Latest report spells doom for China seafood processing

Published on
August 12, 2016

Chinese production of seafood continues to grow and imports were solid so far this year, but the processing sector faces a wipe-out over the coming decade, according to a statement from the Fisheries Bureau of the Chinese Agriculture Ministry.

China’s seafood production in the first half of 2016 totalled 27.81 million tons, an increase of 3.03 percent, of which aquaculture production accounted for 21.93 tons, an increase of 3.73 percent on the same period in 2015. Capture fisheries contributed 5.88 million tons to the overall figure, an increase of 0.5 percent and reversing a slight decline in volume in the same period last year.

In the first half of 2015, China produced 27 million tons of seafood, up 3.20 percent on the same period last year. Of that figure 21.1 million tons came from aquaculture, up 4.1 percent year on year while fishing contributed 5.8 million tons, down 0.03 percent.

Despite dropping sharply in the second quarter China's import and export trade has “stabilized” according to the statement from the fisheries bureau. Exports totalled 1.96 million tons worth USD 9.63 billion (EUR 8.62 billion), an increase of 3.99 percent and 0.48 percent respectively. Imports at 1.97 million tons worth USD 4.29 billion (EUR 3.84 billion) were up 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively, from the same period in 2015.

Based on this data, there’s been a marked improvement in China’s imports of seafood in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period last year: in the first six months of 2015 China imported 1.93 million tons of seafood, down 14.8 percent on the same period last year. Imports dropped 9.57 percent in value terms to USD 4.14 billion (EUR 3.80 billion) in the first half of 2015.

China’s data for the first half of the year comes with a major health warning for the country’s processing sector, with the agriculture ministry warning that many firms face bankruptcy and many others will leave the sector.

But the ministry was much more upbeat about the increasing efficiency of the aquaculture side. A statement of the Fisheries Bureau of the Chinese Agriculture Ministry described the data as evidence of “steady progress” in improving the efficiency of aquaculture operations in the first half of 2016.

"Structural adjustment” has started in aquaculture for “popular species” like oysters, crayfish, catfish, according to the Fisheries Bureau statement. Farmers are showing “enthusiasm for investment and seedlings” in these species – and are “continuing to expand the scale of farming.” There’s been a 20 percent increase in investment and seedlings in freshwater crayfish stocking, according to the Fisheries Bureau. The statement points to increased use in China of “large-scale water ecological farming” as well as “factory-scale recirculating water aquaculture,” offshore cage culture and “other healthy culture methods” such as "rice shrimp" polyculture.

Commenting on the new data, Fishery Bureau Director Zhang Xianliang promised that Chinese aquaculture is becoming more responsive to market needs. He painted a bleaker picture, however, for firms doing seafood processing for re-export.

China has lost competitiveness in its export prices, while fish consumption is shrinking in key global markets, according to Zhang.

“Some of the export-oriented processing enterprises have encountered unprecedented difficulties in 2016… some companies are cutting back or even going into bankruptcy [and] this is accelerating a restructuring of the industry,” he said.

Chinese firms face “increasingly fierce competition” but the country has an accumulation of long-term development and technology, which should keep it competitive in processing for another decade.

However, he pointed out, in the second quarter there has been an increase in export orders and “some signs of recovery” in export demand for processed seafood.

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500