1. Characteristics, structure and resources of the sector
    1. Summary
    2. History and general overview
    3. Human resources
    4. Farming systems distribution and characteristics
    5. Cultured species
    6. Practices/systems of culture
  2. Sector performance
    1. Production
    2. Market and trade
    3. Contribution to the economy
  3. Promotion and management of the sector
    1. The institutional framework
    2. The governing regulations
    3. Applied research, education and training
  1. Trends, issues and development
    1. References
      1. Bibliography
      2. Related links
    Characteristics, structure and resources of the sector
    China has a long history of aquaculture. However, large-scale production only began after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. More recently, after China opened up to the outside world in the 1980's, the sector has been growing dramatically, becoming one of the fastest growing sectors among the agriculture industries in China. In 2003 China registered a total amount of 30.28 million tonnes of farmed fish, accounting for 64.34 percent of national fishery production. Per capita supply of fish and fishery products from capture and aquaculture reached 36.2 kg. Exports of farmed shrimp, eel, tilapia, shellfish and seaweed have also formed the backbone of Chinese seafood exports, accounting for about 50 percent of national seafood exports in terms of value. The rapid development of aquaculture in China has not only contributed to improved food supply, but has also generated employment and income to the Chinese people. About 4.3 million rural workers are directly employed in aquaculture with an annual per capita net income of 8 667 Yuan.
    History and general overview
    Records of inland aquaculture in China date back 2 400 years. Marine fish and shellfish were farmed slightly more recently, dating back 1 700 - 2 000 years. "Fan Li on Pisciculture" is the earliest existing work in China on fish farming. It is also the first written work in the world on fish farming and sums up the rich experience of raising carp in ponds in the fifth century B.C.

    Fish culture in China has always been a family business based on experience accumulated over generations. The technologies used were primitive and relatively low in yield compared to present advanced techniques. After the 1950's, the Government of China began to use new culture methods characterized by the remarkable technological breakthrough in induced breeding of Chinese major carps, which closed the life cycle of those species in captivity. In 1978 a series of changes was introduced to China's economic policies, whereby central planning was gradually replaced by a market economy. By breaking market monopoly and trade barriers among Chinese regions, China created an enabling environment for the market development of the aquaculture industry. At the same time, scientific and technological advancement also paved the way for large-scale production of the Chinese aquaculture industry. The success in artificial breeding of carps in the late 1950's gradually built up a considerable carp farming industry in China representing 46.4 percent of national aquaculture output, or 78.58 percent of national inland aquaculture output up to 2004. This was followed by many other species such as seaweeds, molluscs, crustaceans and fish which went into massive production after the 1980's. Most of the seeds of farmed species are supplied from hatcheries. The exception is eel farming, which still relies on seeds collected from natural waters or from imports from other countries.
    Human resources
    The development of aquaculture has helped to create job opportunities in China's fishery regions and rural areas. In 2003 the total number of full-time workers involved in aquaculture production was about 4.3 million (working more than 6 months a year). In addition, about 6 million work part-time in the sector (more than 3 months but less than 6 months a year) covering a total of 3.5 million households. Most farms are privately or collectively owned. In 2002 the state owned farms produced only 179 686 tonnes or 1.48 percent of total marine culture production, and 1 144 394 tonnes or 6.75 percent of total inland culture production. There is a high participation of women on the small-scale and family-based fish farms. The knowledge gained by farmers is in most cases from training provided every year by the extension stations established by the Government at various levels, or from technical brochures distributed by the Government through a "science and technology entering rural area programme".
    Farming systems distribution and characteristics
    Cultured species
    Freshwater cultured species

    About 50 commercially important species are cultured. The most commonly farmed species are carps, Chinese bream and blunt-snout bream. Since the 1980's, with increasing domestic and international market demand, various species have been developed or introduced from abroad for commercial cultivation in China such as Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica ), river-nail, mandarin fish (Siniperca chuatsi ), sturgeon (Acipenser sturio ), soft-shelled turtle (Trionyx sinensis ), chinese river crab (Eriocheir sinensis ), loach, snakehead (Channa argus ), crawfish, giant river prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii ), tilapia, rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss ), paddlefish, catfish, frog and european eel (Anguilla anguilla ). In 2003 China produced a total of 17 782 734 tonnes of freshwater aquaculture products. The approximate share of cultured species of the total freshwater aquaculture production was as follows:

