USDA report on China predicts increased demand for seafood imports in 2024

A seafood market in Shanghai, China
A seafood market in Shanghai, China | Photo courtesy of Fotokon/Shutterstock
4 Min

China's seafood imports will grow in 2024, according to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

The USDA’s China Fishery Products Report, released 22 March 2024, predicts Chinese demand for salmon and lobster is set to continue rising, even after Chinese demand for Norwegian salmon spiked to its highest post-Covid-19 point in 2023.

"The longtime global leader in seafood consumption, Chinese consumers increasingly display preferences for high-quality and value-added seafood products," the report said. "Although per-capita seafood consumption dropped slightly in 2022 due to the impact of Covid-related restrictions, demand rebounded in 2023 as the economy reopened."

Foodservice revenue in 2022 declined 6.3 percent year over year in 2022, but the sector rebounded in 2023, with revenue increasing 20.4 percent. Seafood prices remained affordable for most Chinese consumers, giving a boost to the category.

"In a positive sign for continued growth in consumption, prices for most seafood products remain affordable for China’s increasingly price-conscious consumers," the report said. "There is a steady increase in the consumption of frozen and processed seafood. This shift is attributed to improvements in processing techniques, distribution networks (including e-commerce), and the development of cold chain systems. The rising popularity of high-end supermarkets and consumer interest in diverse and nutritious diets featuring seafood also contribute to the growing consumption of frozen and processed seafood. In addition, consumer awareness about potential food safety risks associated with live seafood is playing a role in this shift, as some consumers are opting for frozen and other processed fishery products over live seafood."

Chinese consumers are also moving away from making seafood purchases at wet markets, according to the report.

"The impact of Covid-19 and related control measures accelerated changes in consumer purchasing behavior. There has been a shift from buying fresh and live seafood at traditional wet markets to purchasing fresh and frozen seafood through e-commerce channels," the report found, with shrimp being the most popular seafood item purchased online by Chinese consumers.

China's domestic supply of wild-caught seafood remains constrained, with production declining to 12.88 million metric tons (MT) in 2023, down 1 percent year over year, according to Chinese National Bureau of Statistics data.

Constraints on domestic fishing include government bans implemented in response to stock collapses in Chinese lakes, rivers, and seas, including a 10-year ban on fishing in the Yangtze River introduced in 2021. China has also set strict conservation measures on domestic fishing, attempting to limit the total catch to less than 10 million MT per year. Additionally, it has implemented stricter environmental laws that have limited aquaculture production,

As a result of these shifts, China must grow imports or expand production from its distant-water fleet to satisfy domestic demand, the USDA report found.

China’s 2023 seafood imports reached 4.6 million MT, valued at USD 18.8 billion (EUR 17.5 billion), up 12 percent by volume and 0.5 percent by value compared to 2022 – both all-time high figures. Frozen fish imports rose ...

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