Changing scenarios in aquaculture development in China

Krishen Rana

Fisheries Information, Data and Statistics Unit (FIDI)



As we move into the next millennium, the domestic and international requirement for both high and low valued fish and aquatic plants for direct and indirect consumption is likely to increase due to a combination of rising populations, living standards and disposable incomes. While the predictions of supply of fish required to meet future needs varies, it is widely acknowledged that fish yield from traditional marine and inland capture fisheries, which reached 95 million tonnes in 1996, is unlikely to increase substantially (SOFIA 1998) and that expectations from the aquaculture sector to meet rising demand will probably increase. For aquaculture, the challenges we therefore face are how to: (a) sustain and increase the current mean annual global growth rate and (ii) strengthen and promote aquaculture as a legitimate and sustainable long term farming activity. In addressing these challenges it should be appreciated that issues faced by aquaculture have not changed greatly but their prioritization has changed, and that these priorities vary between nations depending on the state of aquaculture development. A key consideration in any analysis of achievements and justification of the use of resources in aquaculture will be the availability and use of the necessary information.

In China, the above challenges have been addressed on an ongoing basis within an evolving national aquaculture framework since the 1980s, aimed at increasing and sustaining the efficiency of output. Between 1990 and 1996, China expanded aquaculture production at an average annual rate of 20 percent

and diversified production. Since the 1980s, China's open-door policy together with the decision to gradually decentralize management, have played important roles in transforming aquaculture from a centrally planned to a market-based activity. Available indicators, which will be presented herein, suggest that growth in Chinese aquaculture production can be attributed to an increase in land area used for aquaculture as well as an increase in national average production efficiencies from culture systems.


The Chinese population is predicted to rise from the present 1.2 to 1.6 billion by 2026, reducing further the per capita share of land resources for food production. Per capita agricultural land has steadily decreased from 0.19 hectares (ha) in 1949 to 0.09 ha in 1995 (Wu 1996). These considerations and the rapid changes in population structure, and rising living standards, have presented the Chinese with several challenges and opportunities to meet the rising demand for low and high quality animal products, in particular aquatic products. Between 1991 and 2020 the national per capita consumption of fish is projected to increase annually by 5.6 percent (Huang et al. 1997). The acknowledgement of stagnating wild fish stocks has focused Chinese fishery development policies on expanding inland, brackish and in particular marine aquaculture as a key strategy for meeting changing national demand and consumer patterns.



The gradual transformation of the Chinese economy from a centrally based to a market based economy and the decentralization of the economy to minimize urban migration has had a significant impact on the living standards of Chinese urban and rural populations. Between 1990 and 1996, net per capita income of rural population rose by nearly 19 percent/yr, from 650 in 1990 to 4 200 yuan in 1996. The increases in living standards of the rural sector, derived through diversifying and industrializing the rural economy, were even higher and rose by 21 percent/yr from 350 to 1 700 yuan in the same period (Figure 1).

The accompanying increases in purchase power and the growing affluence of urbanized and rural populations has influenced the consumption patterns of main commodities (Figure 2).

Since the reform policies in the 1980s, Chinese household surveys suggest a gradual shift from a predominately vegetarian (grain and vegetable) to a meat eating diet. In both urban and rural areas the per capita purchases of grain and vegetables have declined and that of red meat and aquatic products increased (Figure 2). Urban populations with their higher disposable income, however, consumed more aquatic products than red meat and between 1985 and 1996 the per capita purchases of aquatic products increased by 2.6 percent/yr from 7 to 9.3 kg/yr. In contrast, the per capita purchases of red meat was higher (11-12 kg/yr) in the rural sector and showed little change in the same time period. For aquatic products (fish and shrimps), however, per capita purchases increased at 7 pecent/yr and more than doubled from 1.6 kg/yr to 3.4 kg/yr.

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To meet these rising demands, China has formulated and refined its aquaculture development policies targeting specific national, provincial and farm level issues aimed at transforming the aquaculture sector from a centrally-based to a market-based activity. At the national level, the development of inland aquaculture production was part of the strategy for rural industrial development. Freshwater aquaculture expanded from the traditional southern aquafarming provinces south of the Huai river, into north eastern, western, and northern regions of China. At the local level,

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China aimed to provide the necessary incentives for individuals, collectives, and State-run farms to increase production (Box 1).

