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China may struggle to meet increasing and changing seafood demand

By 2030 China is likely to consume more seafood than they produce domestically. To deal with this China will likely have three options which include increased seafood imports. Photo: A. Frodesiak/Wikimedia

Story highlights

  • By 2030, China is likely to need an additional 6-18 million tons of seafood to satisfy projected domestic consumption
  • To deal with this China may consider to step up aquaculture production, increase seafood imports and expand its distant water fishing industry
  • Several other countries are in a similar situation like China – experiencing increased demand but slower production

Increasing gap between current targets and future projections puts China at a crossroads. What options do they have and how will that affect global seafood supply?

FEEDING A GIANT: By 2030 China is likely to consume more seafood than they produce domestically. In fact, the country is likely to need an additional 6-18 million tons of seafood to satisfy projected consumption.

That is an increase of 9-27 percent.

This is according to a Perspective paper published in One Earth by centre researchers Beatrice Crona, Emmy Wassénius, Max Troell and Patrik Henriksson together with colleagues from Australia, China, Canada, Malaysia and the US.

Three options

Due to existing and emerging constraints this gap is unlikely to be met by domestic production alone.

What will the implications be?

The authors believe China will likely have three options:

  • step up aquaculture production
  • increase seafood imports
  • expand its distant water fishing industry

Beatrice Crona and her colleagues present three possible scenarios for how this may pan out:

1. From trade hub to end receiver: China can move from today’s situation of being a hub where seafood passes through on its way to other markets, to being the end destination. Increasing income, urbanization and changes in lifestyles have contributed to a bigger Chinese appetite for products like salmon and whitefish.

Reports suggest that China is already increasingly competing with other large consumers such as the US and EU. Imports from other Asian countries would also likely increase.

2. Catch more yourself: While current production targets suggest a decline in distant water fishing, this mode of production may once again become an important source of seafood. An increased presence on the world oceans would align with Chinese ambitions of increasing sea power, but may also risk damage their efforts to appear more responsible as a global actor worthy of international leadership.

3. Invest in overseas production: The Belt and Road Initiative can facilitate large-scale investments elsewhere in the world, including exploiting wild stocks in exclusive economic zones in other countries. Large investments are also note in foreign aquaculture development.

The risk is that wild stocks in other EEZs may be poorly managed, particularly in developing countries. The same goes for aquaculture; negative environmental impacts associated with intense aquaculture production in China may be replicated in Chinese ventures in countries with weak governance.

China is not alone

The authors note that several other countries are in a similar situation like China. This means all nations’ sourcing trajectories need to be considered together.

But given its size, China’s actions and choice matter for the rest of the world.

“Forecasting is notoriously difficult, but we hope our analysis can spur further debate about China and other nations’ future seafood needs, which bring in not just economic but also environmental, cultural and political perspectives” says lead author Beatrice Crona.

Published: 2020-08-24


Crona, B., Wassénius, E., Troell, M., Barclay, K., Mallory, T. 2020. China at a Crossroads: An Analysis of China's Changing Seafood Production and Consumption. One Earth, Perspective, Vol. 3, Issue 1, P32-44, JULY 24, 2020

Link to publication

For more information about the publication, please contact lead author Beatrice Crona:


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