    Silver carp and bighead carp 30.10%
    Grass carp 20.20%
    Common carp 13.20%
    Crucian carp 10.00%
    Black carp 1.30%
    Chinese bream and blunt-snout bream 3.30%
    Tilapia 4.20%
    Chinese river crab, giant prawnand soft-shelled turtle 3.40%
    Eel 1.0%
    Others 13.40%

    Marine and brackish waters culture species

    About 40 commercially important species are farmed. Traditional marine culture is largely limited to four groups of molluscs: oysters, calms, blood cockles (Anadara granosa ) and Manila clams. Scallop (Chlamys livida ) and abalone were developed in the 1980s. Seaweed production was developed in the 1950's. The shrimp culture industry was the major cash industry in the 1980s. Penaeus chinensis , Penaeus japonicus , Penaeus monodon , Penaeus vannamei , Penaeus merguiensis , Penaeus penicillatus , Metapenaeus ensis are the major species farmed in China, of which Penaeus vannamei is now becoming the dominant species in terms of production. Marine fish began massive production in 1990s. Sea bream, milkfish (Chanos chanos ), sea perch, Japanese flounder, mullet, yellow croaker (Larimichthys polyactis ), grouper and puffer fish are the major fish species cultured. Species introduced from abroad such as seabass, large mouth bass, turbot (Psetta maxima ), redfish (Centroberyx affinis ) have also been successfully farmed. Of the total marine culture production (12 533 061 tonnes in 2003), the proportion of species groups is as follows:

    Marine fishes 4.10%
    Crustaceans 5.30%
    Molluscs 78.60%
    Seaweeds 11%
    Practices/systems of culture
    Freshwater aquaculture

    Pond culture is the most popular and most important farming system in China, accounting for an estimated 70.54 percent of all inland aquaculture output in 2003. Most pond culture activities are distributed along the Yangtze River basin and the Pearl River basin covering 7 provinces: Guangdong, Jiangsu, Hubei, Hunan, Anhui, Jiangxi and Shanghai, where inland aquaculture output accounted for 67.62 percent of the country's total. In the formerly less developed areas, primarily in the north, northeast and northwest regions, such as Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shandong, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Shaanxi, Ganshu, Ningxia and Xinjiang, the share of freshwater aquaculture as a proportion of the country's total has grown from 2.80 percent in 1979 to 15.42 percent in 2002.

    Apart from pond fish culture, open-water fish farming accounts for most of the remaining output. Nowadays, Chinese fish farmers not only practice intensive culture in pond systems, but have also used this method in open-waters such as reservoirs, lakes, rivers and channels, by using cages, net enclosures and pens. The average unit output of inland aquaculture increased from 297 kg/ha in 1979 to 3 185 kg/ha in 2003, an increase of 2 888 kg, or about 10.72 times. The table below illustrates the unit output of different culture systems.

    Unit output of different culture system
    Year Average (kg/ha)PondLakeReservoir
    Source: China Fisheries Statistics Yearbooks 1979 and 2003

    In recent years, rice fish farming has started to grow from small-scale production and has developed into an important and growing commercial activity. In 2003 the paddy areas for fish farming were expanded to 1.56 million hectares with a total output of 1.024 million tonnes. Carps are the major species cultured, but Chinese river crab (Eriocheir sinensis ) has also gained popularity among rice fish farmers because it is profitable.

    Marine culture

    Marine and brackish water aquaculture has grown rapidly over the last two decades together with diversified culture systems from ponds to floating rafts, pens, cages (inshore, offshore and submerged), indoor tanks with water re-circulation, sea bottom culture and sea ranching. Before 1980 species farmed were mainly kelp, laver (Porphyra ) and mussel which accounted for 98 percent in volume of total marine culture output. Various marine fish species and molluscs have now been developed for marine farming. Cultivation areas and output increased from 117 000 hectares and 415 900 tonnes in 1979 to 1.53 million hectares and 12.53 million tonnes in 2003.

