China is the largest producer of farm grown fish in the world today. Apart from the sheer size and population of the country, this achievement stems mainly from the pro-active government policies on fisheries, in general, and aquaculture, in particular. They appear to be both efficient and equitable.
Aquaculture in China developed through two policy regimes: the egalitarian model under centralized State planning from 1949 to 1978 and the open-market economy regime which extends from 1978 onwards.
The early egalitarian model under centralized State planning was primarily responsible for much of the progress achieved in securing food self-sufficiency in fish in China. Under such a model, the Governments first priority was to mobilize and organize all available national resources at its disposal to produce more food and raw materials to feed and clothe its people. With the benefit of hindsight and drawing on the experiences learned outside of China, Chinas aquaculture policy thrust and orientation is seen as having been both politically astute and correct. These policies, involving the full participation of Chinas rural communities, which in the early days constituted almost 80 percent of the total population, have been highly effective in making Chinese aquaculture what it is today: the worlds top producer. In addition, they led to the creation and accumulation of real assets and wealth at the national, local and individual levels. Rural incomes and rural livelihoods were also significantly improved. The full participation policy of rural communities in aquaculture also developed the skilled aquaculture workers required to support the efficient development and expansion of the industry in the country.
Over time, as the country steadily modernized, liberalized and diversified its economy, initially at the national level and then slowly at the local level, free market forces have been allowed to determine the allocation and transformation of productive resources at the disposal of the local governments and later, individuals. This process of steady, incremental economic reform began to accelerate in the late 1970s, especially when the Chinese economy began to open up in 1978.
Economic and policy reforms resulted in the countrys development model of open market policies. They were the first contributory factors in the rapid development of aquaculture in China. Recognition of aquaculture as a developmental priority within the fishery sector, full utilization of suitable water surfaces, mudflats and water-logged lands, establishment of a nationwide aquaculture extension network down to the grassroots level, promotion of aquaculture for poverty alleviation, food security and employment among the poorer provinces of the country by providing more funds and assistance through enacting preferential policies, and constant improvement of the legal framework and regulatory system, which provides meaningful safeguards for the sustainable development of the sector were especially correct and timely policies and principles for the fishery sector. They were the engine of this growth. Most of all, the food self-sufficiency policy continued to be the rallying building block and pillar of aquaculture development in the country.
Along with its national policy to produce more food for its population, in the market-economy of aquaculture development model, the Government also embarked on an active export policy to earn the much-needed foreign exchange to purchase capital goods to re-build the economy. This export-led policy was in the national interest. The Government had definite beneficial backward linkages with multiplier effects on the countrys economy all the way to the local communities. Many productive entrepreneurial activities accrued from the derived demand for the exports. Chinese aquaculture, among other sectors, benefited from such a core policy.
Looking to the future in fisheries, aquaculture provides the single greatest potential and hope to not only fill the gap between the projected demand and supply of fish, but also to produce more food to feed the increasing population. With continued pro-active government policies, adequate advanced planning, scientifically designed production technologies and sound management, aquaculture in China can be and is likely to be productively stable, sustainable, equitable and profitable. Contrary to recent negative experiences and growing doubts, responsible aquaculture intensification remains physically feasible, sustainable and profitable, at least in the short run. This is especially so given that less suitable water and land resources remain available for further expansion of the aquaculture sector, and the growing need to protect and preserve the natural environment. Such production intensification must be carried out responsibly and closely monitored based on the principles of the precautionary approach to aquaculture management.
The demand for Chinese aquatic products is expected to remain strong both domestically and internationally. In the domestic market, there is a continuing improvement in Chinese living standards; consumers tastes have been changing towards consumption of more aquatic products; high-value seafood is more and more present in the diets at the expense of the formerly popular low-value species such as carps. Internationally, Chinas entry into the WTO is expected to have a positive impact on the market share of its aquaculture products.
Government policies on aquaculture development and management should continue to be reformed and should facilitate a restructured industry, with a better quality seed production system and an efficient disease prevention and management strategy. The suggested reforms would include the enactment of policy measures for allocating additional funds for aquaculture development, particularly to support projects in appropriate areas and locations. The majority of funds would be allocated primarily for development programmes. Improved technical support and human resource development would also be addressed. These new policies would be enacted mainly in the mid-western regions of China. To further develop sustainable aquaculture in the country, it is also important to strengthen the legal framework for the management of the sector and, in doing so, emphasis will be laid on establishing best management practices for production, environmental protection and food safety.
The Chinese aquaculture development model and experiences provide valuable lessons to other developing countries in their efforts to promote and develop aquaculture:
Aquaculture can be developed in a sustainable manner to generate food and jobs, and improve income and livelihoods of rural and urban populations, thus alleviating hunger and poverty.
The engine for an economically resilient and sustainable aquaculture is the Governments will and determination to establish sound policies in support of the sector development from investment in research, technology and extension services to the protection, conservation, and management of the natural environment and resources as well as the creation of market opportunities.
Full employment of productive factors, including human resources, continuous improvements in legal and regulatory framework for the development of the sector, and scientific breakthroughs in production technologies will strengthen aquaculture and ensure its sustainability, thereby making aquaculture a good contributor to the countrys overall economic growth through the supply of food, employment, foreign exchange and creation of infrastructures, especially in rural areas.