The importance of China in seafood production and consumption
The global seafood industry, from wild capture fisheries and aquaculture production, to processing and to consumption is dominated by one player — China. In fact China dominates so much that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) graphically represents its statistics twice with China in and without China — it skews numbers and the picture so much. Therefore any attempt by governments, non-government organisations, and industry to improve the sustainability and responsibility of the global seafood industry must engage with China.
So how much of an influence does the country have. Well average marine capture fisheries production over 2003 to 2012 saw China (excluding Taiwan) producing more fish than the following three countries combined.
China has also played the major role in the growth of aquaculture with the country representing more than 60 percent of total world production. In some industries the statistics are staggering. In 2014, for example, bivalve culture in China was about 12 million tonnes — 5 times that produced by the rest of the world. In the same year, of the 8.2 million tonnes of filter- feeding finfish produced from inland aquaculture globally, China harvested 7.4 million tonnes — with 40 other countries making up the remaining 0.8 million tonnes.
In terms of the total number of people directly engaged in fisheries and aquaculture more than one in four are Chinese. Of these 14 million people, 9 million are engaged as fishers (24 % of the world total) and 5 million as fish farmers (27% of the world total). Per capita fish consumption in China increased to about 37.9 kg in 2013 from 14.4 kg in 1993 — an average annual growth rate of 5.0%. Compare this to the United States where per capita fish consumption dropped 4% in 2016 to just 6.8kg.
Predictions keep Asian countries as the main producers, representing 89% of total production in 2025, with China alone predicted to account for 62% of world output with a massive increase of 39.1%. In fact China’s predicted growth by 2025 is nearly the sum total of the 2013–15 averages of Vietnam, Thailand, Korea and the Philippines combined.
The outsourcing of processing activities at the regional and world levels is significant, with whole frozen fish from European and North American markets sent to one of China’s 10,000 seafood processing plants for filleting and packaging by one the more than 400,000 people the industry employs, before then being re-imported.
This increase in production will be needed as per capita fish consumption is expected to increase in all continents, with Asia, Oceania and Latin America and the Caribbean showing the fastest growth. However, in one study that used a series of indicators of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity in a GIS model showed that China, along with Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, the Philippines and Vietnam, as the most vulnerable countries worldwide to climate change.
With most fish stocks either fully fished or overfished, particularly in the western part of the South China Sea, it is critical, given the country’s enormous influence in the global seafood industry, that any sustainability and responsibility initiative have engagement with China.
Most data, tables and graphs sourced from UN FAO SOFIA 2016