    Cultivation areas and output for different types of waters in 2003
     Shallow seaMud-flatBay
    Area (ha)590 455676 184265 513
    Output (Mt)6 318 0265 091 3301 123 705
    Source: China Fisheries Statistics Yearbook 2003

    Sector performance
    In 2003 total aquaculture production was 30.28 million tonnes compared with 1.23 million tonnes in 1979. The proportion of aquaculture output to the national fishery total increased from 29 percent in 1979 to 64.33 percent in 2003. In 1979 the area devoted to aquaculture was 2 854 million hectares. This gradually increased to 7 104 million hectares in 2003. Aquaculture has thus replaced capture fisheries as the major fishery activity in China. Inland aquaculture is a very important part of China's aquaculture industry. In 1979 inland aquaculture covered only 2.74 million hectares and output was 813 320 tonnes. In 2003 the area had reached 5.57 million hectares and output was 17.74 million tonnes. So far, there are 11 provinces where inland aquaculture production has exceeded 500 000 tonnes. Marine aquaculture has also witnessed rapid development, with an increase from 415 900 tonnes in 1979 to 12.13 million tonnes in 2003.

    Carps are the major species cultured in China, accounting for about 44 percent of total aquaculture production. In 2002 production of silver and bighead carps was 5 102 895 tonnes, followed by grass carp (3 419 593 tonnes), common carp (2 235 634 tonnes), crucian carp (1 697 217 tonnes) and black carp (224 529 tonnes). Chinese bream and blunt-snout bream are also farmed on a large scale with an annual production of 564 086 tonnes. Molluscs are the major marine species group farmed accounting for approximately 33.20 percent of Chinese aquaculture output. In 2002 of the molluscs cultured, oyster output reached 3.63 million tonnes, followed by clams (2.30 million tonnes), scallops (935 585 tonnes), mussels (663 866 tonnes), and razor clams (635 486 tonnes).

    Whilst the culture of traditional species has developed, there has been a trend towards the culture of high value species such as mitten crab, prawns, eel, frogs, crawfish, turtle, sturgeon, halibut, Japanese flounder, groupers, pearls, abalone, sea cucumber etc. The production of high value species now accounts for about 30 percent of total aquaculture production compared to only 1 percent in 1979.

    The graph below shows total aquaculture production in China according to FAO statistics:

    Market and trade
    Unlike capture fish and fishery products, most aquaculture products are marketed in live form in China so as to meet consumer preference for live fish and fishery products. It is estimated that less than 4.7 percent of total aquaculture production is treated or processed for local or overseas markets. For example, gutted Chinese bream and tilapia can be found in supermarkets in big cities in China. A small quantity of canned fish making use of carp has also been seen in supermarkets or big chain markets. Carps, tilapia and other low priced species are mainly consumed at home and at most low class restaurants. High value species such as crab, turtle, marine fish, shrimp and mandarin fish are in most cases consumed at restaurants where aquarium tanks are always available with live fish and fishery products to choose from.

    There are about 340 fish wholesale markets around China where stalls are rented by fish brokers who trade both as wholesalers and retailers. Supermarkets or big chain markets have been introduced fairly recently into China and are becoming important outlets for retailing aquaculture products both live and processed. For example, Carrefour from France has established 5 outlets in Beijing. According to price changes for aquaculture products along the marketing chain, wholesalers make an additional 8 to 50 percent, and retailers receive 10-100 percent depending on the species, quality and size. Restaurants normally make an additional 100 percent from customers. There are also fish peddlers who buy fish from fish farms close to retailing markets at a relatively cheaper price than they buy from wholesalers. Fish farmers directly establish outlets in free markets.

    Aquaculture exports are the most dynamic force behind the rapid increase of Chinese seafood exports. In 2003 China exported a total of US$ 5.49 billion worth of fish and fishery products, of which about 50 percent in terms of value came from aquaculture. In 2003 Chinese exports of major aquaculture products came to US$ 2.45 billion or 643 637 tonnes. The major aquaculture products exported were shrimp (frozen or breaded), baked eel, tilapia (gutted and frozen or filleted), yellow croaker (live or frozen whole), crab (live, frozen or cut), seaweeds or derived products, fish (live or iced) and shellfish. The United States was the major market for Chinese shrimp and tilapia; Japan was the biggest market for baked eel, as well as shrimp and crab. South Korea was the major destination for yellow croaker, seaweeds and live fish. Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China, also absorbs an impressive quantity of live fish and crab from Mainland China. China also exports farmed shellfish to the United States and Japan. The European Union has been totally closed to Chinese aquaculture products since January 2002, but the ban was lifted on 16 July 2004.

