Chinese carp
China is a leading global producer and exporter of seafood, exporting almost $10 billion of seafood a year. It is an important supplier for the United States and Japan. Much of it comes from land-based fish farms that produce everything from shrimp and catfish to tilapea and eel. China is now the second largest importer of fish after Japan.

China is the world's largest fish producer. Top fishing nations (catch in millions of metric tons, 2006); 1) China (44.3); 2) Peru (8.88); 3) India (6.06); 4) United States (5.44); and 5) Indonesia (5.42). China’s catch in 1990 was 13.44 million tons. China's fish catch in 2002: 42.6 million metric tons. Largest harvesters of fish (metric tons): 1) Japan (7.5 million); 2) China (7 million); 3) Peru (6.7 million); 4) Chile (6.5 million); 5) Russia (5.2 million); 6) the U.S. (5 million). [Sources: National Geographic, NOAA ]

In 2003 China caught 16.7 million tons of fish, far outcatching the second-ranked nation, the United States, with its 4.9 million tons. Aquaculture also was substantial in world terms. In the same year, China harvested 28.8 million tons of fish, an amount more than 10 times that of the second-ranked nation, India, which produced 2.2 million tons. The total fish production in 2003 was 45.6 million tons. Of this total, 63.2 percent was from aquaculture, an increasing sector, and 36.7 percent from fish caught in rivers, lakes, and the sea. [Source: Library of Congress]

With some 300,000 fishing vessels and 8 million fishermen, the Chinese fishing industry is by far the world's largest, producing an annual catch in excess 17 million tons. But catches have decreased in waters close to China's shores, forcing the fleet to venture farther.

Chinese fishermen have been at the center of several international disputes. See China's Relations with See South Korea and Japan and the South China Sea Under Government, International.

Good Websites and Sources: NOAA Report on Fisheries ; Wikipedia article on Fishing in China Wikipedia ; Wikipedia Article on Aquaculture Wikipedia ; Manual for Fish Farming in China ; FAO Report on Fish Farming in China

Fish Consumption in China

Top fish consumers per person (including caught and farmed fish): 1) Japan, 66 kilograms; 2) China, 56 kilograms; 3) the United States, 47 kilograms; 4) Indonesia, 20.2 kilograms; 5) Russia, 19.1 kilograms. 2006 NOAA

The amount of seafood consumed in China has risen from 5.2 kilograms in 1980 to 25.4 kilograms in 2003, still far behind Japan which consumes 66.2 kilograms per person. Seafood has traditionally been consumed mostly in coastal areas, a region hat s home to 400 million people. .

Seafood has traditionally been thought of as luxury item. Even today its is very expensive. Chinese have traditionally eaten fresh water fish raised in fish farms. One thing that has really helped the seafood industry is increased use of freezers and refrigerators.

Conveyor belt sushi bars are popular in Beijing and Shanghai. Supermarkets and department stores have displays of tuna and salmon sashimi, assorted sushi, saury and cuttlefish Despite relatively high prices consumers snap it up, so much so that Chinese consumption of sea food has helped lift prices for fish worldwide.

See Food, Life

Fish Processing in China

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Fishing on the Yangtze
Of all the fish caught in the world. Only about three quarters are eaten by humans. The remainder are used to make things like glue, soap, pet food and fertilizer.

The Chinese often made glue from air bladders of fish, usually carp. The tough , white bladders are made of elastic collagen fibers. After simmering to the desired constancy the glue can be used in carpentry and bookbinding. [Source: National Geographic]

U.S. fish producers outsource processing to China. Pacific salmon caught in U.S. Northwest and flounder caught off Alaska are shipped to China for processing. Even though the fish make a round-trip journey of up to 12,800 kilometers it is still cheaper preparing it this way than processing it in the United States. Processing salmon, which requires removing 36 pin bones, is best done by hand. The cost in China is 20 cents per pound compared to $1 per pound in the United States.

