Workers leaving Chinese fisheries due to low wages

Fisheries remains a chronically low-wage industry in China, but there are signs of improved efficiency and productivity.

The average wage in the industry stood at CNY 21,108 (USD 2,955, EUR 2,744) in 2019, according to the National Fishery Economy Statistical Review, published recently by the Chinese Agriculture Ministry. That’s up six percent on the 2018 figure, but looks meager given what the ministry classifies as the “farm, fishery, and forestry” average annual wage at CNY 39,340 (USD 5,507, EUR 5,114) is only 43 percent of the average national wage.

Average wages in the hospitality sector, by contrast, are 56 percent of the national average while construction wages are 67 percent of the national average annual wage. Not surprisingly, workers continue to exit the sector for jobs elsewhere. There was a 2.69 percent drop in the number of individuals employed in fisheries (including seafood processing and distribution) to 18.2 million total in 2018 (of which, six million are classed as “traditional fishermen”).

However, there are signs of improving efficiency in Chinese aquaculture. Even with the government touting high-profile offshore aquaculture projects, the amount of sea space being used for aquaculture fell 2.4 percent to 1.99 million hectares, while output dropped by 0.57 percent in tonnage terms in 2019. In a possible sign of efficiency, the land mass occupied by pond-type aquaculture dropped 1.13 percent to 5.11 million hectares, of which seawater space dropped 2.49 percent. This happened while the total volume produced stayed static or increased slightly.   

While fisheries workers’ wages are low, there’s clearly growing buying power in the country’s top cities for seafood purchases. A new research report by the New Century Economic Research agency shows average wages at state-owned corporations in Beijing – home to the headquarters of the country’s state-owned enterprises - hit CNY 166,803 ((USD 23,352, EUR 21,684): up 14.4 percent year-on-year) per year in 2019. In Shanghai, the figure reached CNY 149,377 (USD 20,912, EUR 19,419). The average wage at privately-owned firms was CNY 85,262 (USD 11,936, EUR 11,084) in Beijing and CNY 64,226 (USD 8,991, EUR 8,349) in Shanghai. Wages at both public and private companies in the populous southwestern province of Sichuan were half those recorded in Beijing. 

However, the general trend of rising wages as a traditional driver of productivity has been hindered by rising inequality in Chinese incomes, as the country’s residency permits system restricts rural migrants from getting residency status in large cities, whose inhabitants have benefited from a real estate bubble driving property prices skywards.

Photo courtesy of QinJin/Shutterstock


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