    At the end of 2002, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture implemented a programme called "Non Human Hazard Agriculture production." The aim of this programme is to provide farmers and fish farmers guidance in how to farm their products according to required procedures and standards, and those products qualified will be labelled with the seal "Non human hazard agricultural products." The programme is currently being implemented on a voluntary basis.
    Contribution to the economy
    The development of aquaculture has had a positive impact on the social and economic development in rural areas. Fish from capture fisheries and aquaculture as a proportion of total animal products (meat, egg, milk and fish) increased from 20 percent in 1985 to 32 percent in 2002. Aquaculture not only improves food supply to rural farmers, but is also an important means of poverty alleviation in China. From 1985 to 2003 the aquaculture industry generated 4.3 million full-time jobs for rural farmers. The per capita net income of fish farmers reached 4 474 Yuan in 1999, which is much higher than the 1 347 Yuan per capita net income for state defined poor counties in China. Rice fish farming has been extended to the major state designated poor counties as one of the programmes for poverty alleviation and has achieved great success. The rice fish culture system is now practiced mainly in rural poor areas due to small inputs and relatively high economic return.
    Promotion and management of the sector
    The institutional framework
    The Bureau of Fisheries, under the Ministry of Agriculture, is the main administrative body for fisheries and aquaculture. It formulates plans, strategies, policies and programmes for fisheries development, implements and monitors fisheries laws, regulations and international/bilateral fisheries agreements, strengthens fisheries management so as to ensure proper utilization of fisheries and aquatic resources and to protect the fisheries environment, supports fisheries education and scientific research and administers the fish processing industry.

    Under the provinces or the autonomous regions are prefectures, counties and cities. The fisheries departments in the provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities and counties have more or less the same functions as the Bureau of Fisheries in their respective geographical areas. They come under their provincial, autonomous region, municipal and county governments and are guided by the Bureau of Fisheries.

    Other supporting structures for the aquaculture sector include: the National Fisheries Technology Extension Centre which is the national institution responsible for aquaculture extension, and 18 462 fisheries extension stations, which form a network of services across the country. Aquaculture extension is funded jointly by central and local government. The Chinese Fishery Academy is a national academy involved in research on specific subjects, such as the biology of aquatic animals, fishery resources and the socio-economics of fisheries. All these activities are co-ordinated by the National Bureau of Fisheries.
    The governing regulations
    The Fisheries Law (1986, as amended in 2000 ) seeks to enhance - inter alia - the production, increase, development and reasonable utilization of the nation's fishery resources. It requires the state to adopt a policy that calls for simultaneous development of aquaculture, fishing and processing, with special emphasis on aquaculture. The Law is implemented by the Regulation for the Implementation of the Fisheries Law (1987) .

    The Bureau of Fisheries, falling under the Ministry of Agriculture, is the main administrative body governing the fisheries and aquaculture sector. The major functions assigned to the Bureau are to formulate plans, strategies, policies and programmes for fisheries development, to guide fisheries economic reform, to implement and monitor fisheries laws, regulations and international/bilateral fisheries agreements, to strengthen fisheries management so as to ensure proper utilization of fisheries and aquatic resources and to protect the fisheries environment, to support fisheries education and scientific research and to administer the fisheries processing industry.

    The Constitution divides China administratively into provinces, autonomous regions and centrally administered municipalities. Under the province or the autonomous region are autonomous prefectures, counties and cities. The fisheries departments in the provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities and counties have more or less the same functions as the Bureau of Fisheries in their respective geographical areas. They are under direct leadership of their provincial, autonomous region, municipal and county governments, and guided by the Bureau of Fisheries.

    Generally, the highest legislative authority in China is the National People's Congress (NPC) and its permanent body, the Standing Committee. The laws passed by the NPC and its Standing Committee are applied nationwide and are mostly general in nature. They are usually supplemented by rules and regulations that deal with more specific matters, issued by the State Council, which is the highest executive organ, and by relevant ministries. In addition, the people's congresses and governments of provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities may exercise legislative power, provided that such local laws and regulations, which proceed from specific conditions in their geographical areas, do not contravene the Constitution or the laws and regulations adopted by the central government. Over the last decades, many local laws and regulations have been adopted that have relevance for aquaculture and aquaculture products. This overview, however, only addresses those laws and regulations adopted by the central government.

