Influx of Vietnamese pangasius having limited impact on China’s tilapia sector

Published on
January 11, 2019

Xuefeng Han is the secretary-general of the Hainan Tilapia Sustainability Alliance, an industry-led initiative to promote sustainable tilapia production in Hainan, a southern island province in China and one of the country’s top three tilapia-producing regions. Han’s organization is pushing for a transformation of China’s tilapia sector into more sustainable, higher-value production, a major component of which is encouraging producers to adopt and incorporate new technologies and big data into their operations. 

SeafoodSource: Was 2018 a good year for your members? 

Han: As we near the end of the year, we probably would not say that 2018 has been a good year for our members, but it also has not been too bad.

SeafoodSource: With the influx of Vietnamese pangasius into China in recent years, are any of your members quitting tilapia for other new species? Do you expect this to happen more often in the future?

Han: It rarely happens. It will not happen for large-scale farmers to withdraw from tilapia culture. You need a significant reason to withdraw from the industry that you have been working with for a long time. To date, there is no such reason.

SeafoodSource: Why is China consuming so much more pangasius? Why import pangasius from Vietnam when China has so much tilapia production at home?

Han: The Chinese market is a big market for aquatic products. China is not only importing pangasius from Vietnam, but also importing a large amount of high-quality aquatic products from many countries. As the world's largest producer of tilapia, half of the tilapia production [in China] is also supplied to the domestic market. In recent years, the rapid development of pangasius in the Chinese market has benefited from its stronger market competitiveness in its price, as well as its meat quality, which is suitable for Chinese cooking.

SeafoodSource: Do you think pangasius will replace tilapia as the most important aquaculture species in Hainan? 

Han: I don't think so. During the introduction promotion period, consumers feel curious about new varieties of food. After this period, there are still variables in the market. However, tilapia, as a good-quality white fish, has a favorable consumption history, so the idea of replacing tilapia is not realistic. From the perspective of farming, it is beneficial to increase the variety of farmed species in the region to ensure the diversity of local aquaculture.

SeafoodSource: Are you seeing a stricter approach by government to enforcing environmental laws? How is this effecting your members and tilapia production?

Han: Yes. As for the strong environmental protection policy implemented by the government in recent years, from the perspective of the long-term development of the industry, the aquatic products produced by the superior environment will be more popular in the market, and its price advantage will be reflected in the market. With the further improvement of the environment and the requirements of the overall aquaculture environment, there will be better conditions for the sustainable development of the Hainan tilapia industry.

SeafoodSource: What kinds of innovation and improvements are you trying to introduce to the Hainan tilapia industry?

Han: The Hainan tilapia industry benefits from Hainan's superior natural environment and unique geographical positioning. For nearly 30 years of the industrial development, Hainan Province has formed a mature and perfect industrial chain. But with the changes in the international market supply and demand pattern – such as the increase of the volume of homogeneous products – the existing farming model has struggled to effectively increase the added value of products. And hence the development of regional industries has entered a bottleneck period. Therefore, the innovation and development of the tilapia industry in Hainan is imperative.

SeafoodSource: Is there any innovation or development you can point to?

Han: Hainan's independent geographical environment, good ecological conditions, and a complete and concentrated industrial chain have created excellent opportunities for organizational innovation and information technology upgrading. The scattered and small-scale farms have gradually formed into all sorts of cooperatives, helped by the driving force that comes from different stakeholders in the industry fully understanding the market and the concept of sustainable development.

Farm cooperatives, [and] processing and feed enterprises can be integrated at a higher level through industry associations and other organizations so that [the tilapia sector] becomes more resilient to the changing market. Subsequently, the industry has been encouraged to participate in multi-stakeholder collaboration, from standardization of seedlings and feeding to application of chemicals and disease surveillance, while 24-hour water quality monitoring is ensured by an Internet of Things (IOT) system, through which data and information have been shared across the chain to enhance the transparency.

SeafoodSource: Can you give me one or two examples of tilapia products – like convenience food products – for the domestic market?

Han: All companies are strengthening the research and development of tilapia products in various forms and flavors. Currently, products launched in the market are: pickle fish from Hainan Xiangtai Fishery Co. Ltd., seasoned fish steak from Hainan QinFu Foods Co. Ltd., and fish sauce from Hainan Sky-Blue Ocean Foods Co. Ltd. More new products will enter the market soon.

SeafoodSource: How successful have you been in getting new export markets? Can you replace the U.S. market with new markets like Iran or Ghana? 

Han: The U.S. market is a market we have been cooperating with, and the market base formed by the consumers’ recognition and the mutual trust of trade is irreplaceable. At present, the increased demand for tilapia products in the new market such as African market and the Middle East market, has a positive effect on the stable development of the global tilapia industry.

SeafoodSource: The Chinese yuan has weakened in value this year. Does this help you to export?

Han: I think that only a stable exchange rate can make both buyers and sellers win-win, and only a win-win market is a good market in the long term.

SeafoodSource: What are your association’s goals for 2019?

Han: As a regional industry association our goal in 2019 is to continue to build the Hainan tilapia brand while promoting standardized farming, enhancing industry self-regulation, and improving farming technology with stronger awareness of responsible farming. Meanwhile, we want to maintain cooperation with the government, while linking the companies in the industrial chain, and playing a greater role in the industry.

Photo courtesy of Hainan Tilapia Sustainability Alliance

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