China wants tilapia hub to consolidate, expand, improve quality

Published on
February 3, 2015

One of China’s top three tilapia-producing regions has reported solid export numbers for 2014 and plans to improve the scale and quality of local tilapia production. Guangxi province’s overall exports of seafood totaled 114,000 metric tons (MT) in 2014, up 23.2 percent year on year. In value terms exports were worth USD 640 million (EUR 557 million), up 50.5 percent on the previous year.

Exports of tilapia totaled 90,000 MT, accounting for 80 percent of Guangxi’s overall seafood shipments: These were worth USD 430 million (EUR 374 million), according to data published by the province’s Ocean & Fisheries Bureau. China’s overall tilapia exports of 400,000 MT were worth USD 1.5 billion (EUR 1.3 billion) in 2014.

Tilapia appears more profitable than whitefish processing judging from new data from Liaoning province — a key northerly whitefish processing hub — which reported a 6 percent and 12 percent growth in volume and value terms, respectively, in its 2014 exports.

The long-term outlook for tilapia production in Guangxi looks positive given a government effort to expand the scale and quality of local producers. A “vigorous campaign” to unify tilapia farming and processing has been credited with sustaining growth: The local General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), which inspects factories for quality and sanitary standards, has been encouraging farmers to sign supply contracts with large processing firms. That group includes Baiyang Aquatic Group, which exports processed tilapia but also supplies feed and seedlings to Guangxi tilapia farms.

Firms are being assisted to get Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point (HACCP) and International Standards Organization (ISO) certifications and those unable to attain such certification will be encouraged to merge with larger firms. Firms are also being encouraged to get international seafood certifications required by western retailers: The Guangxi provincial AQSIQ office specifically mentions the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certifications.

The five provinces of Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan and Yunnan account for 90 percent of China’s tilapia output. Guangxi accounts for 18 percent and, combined with its neighbors Guangdong and Hainan provinces, accounts for 80 percent of tilapia cultivation in volume terms.
It remains to be seen how much production can be increased in Yunnan province: It’s mountainous and remote so logistics costs are higher, though advantages include more unspoiled terrain and lower wage levels.

Given that the tilapia industry directly employs more than 60,000 people, it’s not surprising that huge amounts of government effort and funds have gone into breeding varieties of tilapia, which are more resistant to disease and cold: “This will ensure speedy growth in local tilapia output,” suggested Gan Xi, dean of the Guangxi provincial Fisheries Academy, a government agency.

The local government’s demonstration parks and “favorable policies” will guarantee a solid supply of tilapia for overseas buyers, predicts Gan, though a goal for 350,000 MT in tilapia output and CNY 4 billion (USD 639; EUR 556 million) in value terms was ambitious. Given the province reported tilapia exports for the year at 90,000 MT it’s not clear what portion of the province’s output is being diverted domestically.

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