China promoting consumption of distant-water catch to tame inflation, conserve local fisheries

Government officials and executives from China’s distant-water fishing sector are teaming up to promote increased consumption of the distant-water catch in interior regions of the country as a way of taming price inflation and conserving local fisheries.

Government officials and executives from China’s distant-water fishing sector are teaming up to promote increased consumption of the distant-water catch in interior regions of the country as a way of taming price inflation and conserving local fisheries.

Officials from China’s Ministry of Agriculture joined members of China’s Distant-Water Fishing Association in Chongqing recently for the “Promoting Ocean Seafood Inland” roadshow, which since September 2021 has also included stops in Changsha, Wuhan, Hefei, and Xi'an. The events have taken place in luxury hotels in the inland cities and have featured seafood exhibits and cooking demonstrations.

Coordinated by the ministry’s Fisheries Administration Bureau – the same office that licenses China’s distant-water fleet – the tour aims to reduce the inflationary pressure on Chinese seafood prices by encouraging greater domestic consumption of seafood caught away from China’s domestic sources. That will also enable progress on a 10-year ban on fishing in the Yangtze River and its tributaries, a ban which was put into place last year to counter chronic depletion of fish stocks in China’s biggest river, according to a press statement to local media.

Speaking by video link to the Chongqing gathering, Li Shumin, a Fisheries Administration Bureau inspector, described how increasing the consumption of distant-water catches was “of strategic importance” to China’s geopolitical ambitions as well as to the country’s dietary health. Li said tuna, squid, mackerel, krill, pomfret, and shrimp have “high nutritional value” and are “valuable, scarce strategic resources.”

Also during the event, the China Distant-Water Fisheries Association signed a memorandum of understanding for further cooperation with the Chongqing Catering Chamber of Commerce.  

China’s position as the world’s biggest consumer and processor of seafood means it has a major stake in ensuring the productivity and sustainability of its wild fishers, according to recent study on the country’s seafood imports by a team of U.S. and Chinese academics.

Titled “Feeding the Dragon: The Evolution of China’s Fishery Imports,” the report quantifies the correlation between surging Chinese imports and IUU risk globally. Drawing on global customs data, the report shows that China’s emergence as a processing superpower forced other developing countries to drop their prices but enabled seafood brands in developed nations to increase their margins.

Yet, as China’s GDP per capita increased rapidly in the past two decades and domestic consumption took off, the country has sought to diversify its seafood sourcing, with a higher percentage of supply coming from a wider variety of supplying nations. China’s imports jumped from 1.03 million metric tons (MT) in 1992 to 5.9 million MT in 2018, with a surge in value from CNY 6.8 billion (USD 1.02 billion, EUR 884 million) to CNY 80.2 billion (USD 12 billion, EUR 10.4 billion) in the same timeframe.

The IUU Fishing Index, which indexes countries by the quality of their laws and enforcement efforts against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, was used by the report’s authors to show the amount of seafood coming into China from countries with

On a value-weighted basis, more of China’s seafood imports come from countries performing better on the IUU Fishing Index, but by volume, more of the supply is coming from countries ranking in the lower quartiles of the index, which also coincides with countries with generally poorer IUU records.

The outpacing of volume by value in China’s import surge is explained in part by a dramatic rise in China’s crustacean imports since 2010. Richer countries – many of them members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – have captured more of the value from China’s rising seafood imports as the country’s consumers demand more premium species such as lobster and shrimp.

In comparison, 43 percent of China’s wild-caught imports and 53 percent of China’s mollusk imports come from countries in the worst-performing quartile of the index. Squid accounts for one-third of the catch by China’s distant-water fleet, and 65 percent of China’s squid inputs (both domestic and imported) are used to satisfy export demand, according to the Feeding the Dragon report.

And in regard to fishmeal and fish oil, 86 percent of China’s imports by volume came from non-OECD countries, including West African states, but by value, imports from non-OECD member-nations and those belonging to the OECD were roughly even. A recent diversification in China’s fishmeal and fish oil sourcing means that while it’s less dependent on Peru than previously, its new sources of fishmeal and fish oil have major IUU issues, the report found.

More broadly, the report found China’s position as the world’s largest seafood importer and processor was tied to its meteoric rise in the 1980s and 1990s to become the manufacturing and export powerhouse of the world, with plentiful container space for the import of seafood for consumption and re-export. However, deglobalization – prompted in part by the Sino-U.S. trade war as well as a retrenchment from Western countries based on a perception of overreliance on Chinese supply chains –along with stringent COVID-related restrictions at Chinese ports, are now threatening to unravel the historical trends that led to China’s rise. However, the report found China has shifted its seafood-related economy to a new model, as Chinese seafood imports are predicted to grow further in coming years. The country is predicted by the report to account for 38 percent of global food fish consumption by 2030.

Photo courtesy of Sergio Delle Vedove/Shutterstock


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