Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

China’s unsustainable fish farms

Fish for sale in Hong Kong Fish for sale in Hong Kong Lewis Tse Pui Lung
23 Jan
2015
China’s fish farms provide three-quarters of the country’s fish, but the industry’s reliance on fishmeal from wild-caught fish is unsustainable

China produces one-third of the world’s fish supply, a figure that has tripled in the last 20 years. However, only a quarter of China’s fish come from the oceans, with most being caught in the country’s fish farms. But aquaculture relies on fishmeal from ocean-caught fish and it’s a situation that is unsustainable, according to new research.

‘The main problem as we see it is the regulation of the fisheries that are linked to providing feed for the aquaculture sector,’ says Max Troell, an ecologist at the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics (BIEE) in Sweden.

‘It’s a very diverse industry, but this high demand puts pressure on various fisheries. There are a lot of mixed fisheries that are providing feed to China’s aquaculture industry,’ he adds. The BIEE’s research suggests that China’s aquaculture industry could change global seafood availability.

‘It’s not possible to say when the fisheries might be exhausted,’ says Troell. ‘Some of the fishing targets areas where fish stock are unknown.’ What is known is that areas with established stocks are being overfished. China’s fish farms still produce more fish than are taken from the oceans.

China’s aquaculture industry could change global seafood availability

‘There’s a need to strengthen the governance of the fisheries sector,’ says Troell. ‘That means regulation and enforcement.’ Developing regulations could be difficult for China. ‘A country like China has so many farms and farmers that the process of how you make regulations is a challenge,’ adds Troell.

China’s government has a policy document committed to sustainable fishing. For the moment little practical enforcement is being done, but Troell is optimistic. ‘In China, you have the political structure that makes it easier for the enforcement of regulation,’ he says. Once the Chinese government acts, it acts decisively.

Recycling waste products might improve the industry’s sustainability. Although there are health and quality issues, the BIEE’s research suggests 30 to 70 per cent of incoming fish volume currently discarded could be reused.

‘Another unaddressed issue is that at the moment ocean-caught fish species that can be consumed by humans are being used for fish meal,’ says Troell. Economics favours using these fish to feed farm animals, but this may not be the wisest way to use the resource, Troell says.

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

Invasive species are considered one of the greatest threats to…

Nature

Professor Steve Fletcher, director of the Global Plastics Policy Centre…

Wildlife

The international conservation agreement CITES is nearly half a century old.…

Wildlife

With Scotland’s salmon under threat, environmental groups are planting trees…

Oceans

As coastal development continues to grow, research begins to reveal the…

Wildlife

Research into rhesus macaques on a remote island finds that survivors of…

Climate

 The release of the latest IPCC report suggests it's 'now…

Wildlife

A new technique to collect animal DNA from thin air could…

Wildlife

As animal species decline, plants that rely on them to…

Nature

Calls to make ecocide a crime are gaining ground

Wildlife

In South Africa, a new wave of poaching has taken…

Tectonics

A volcanologist unpicks the devastating eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai

Oceans

Some areas of the ocean are richer in microplastics than…

Oceans

The ocean floor is home to rich deposits of metals…

Climate

The industry will only keep growing. Could algae help to…

Nature

A monumental effort is underway to map the world’s fungal…

Geophoto

In his project Black Dots, Nicholas JR White set out upon the…

Wildlife

China’s Amur tiger population is recovering, reflecting the country’s changing…

Climate

Scientists are pushing back against the notion that the food…

Geophoto

Xavi Bou's artistic visions of flight beguile the eye