Chinese distant-water firms plan big push after COVID-19 sales lull

China’s top distant-water fishing firms are making big plans for 2021 after many suffered losses in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chinese tuna fishery firm Shanghai Kaichuang Marine International Co. is predicting a bounce-back year on predicted stronger sales of its marquee product. The pandemic seriously dented demand and pricing for the firm’s tuna, according to the company, which reported a 10.9 percent year-on-year decline in revenues last year to CNY 1.9 billion (USD 285 million, EUR 247 million), alongside a 17.5 percent drop in profits, which sunk to CNY 135 million (USD 20.2 million, EUR 17.5 million).

Kaichuang caught 100,500 metric tons (MT) of tuna in 2020, down 9.6 percent on its total from the previous year – while selling 103,500 MT, down 3.63 percent on 2019 in volume and 10.2 percent in value to CNY 940 million (USD 141 million, EUR 122 million). The figures suggest that demand largely held up at lower prices.

In a recent statement to investors, the firm said it will “develop new fishing grounds” in 2021 and said it will integrate digital innovations in its fishing fleet to allow for better management and efficiency of its operations. The firm also said it will pursue “new fishery” stocks in international waters. On the retail side of its operations, Kaichuang has said it will seek to expand the domestic market for tuna using the distribution channels of its parent firm – state-owned conglomerate Shanghai Bright Foods Group, which owns a large stable of food brands at home and abroad. That fits with a stated Chinese government wish to move the economy towards one driven on domestic market consumption. 

Depressed international demand for tuna and lower prices caused a drop in income at another leading Chinese distant-water fishery firm, Shandong Zhonglu Oceanic Fisheries Co., in 2020. The company recently confirmed its 2020 revenue at CNY 966 million (USD 144.9 million, EUR 125.6), down 14.4 percent from 2019, while its profits fell by 64 percent to CNY 29.5 million (USD 4.4 million, EUR 3.8 million).

The performance of Zhonglu and Kaichuang contrasts with a bullish set of results and projections published earlier this year by top Chinese tuna firm Zhejiang Ocean Family, which reported a bumper tuna catch in Pacific Island waters. The Xin Shi Ji 112 purse-seiner, on its maiden voyage after refurbishments, returned to port after 18 days “loaded to the brim” with tuna. The vessels were operating in waters off the southern Pacific islands of Kiribati and Vanuatu.

Another Chinese distant-water firm, Pingtan Marine, also reported strong results in 2020. Pingtan said it had “discovered new fishery stock in international waters” earlier this year and had dispatched vessels to harvest the fish. As a result, the company said it expects its revenue for the full fiscal year 2021 to increase by 100 percent or more.

Philip Chou, senior adviser for science and strategy at Oceana, criticized the company’s statement, saying it “lacks transparency and is very vague.”

“Without more specificity on where the stocks are located and the ‘seasonal’ nature mentioned, there is no way to assess its reliability,” Chou told SeafoodSource. “There is also no way to tell if these newly discovered stock are occurring in a place where harvest would be legal, regulated, or sustainable. Seasonal fisheries do occur due to reasons of biomass dynamics, seasonal availability, or catchability due to developments in fish life-cycle or regulatory initiatives that are put in place, but none of these areas were elaborated in the company’s press release.”

China’s Ministry of Agriculture publishes annual distant-water fishery harvesting plans, which includes a list of companies and their vessels permitted to engage in distant-water operations in specific waters during specific time windows. The most recent plan for Pingtan Marine shows the company permitted to operate two distant-water programs from 14 September, 2020, to 31 March, 2021, according to Hao Chen, a fisheries policy researcher at the Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.-based China Ocean Institute.  

“If the new stock was found in a totally new region beyond the geographic scope specified in the existing programs, the Ministry of Agriculture would not have enough time to approve a new program and announce it, thereby preventing Pingtan from sending vessels to harvest the new stock,” Hao told SeafoodSource. “By closely monitoring the vessels in the two programs, it would be possible to determine where the stock is.”

Photo courtesy of Shandong Zhonglu Oceanic Fisheries Co.


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