    For more information on aquaculture legislation in China please click on the following link:
    National Aquaculture Legislation Overview - China
    Applied research, education and training


    The research system consists mainly of national and local fisheries research institutions and universities. In 1999 there were 210 fisheries research institutes in China. National research institutions and universities, most of which are engaged in basic and applied research, are the major power for aquaculture research and technological development. National research institutions are funded by central government and are under the direct administration of the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences in the Ministry of Agriculture. Universities fall under the administration of the Ministry of Education or provincial governments. Local institutions focus on solving the technical problems that affect local aquaculture development. They are more producer-oriented and are sometimes quicker to respond to farmers' needs than the other two categories. They are often also a step ahead of national institutions and universities in terms of practical technological advances and are funded mainly by provincial and/or municipal governments. Non-fisheries commercial private companies also sponsor aquaculture research, especially in the areas of aquaculture feeds, chemicals (for the control of fish diseases) and breeding and culture technologies of high-value species.


    Education and on-the-job training are fully supported by central and local government. Some 30 universities admit about 1 000 undergraduate students in aquaculture every year. Five universities and research institutions offer doctoral degrees and nine offer master's degrees in aquaculture and closely related areas. There are also about 10 technical professional schools with the major task of training technical workers for the aquaculture and fisheries sector. On-the-job training for extensioners or farmers is mainly provided by the Extension Stations at various levels. In 2002, under the umbrella of the National Fisheries Technology Extension Centre, 1.8 million man times of local extensioners or farmers were trained. Feed companies also provide training for local fish farmers.
    Trends, issues and development
    Aquaculture production increased from 9.57 million tonnes in 1993 to 30.28 million tonnes in 2003. A proactive policy by the government on aquaculture development as well as the liberalization of fish production and trade are the major reasons behind the fast growth of the industry. Meanwhile, scientific advancements and technological innovations lay down the foundations for massive aquaculture production in China. A well-established education and extension system facilitates the transfer of technologies developed into practices for rural farmers. However, the rapid expansion of the aquaculture industry also brings with it problems such as pollution, outbreaks of disease, genetic deteriorations and seasonal oversupply etc. Aquaculture has been threatened by agricultural and industrial effluent, as well as the tourist industry. Fish safety and anti-dumping issues are now posing new threats to the Chinese aquaculture industry. To cope with some of these problems, the government has already taken action by improving the regulatory and legal framework such as the revised Fisheries Law in 2000 and has issued related rules and regulations including the Aqua Seeds Management Directive in 2001 and the Aquaculture Regulation on Quality and Safety Management in 2002. The aim of this legislation is to strengthen and guide aquaculture production in a more sustainable, responsible and healthy way. At the end of 2002 the Government also launched the "Non Human Hazards Agriculture (including aquaculture) Production Action Plan." About 100 production criteria have been developed for fish farmers to follow.

    With marine capture fisheries in decline (already in negative growth), aquaculture holds much promise for future fisheries development. With continued proactive government policies, adequate advanced planning, scientific designed production technologies and sound management, aquaculture in China can be stable, sustainable, equitable and profitable.
    Bureau of Fisheries. China Fisheries Statistic Yearbooks, 1979-2004.
    Bureau of Fisheries. China Seafood Imports and Exports Yearbook, 2003.
    China Society of Fisheries.1997 . Fan Li on Pisciculture.
    Jiang Yihai. 2004 . Aquaculture Development and Legislation. Chinese Fisheries Economics Magazine, 3: p.35
    Rajeev K Jha , Xu Zirong and Guo Bilong.2004 . China's aquaculture industry marches forward. INFOFISH International Magazine, 3: p.12
    Wang Yanliang.2002 . China Aquaculture Development and Outlook. Aquaculture in the Third Millennium by NACA and FAO in Bangkok
    FAO. 2003 .Aquaculture Development in China: The Role of Public Sector Policies. FAO, Rome, 2003.  online version
    EASTFISH/INFOYU. 1997 . Fishery Industry of China.
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