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China’s aquaculture and the world’s wild fisheries

Ling Cao, L., R. Naylor, P. Henriksson, D. Leadbitter, M. Metian, M. Troell, W. Zhang (2015). Science 347(6218):133-135.


China is the world’s largest producer, consumer, processor, and exporter of finfish and shellfish (defined here as “fish”), and its fish imports are steadily rising ( 1– 3). China produces more than one-third of the global fish supply, largely from its ever-expanding aquaculture sector, as most of its domestic fisheries are overexploited ( 3– 6). Aquaculture accounts for ~72% of its reported domestic fish production, and China alone contributes >60% of global aquaculture volume and roughly half of global aquaculture value ( 1, 3). How China develops its aquaculture sector— and whether such development can relieve pressure on wild fisheries—are key questions for the future of the oceans. China’s wild fisheries, used partially for aquaculture feeds, are both targeted and nontargeted (multiple species of fish captured indiscriminately at one time, including low-valued fish for direct human consumption and fish unfit for direct consumption, a.k.a. “trash fish”) (see the photo) [supplementary materials (SM)]. The country’s nonspecific and often erroneous reporting of fish production and trade ( 7, 8) makes it especially difficult to assess the impact of China’s aquaculture and aquafeed use on ocean fisheries. For example, roughly 300,000 tons of marine fish “nei” (not elsewhere included or unidentified species) are cultivated annually in China’s aquaculture systems, and nei represent 31% of China’s marine capture, surpassing the reported catch of any individual species in its ocean fisheries ( 6). Here, we characterize and quantify the connections between China’s aquaculture production and wild fisheries. We estimate fishmeal demand and trade, and document, to the greatest extent possible, the species and stock status of fish used for aquafeeds. We also assess the potential use of fish-processing wastes for aquafeeds as a means to reduce China’s dependence on capture fisheries while increasing net fish supplies.

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Keywords: aquaculture, aquafeeds, China, sustainability

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