To increase fish production and employment in the Provinces, the area allocated for culture was increased and the types of water bodies approved for aquaculture broadened, attracting hitherto uninterested households, State-owned farms and water conservation departments in many villages and towns into taking up aquaculture as an additional viable economic activity. By 1990, over 2 million people were attracted to aquaculture from other industries, taking the number engaged in aquafarming to over 6 million (Qian 1994). Total fishery (aquaculture and capture) labour in 1996 totalled 12 million. The number of people who were employed full-time in aquaculture in 1996 reached 3 million, an increase of 76 percent over 1990 (Zhao 1997). This increased opportunity, particularly in freshwater production, played an important role in alleviating rural poverty and increasing the income of farmers engaged in capture fisheries and aquaculture.


Aquaculture development in China focused on increasing production from inland as well as and marine waters. Since 1984, the area and intensity of production from ponds, and the utilisation of open waters such as lakes and reservoirs, rivers and rice paddies for freshwater aquaculture have steadily increased. In 1996, 100 percent of available ponds and 81 percent of reservoirs were utilized and opportunities still exist to further develop shallow seas and rice paddy fields (Table 1).

Ponds and reservoirs are the principal types of water bodies utilized for freshwater aquatic production, accounting for 72 percent of inland area (excluding paddy fields) used for aquaculture in 1996 (Zhao 1997). Ponds accounted for 40 percent or 1.96 million ha of inland cultured area. Unlike reservoirs, pond area utilized for aquaculture continued to increase at an average annual rate of 5.6 percent between 1990 and 1996. Similar increases (5.7 percent) in the utilization of marine areas were also reported in the same period (Figure 3).

In addition to area, production yields have also increased at an annual average of 9.4 percent/ yr with improved and more focused technological development. For ponds, national average yields have increased from 2 385 kg/ha in 1990 to around 4 100kg/ha in 1996. Higher increases in fish production yield were achieved with marine fishes. Between 1990 and 1996 national yields increased at an average of 20.1 percent/ yr (Figure 3).

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The culture of the traditional carp and tilapia species, which are farmed across China, continues to dominate production. However, in recent years, there has been greater effort to diversify production to other carps and into higher valued freshwater species such as mandarin fish, freshwater crabs and prawns, soft shelled turtle and eels. In 1996, these new groups were valued at US$ 1.4 billion and represent 6.5 percent of total aquaculture value (Figure 4).

China has also demons-trated that relatively high value species are not necessarily carnivorous species. In matching resources

In the last decade, the ongoing transformation from a centrally planned economy to a market economy has highlighted several shortcomings for the aquaculture sector. These include: a) competition with other industrial sectors for land and aquatic resources particularly in coastal regions; b) degradation of water quality and culture environments through urbanization, industrialization and uncontrolled intensification of aquaculture; c) limited processing capacity of aquaculture products; d) slow or, in some cases no implementation of market oriented policies on price de-regulation; e) unpredictable fluctuations in the quantity and quality of seed, particularly of high value fresh and marine finfish and shellfish species; and f) poorly maintained culture facilities. China has recognized these issues and is addressing them on an ongoing basis.

To address key issues such as pollution, the government has introduced legislation to control water quality in order to protect aquaculture and capture fisheries. Since 1979 over 500 laws and regulations were issued by the State Council (Zhao 1997). Recent regulations are shown in Box 2. For farmers producing high value species, including small shrimp, eel, mandarin fish etc., fluctuations in fry cost, supply and quality, increased feed and medication and other input costs, price fluctuations of end products and high quality standards for export products, have all increased investment risk. To promote sustained production of high valued species, the State is promoting private investment and the formation of joint ventures with foreign companies which should continue to improve technology transfer and reduce some of the investment risk.

and market opportunities, China has also focused on developing relatively high value species which feed low in the food chain such as filter-feeding invertebrates e.g. oysters, scallops, razor shells, cockles, mussels etc. Between 1990 and 1995 production of invertebrate filter feeders increased at 24 percent/yr. In the same period non-filter feeding invertebrates (e.g. crabs, etc.) increased at 49 percent annually. In the same period, demand for marine finfish has lead to an annual increase in production of 33 percent (Figure 5).

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Anon. 1997. China statistical yearbook No 16. China Statistical Publishing House. Beijing, China. 851pp.

SOFIA. 1998. The state of the world fisheries and aquaculture. Rome, FAO. 112pp.

Huang, J., Rozelle, S., Rosegrant, M. W. 1997.
China food economy to the twenty-first century: Supply, demand and trade. International Food Research Institute. Washington, DC 200363006. USA. 18pp

Qian, Z. (ed). 1994. The development of Chinese fisheries and manpower in aquaculture. Agricultural Press, Beijing, China. 212pp.

Wu, Y. (1996) Pollution threatens fisheries. China Daily, 25 August 1996. p8.

Zhao, W. 1997. Research on the sustainable development of aquaculture in China. Paper prepared for the first meeting of the FAO/APFIC Aquaculture and Inland Fisheries Committee meeting. 22p.

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