China’s seafood supply hit by drought

Published on
August 14, 2013

Drought has reduced the supply of product in some of China’s key freshwater regions, forcing up prices and leading local fish markets to consider whitefish alternatives.

“A shortage of local supply due to overfishing and hot weather this summer are increasingly leading China to look to imports,” said Fan Xubing, head of Beijing-based seafood consultancy Seabridge.

A month of drought in the central province of Hunan has cut water supplies, according to provincial authorities that estimate the loss to the local aquatic industry up to 29 July of between CNY 580 million (USD 95 million, EUR 72 million) and CNY 790 million (USD 129 million, EUR 97 million).

“There are 1.3 million ponds in Hunan suffering the drought now… 7,000 tons of fishes have died due to a lack of oxygen, the direct loss of aquatic business has been significant,” according to a Hunan Fisheries Bureau spokesman quoted in the Hunan Ri Bao daily newspaper this week.

A key base for freshwater aquaculture thanks to its numerous lakes, Hubei province reported that 326 rivers in late July had run dry while 65 reservoirs had sunk to unsustainable levels. Both Shanghai and the neighboring province of Zhejiang experienced record temperatures last month, with local thermometers scaling 40 degrees Celsius on several occasions.

The average price of bass (also known as perch) meanwhile has jumped 30 percent in Hangzhou, a key city in Zhejiang province in July due to a heat-induced shortage of supply. The pond price has exceeded CNY 20 (USD 3.27, EUR 2.47)per 500 grams and sometimes reaches CNY 26 (USD 4.25, EUR 3.21) per 500 grams, which is a jump of about 50 percent on this period last year, explained an official reached by phone at the management office of JinJiang Seafood Market.

The surge in prices is due to higher transport and refrigeration costs, explained vendors in the seafood market. Prices are likely to continue to rise, explains one vendor. The next batch of bass won’t be on the market until October so the high price of bass is not likely to drop in the meantime.”

Prices of wild-caught fish meanwhile are also set to rise, due to shortages. Reports from regional media suggest a particularly acute shortage this year. While the moratorium on fishing season in the East China (Donghai) Sea off the coast of Shanghai and Zhejiang province, has ended, trawlers have been slow to return to the sea. Quoted in local daily newspaper, Zhejiang Ri Bao, fisherman Ruan Liang explained: “Right now we can’t even catch small fishes, the fishes don’t have enough time to recover for next fishing period and that is the main reason why they are almost extinct now.”

Data on average food prices collected by the ministry of commerce shows the cost of carp — China’s most consumed seafood species — rose an average 1 percent week-over-week in the first week of August. The latest drought-induced prices rises follow a surge earlier this year when Chinese consumers switched from poultry to fish. Prices for finfish in general rose 10 percent in the first two quarters of 2013 due to bird flu according to Qilu Securities in a note to investors in China’s listed seafood producers.

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