Pollock are de-headed and gutted on a ship that catches them in the Bering Sea. The fish are then frozen and sent to China , where they are boned, skinned and cut into portions ranging between 2 ounces and 6 ounces and shipped back to he United States. The transportation costs are 20 cents a pound.

The cost for removing meat from crabs at a processing center in Qingdao, China is one tenth what it is the the United States. Workers in Qingdao earn around $100 to $150 a month.

Japan is the third largest market for Chinese exporters for processed food and fish. Eels are a major export item to China. Most eels are produced Guangdong Province, China exported 46,646 tins of grilled eel, mostly to Japan.

Chinese Fishing Vessels

Fishing vessels from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Russia, Poland and Spain range across all of the world oceans. They are sometimes found poaching in waters off Senegal, Argentina, Gambia, Ghana, Indonesia and the Philippines.

To meet its increasing demand for fish, China uses big freezer trawlers and is building a world-ranging fleet of its own. It is also buying up fishing rights agreements from small island nations.

A Philippine patrol boat arrested 62 Chinese fishermen working waters off of the disputed Spratly Islands.

For many years, a Chinese seaman from Hainan Island, Poon Lim, held the record for floating at sea in a raft and surviving. In November 1942, a vessel he was working on as a steward was sunk by a Nazi torpedo off of South Africa. He floated in an 8-foot wooden life raft for 133 days. The rafts had a few tins of biscuits, some water and a flashlight. He drank a cup of water and ate a biscuit each morning and evening, When that ran out he caught fish with a hook made from wire in the flashlight and captured birds he attracted with a fake nest and rotted fish. He drank rainwater and fish blood and managed to stay alive until he was rescued by fishermen off the coast of Brazil in April 1943.

Overfishing in China

The seas off northeast China have been overfished to the point that sea life such as yellow croakers, cuttlefish and sardines have largely disappeared.

Fish catch statistics coming out of China are sometimes inflated. In 1999, for example, China reported that it caught about 83 million tons of fish. The true figure was about 69 million tons. The over estimates gave the impression that worldwide fish populations were holding steady when in fact they were declining.

Fishermen inflated the figures because their income and futures depended on fulfilling quotas. If the numbers of fish the caught were reduced they could lose their jobs. The government made no effort to verify the fishy figures that were give them.

Fish Farms in China

Aquaculture was invented 3,000 years ago by the Chinese, using waste from silk worm farm to feed carp raised in small freshwater-pond farms.
In the 2000s, one in every three fish eaten worldwide was farm raised. And nearly 90 percent of those eaten comes from China. More farmed seafood is produced in China, India and Southeast Asia than the rest of the world combined but often the aquatic animals are raised with little concern for environmental considerations.

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10th century fish farming

China is the world largest producer of farm-raised seafood, exporting billions of dollars of shrimp, catfish, tilapia, salmon and other fish, The United States imported about $2 billion of seafood products from China in 2007, almost double what it imported four years before. Both freshwater-and seawater-based fhhs farming are widely used. Many farms have a fish farm pond for raising carp. Seafood is raised in fish farms in the Bohai Gulf and other places.

In 2006, Chinese supplied 62 percent of the world’s farmed fish and shellfish according to the FAO. Some Chinese bays are so loaded down with net pens they are no longer navigable. Farmed seafood is also produced in large quantities in India and Southeast Asia. To make up for shortages from natural sources, Chinese have turned to aquaculture to meet demands for freshwater crabs, abalone and other aquatic life. The government offers incentives for fishermen to switch to aquaculture.

Top five fish farming countries (tons per year) in 1990s: 1) China (2,300,000); 2) India (600,000); 3) former USSR (300,000); 4) Japan (250,000); 5) Indonesia (240,000).

