When these farms came back online with a vengeance and dropped their prices to attract back their buyers, it hurt the industry as a whole. So the center of gravity was finally returning … to something that made more sense for everyone. Then this storm hit.”

“How will [the storm] impact prices?” asked Sporns. “Supply and demand theory would suggest that you would have an increase in prices. Prices had been a little bit lower than where they should have been in our estimation anyway.”

Hainan now produces 300,000 to 400,000 metric tons (live weight) of tilapia annually, according to Sporns.

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