China, with one-fifth of the world's population, accounts for one-third of the world's reported fish production and two-thirds of the worlds reported aquaculture production.
Aquaculture, the farming of fish in ponds, lakes and tanks, accounts for two-thirds of China's reported output. China's 2005 reported harvest was 32.4 million tonnes, more than 10 times that of the second-ranked nation, India, which reported 2.8 million tonnes.
China's 2005 reported catch of wild fish, caught in rivers, lakes, and the sea, was 17.1 million tonnes, far ahead of the second-ranked nation, the United States, which reported 4.9 million tonnes.
The principal aquaculture-producing regions are close to urban markets in middle and lower Yangtze valley and the Zhu Jiang delta.
Since 2002, China has been the world largest exporter of fish and fish products. In 2005, exports, including aquatic plants, were valued at US$7.7 billion, with Japan, the United States and the Republic of Korea as the main markets. In 2005, China was sixth largest importer of fish and fish products in the world, with imports totalling US$4.0 billion.
In 2003, the global per capita consumption of fish was estimated at 16.5 kg, with Chinese consumption, based on her reported returns, at 25.8 kg.
China has a coastline of 14,500 kilometres, and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 877,019 square kilometres. The fishing grounds range from sub-tropical to temperate zones and include 431,000 square kilometres of continental shelves (within 200 meters deep).There are ongoing disputes with several neighbouring nations over the exact extent of the EEZ in the South China Sea.
The China seas contain about 3,000 marine species, of which more than 150 species are fished commercially. Some major marine fishing species in recent times are hairtail, chub mackerel, black scraper (oval filefish or Navodon modestus), anchovy and some species of shrimps, crabs and smaller fishes.
Chinese distant water fishing activities started in 1985 when China gained access to new fishing grounds through agreements with foreign countries. By 1996, these fisheries had extended to 60 regions around the world, employing 21,200 fishermen, 1381 fishing vessels, and caught 926,500 tonnes.
The China National Fishery Corporation (CNFC) is the major operator in the distant water fisheries. It sent the first Chinese fishing fleet to West African waters in 1985. The following year, with other Chinese partners, CNFC started trawling operations in the North Pacific. Tuna longlining followed in the South Pacific, and in 1989, squid longlining in the Japan Sea and the North Pacific.
Inland China has 176,000 square km of inland waters (1.8 percent of the inland area). Eighty thousand reservoirs contribute another 20,000 km2.
China reputably has 709 freshwater fish species and 58 subspecies, with another 64 species migrating between sea and inland waters.
Carp are a commercially important species, particularly silver carp, bighead carp,black carp, grass carp, common carp and crucian carp. Other commercially important species are bream, reeves shad, eel, cat fish, rainbow trout, salmon, whitebait, mullet, mandarin fish, perch, sturgeon, murrel and pangolin. Commercial shellfish include freshwater shrimp and river crabs, molluscs include freshwater mussels, clams and freshwater snails. Aquatic plants are also harvested: lotus, water chestnut and the gorgon nut Euryale ferox. Other commercial species include the soft-shell turtle and the frog.
China inland fish production before 1963 came mainly from wild inland fisheries. Since then, wild inland fishery resources have decreased because of overfishing, dam building, land reclamation for agriculture, and industrial pollution. During the 1970s, the annual output of wild inland fisheries had dropped to 300,000 tonnes per year. In 1978, the government set up organizational structures to deal with these issues, and to stock fish fingerlings in rivers, lakes and reservoirs. This reversed many of the problems, and by 1996 production reached 1.76 million tonnes. However, inland aquaculture has made even bigger gains, and now outstrips production from the wild inland fisheries.
In 1999, China set an objective of “zero growth” in coastal marine capture catch, and in 2001 changed the objective to “minus growth”. To achieve this, China has been reducing vessel numbers and relocating fishermen away from marine capture fisheries. By the end of 2004, 8,000 vessels were scrapped and 40,000 fishermen were relocated. In 2006, China issued the Programme of Action on Conservation of Living Aquatic Resources of China. This provides that, by 2010, deterioration of the aquatic environment, declines in fisheries resources and increases in endangered species will be arrested, over-capacity will be reduced, and efficiencies will be increased.
Aquaculture has been used in China since circa 3500 BC. When the waters lowered after river floods, some fishes, mainly carp, were held in artificial ponds. Their brood were later fed using nymphs and silkworm feces, while the fish themselves were eaten as a source of protein. By a fortunate genetic mutation, this early domestication of carp led to the development of goldfish in the Tang Dynasty.
Cyprinus carpio is the number one fish of aquaculture. The annual tonnage of common carp, not to mention the other cyprinids, produced in China exceeds the weight of all other fish, such as trout and salmon, produced by aquaculture world wide.
Since the 1970s, the reform policies have resulted in the rapid development of China’s aquaculture, both in fresh and in sea waters. Total aquaculture areas rose from 2.86 million hectors in 1979 to 5.68 million hectors in 1996, and the production rose from 1.23 million tonnes to 15.31 million tonnes.
In 2005, worldwide aquaculture production including aquatic plants was worth US$78.4 billion. Of this, the Chinese production was worth US$ 39.8 billion. In the same year there were about 12 million fish farmers worldwide. Of these, China reported 4.5 million employed full time in aquaculture.
In 1979, inland aquaculture occupied 237.8 million hectares and produced 813,000 tonnes. In 1996, they occupied 485.8 million hectares and produced 10.938 million tonnes. In that year, 17 provinces produced 100,000 tonnes from inland aquaculture.
Pond culture is the most common method of inland aquaculture (73.9% in 1996). These ponds are mostly found around the Pearl River basin and along the Yangtze River. They cover seven provinces: Anhui, Guangdong, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi and Shandong. The government has also supported developments in rural areas to get rid of poverty. The sector is significant from a nutrition point of view, because it brings seafood to areas inland away from the sea where consumption of seafood has traditionally been low.
In recent times, China has extended its skills in culturing pond system to open waters such as lakes, rivers, reservoirs and channels, by incorporating cages, nets and pens.
Fish farming in paddy fields is also developing. In 1996, paddy fish farming occupied 12.05 million hectares producing 376,800 tonnes. A further 16 million hectares of paddy fields are available for development.
Species introduced from other parts of the world are also being farmed, such as rainbow trout, tilapia, paddle fish, toad catfish, silver salmon, river perch, roach and Collossoma brachypomum.
Using current culture technologies, much farmed cultivation of marine plants and animals can be applied within the 10 metre isobath in marine environments. There are about 1.33 million hectares of marine cultivable areas in China, including shallow seas, mudflats and bays. Before 1980, less than nine percent of these areas were cultivated, and species were mainly confined to kelp, laver (Porphyra) and mussels.
Between 1989 and 1996, areas of cultivated shallow sea were increased from 25,200 to 114,200 hectares, areas of mudflat from 266,800 to 533,100 hectares, and areas of bay from 131,300 to 174,800 hectares. The 1979 production was 415,900 tonnes on 117,000 hectares, and the 1996 production was 4.38 million tonnes on 822,000 hectares.
Since the 1980s, the government has encouraged the introduction of different marine species, including the large shrimp or prawn Penaeus chinensis, as well as scallop, mussel, sea bream, abalone, grouper, tilapia and the mud mangrove crab Scylla serrata.
In 1989, production of farmed shrimp was 186,000 tonnes, and China was the largest producer in the world. In 1993 viral disease struck, and by 1996 production declined to 89,000 tonnes. This was attributed to inadequate management such as overfeeding and high stock densities.