Fish and Seafood Problems in China

There are worries that Chinese-produced farmed fish might be tainted with melamine, the chemical added to fish and animal feed to boost protein readings that was at the root of milk contamination scandal in 2008. Melamine consumed by livestock is largely flushed out by the animals’s urinary tract but fish have a different metabolic system that makes it more likely for melamine residues to remain in the fish flesh that is eaten. If there is a problem it is rarely revealed. Fish of any kind are generally not checked for the presence of melamine. In November 2008, 26 containers of shrimp, crawfish, tilapia and other fish from China were rejected for a variety of reasons: salmonella, unsafe additives, unapproved drugs and labeling problems.

Three kinds of farmed fish (catfish, basa and dace) from China were banned in the United States in June 2007 after unapproved drugs were found in them. The banned fish contained the antibiotics nitrofuran and fluoroquinolene and the antifungals malachite green and gentian violet. These drugs are usually given to farmed fish to keep them from getting sick. Particularly worrisome are the fluoroquinolenes, which are useful fighting bacteria infections in humans and the FDA bans so bacteria doesn’t build up a resistance to it. The amounts were very small and didn’t present any health threat unless someone ate large amounts of tainted fish.

In Japan, coliform bacteria or bacteria coli were found in fish sausage, frozen, stewed conger eel, frozen, cut squid and frozen boiled crab from China in violation of the Japanese Food Sanitation Law. Particularly worrisome was charcoal broiled eel, which was found to contain coliform bacteria in excess of regulations and the harmful chemicals: AOZ (3-amino-2-oxazolidinone), semicarbazide, malachite green and Leucomalachite green.

About half the processed eel exported from China to Japan is produced in Fujian Province. One of the largest eel producers in China is Xinghe Food Industry in Putian, Fujian Province. It opened a factory in 2001, employs 1,300 workers and produces 2,000 tons of processed food, mainly broiled eel for the Japanese market. It had 200 million yuan in sales in 2006. To ensure the safety of its products it raises its own eels in 500 hectares of eel-breeding pools and has its own feed factory.

Eel produced by Xinghe has always passed local quarantine inspections but the export of eels was stopped by central government inspectors for several months in 2007 after concerns were raised about eels in Japan. Eel producers in Guangdong have bought advanced American-produced drug substance detection devices that cost almost a half million dollars to inspect eels and seafood there.

In response to all this the Chinese government cracked down on the use of illegal veterinary drugs in the seafood industry. Many fish farmers used the drugs because they were effective in helping fish survive in water that has become increasingly polluted by factories and sewage.

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Freshwater fish farm

Saltwater Fish Farms in China

Some seawater farms raises several varieties of fish and seaweed in the same enclosure. Describing work at a seawater fish farm, AP reporter Elain Kortenbach wrote,"Zhang workers toil from dawn to dusk, grinding frozen fish feed into a paste, transporting plastic trays of it by hand, six or seven times a day, in net enclosures where the fish are raised in their usual ocean environment...The food disappears instantly in a teeming whirl of silver."

Describing the sorting of fish Kortenbach wrote,"Several dozen women in bright kerchiefs and rain capes sit on rafts amid the nets, using hand held strainers to sort fish by size, to ensure that bigger don't eat smaller."

Freshwater Fish Farms in China

Chinese farmers started raising carp in their rice fields at least 2,500 years ago. Freshwater fish farming dates back to the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century. Traditional fish farms raised several species of carp — grass, bighead, silver, common and mud cap — together. Each type either feeds on grass and aquatic life, plankton and organic matter on the bottom.

Joel K. Bourne, Jr. wrote in National Geographic, During the Tang dynasty, Chinese farmers developed an intricate polyculture of carp, pigs, ducks, and vegetables on their small family farms, using the manure from ducks and pigs to fertilize the pond algae grazed by the carp. Carp were later added to flooded paddies, where the omnivorous fish gobbled up insect pests and weeds and fertilized the rice before becoming food themselves. Such carp-paddy polyculture became a mainstay of China’s traditional fish-and-rice diet, sustaining millions of Chinese for centuries. It’s still used on more than seven million acres of paddies in the country. [Source: Joel K. Bourne, Jr., National Geographic, June 2014]

The Chinese have traditionally raised four kinds of fish in freshwater fish farms: 1) carp that fed on zooplankton, 2) carp that fed on phytoplankton 3) carp that feed on grass, and 4) carp feed on detritus. They live together in an balanced sustainable, ecologically-sound way.

