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Fish Welfare Scoping Report: China

By Isla Gibson, Tse Yip Fai, and Marco Cerqueira

Interested in putting research into action? We encourage any organization or industry interested in engaging with fish welfare in China to contact us. We are able to offer consultation in the development of fish welfare standards, and support in the form of training, endorsement, and overseas trips.  

Executive Summary 

Aquaculture is the fastest growing food production sector,​ with an estimated 73 to 180 billion farmed fish alive at any given moment.​ In 2018, the Chinese domestic aquaculture industry was valued at nearly 900 billion yuan, with aquaculture representing almost 1% of total Chinese GDP.​ Today, China accounts for nearly 70% of the world’s total aquaculture production,​ enabling the livelihoods of five million domestic workers.​ Chinese aquaculture distinguishes itself by not only its contributions to global production, but also its technical and scientific achievements in disease control, low-carbon farming systems, hatchery techniques, and commitment to its low-carbon, “green” development philosophy.​ By 2030, China is likely to produce an additional 6-18 million tonnes of aquatic products–an increase of 9-27%–to satisfy projected domestic consumption.

This report aims to summarize the current welfare of farmed fish in China to better understand the world’s leading producer, exporter, and consumer of aquaculture products. In order to identify possible avenues for improving fish welfare, we conducted a detailed review of the relevant literature in both industry and academia, as well as a brief survey of the welfare conditions of a select number of species using internet-based anecdotal evidence. We also consulted a variety of experts from relevant organizations to deepen our qualitative understanding and produce the following conclusions: 


  • Of China’s diverse aquaculture systems, pond culture dominates both freshwater and marine aquaculture and accounts for 72.7% of the world’s freshwater systems. In comparison with other major aquaculture-producing nations, there is a relatively low dominance of any one farmed finfish species.


  • China is a particularly strong candidate to lead in operationalizing the welfare-minded aquaculture of the future due to the scale and diverse composition of the Chinese aquaculture sector, the latest fisheries policies as expressed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA), and the support scaffolding provided by government bodies and research institutions. 


  • Of the various welfare concerns associated with aquaculture in China, mitigating the stress connected to disease rates, water quality, inappropriate slaughter practices, and the high mortality rates associated with transport may all be effective in improving the lives of a large number of animals. These are areas in which the well-being of the fish and the financial interests of the farmer align.


  • Animal welfare work in China has become an increasingly accessible space in recent years, particularly through the development of species-specific certification schemes and through the work of organizations like the International Cooperation Committee of Animal Welfare (ICCAW). This presents a promising avenue for working with large to medium-scale producers willing to spearhead this new trend in corporate responsibility and sustainable aquaculture. 


We conclude with a list of recommendations for future fish welfare work in China. 

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