Researcher: China inflates seafood output reports

Local officials are causing China to grossly over-report its aquaculture output, according to a respected local academic investigating the country’s agricultural statistics.

Dr. Yu Xiaohua believes that China likely accounts for as little as half the 60 million tons of aquatic product claimed in official statistics published by the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (and quoted in reports by international bodies such as the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization).

In Beijing on research work, Yu told Seafoodsource that China’s system of political promotions is largely to blame. “Local officials often over-report economic performance of their regions in order to get promoted,” he said. Based at the University of Gottingen in Germany, Yu and a team of academics have focused their research in particular on the Chinese province of Jiangsu, a key center for freshwater aquaculture and in recent years a mecca for crab breeding. “There’s been a big trend there to create famous, prestigious brands which will reflect well on the officials, and they’re grossly inflating the sales of these brands to make a big impression. That’s one source of exaggeration of data.”

Local officials have been able to get away with over-reporting statistics because they know the central government is unable to verify data, Yu said. This is in part due to China’s enormous size but also due to the nature of its bureaucracy.

In China figures such as these are published by the National Bureau of Statistics, which claims the sole right to disseminate official data. Yet the bureau is increasingly in conflict with the department of agriculture (which provides the original raw data) over methodology and the right to circulate data, Yu said. Data quoted by the Chinese Academy of Fisheries, a unit of the agricultural ministry, show China had almost 60 million tons of seafood output in 2012, of which 43 million tons came from aquaculture. 

A question will now surely stand over such data thanks to the field research efforts of the German-based team under Professor Yu, who has also published well-regarded research on the effects of climate change on China’s aquaculture sector, and is currently also focusing on how China’s national pork consumption data is skewered. In pork, as in other agricultural sectors, a big problem is the tendency to over-report output in order to avail of increasingly generous government subsidies geared to raising rural incomes and food output.  


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