Freshwater fish farms are replacing traditional agricultural plots. Many people has fish ponds on their farms.. Fish in southern China are caught in lakes with mesh fish traps, and are raised backyard fish ponds.

In China, most of the fish raised are herbivorous and raising them is not only sustainable but environmental sound. Some farmers raise fish in flooded rice paddies. The fish feed on weeds and insects. Their waste fertilizers crops.

Shrimp Farms

On quarter of all the shrimp produced are raise on shrimp farms. Top shrimp farming nations in terms of weight: 1) Thailand; 2) China; 3) Indonesia; 4) Vietnam; and 5) Bangladesh.

Virus devastated farmed stocks in Ecuador and China in the mid-1990s. Shrimp production declined from 220,000 tons in 1991 to 60,000 tons in 1994. The devastating epidemic caused by poor management and overstocking. It swept through China's shrimp and prawn ponds in the early 1990s. As of the late 1990s the industry had not recovered.

In July 2004, the United States tentatively set tariffs in shrimp from China and Vietnam as low as 7.6 percent and as high as 112.8 percent after finding that exporters had illegally been dumping shrimp in the United States. See Vietnam

China Exports Banned European Eel to Japan

Japan has been importing from China large quantities of European eel, an endangered species whose export from Europe is forbidden. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Importers of the eels claim the trading is legitimate, with export certificates from Chinese authorities. However, the Fisheries Agency plans to ask Beijing to investigate the exports. The agency is skeptical of the explanations provided by the Chinese side that European eels shipped to Japan could have matured in 2013 from eel fry imported to China from France in 2010. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 24, 2014 ^=^]

“The European Union banned the export of the eel, which do not breed outside of Europe, in December of the same year after it was designated as an endangered species by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention. If the Chinese side’s claims are true, it means the eels were farmed in China for at least three years and seven months. Eel fry are usually farmed for about a year in Japan, while the Chinese side insists the average period in China is two years. ^=^

But an industry expert says that eels farmed for more than one year tend to become hard and unsuitable for eating. Others argue it is unlikely that eels would be raised for such a long time out of consideration for economic efficiency. The agency will ask China to reveal details on whether the traceability of the eels from farming to shipment has been properly managed, as it considers the farming period of the European eel imported to Japan to be too long. ^=^

“My guess is that eel fry have been smuggled from Europe to China after the export ban was imposed,” an importer of the European eels said. According to trade statistics, 55.8 tons, or about 223,000 European eels, that were alive and originated in France were shipped to Japan via China from January to May. This year’s imports will likely set a new record.The export of European eels to China increased in 1990s, but catches of European eels saw a sharp drop. The species was listed in Appendix II of the Washington Convention in 2009, as it may face extinction if no restrictions are imposed on trade. Though species listed in Appendix II can be traded when an exporting country allows it, the EU placed a total ban on its export in 2010. ^=^

Cormorant Fishing, Caviar and Otter Fishing

See Animals

In some places you can still find people fishing with trained otters with chains around their neck.

Sea cucumbers, See Japan.

Caviar is harvested from sturgeon caught on the China side of the Amur River.

In China, the Yangtze sturgeon and its cousin the Chinese paddlefish are nearly extinct and the Three Gorges dam is expected to finish them off.

Image Sources: 1) All Posters com Search Chinese Art ; 2) Louis Perrochon ; 3) University of Washington; 4, 5) Nolls China website ; 6) Mongabey

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2015

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