A prominent Chinese seafood processor who challenged data from an academic report suggesting that the Chinese processing industry is mislabeling species to make more money in the re-export industry continues to claim that the report uses erroneous interpretations of the data.
The report, written by a joint US-Norwegian group of academic economists and scientists, was released earlier this year. He claims that China’s seafood processing industry threatens the sustainability of seafood products by facilitating labeling errors and has determined that China’s exports of cod and haddock are 35% higher than its imports – suggesting a substitution for ‘cheaper white fish such as blue whiting, for which there are no recorded exports’. ”
The study detailed how China’s huge re-export processing industry, based on low cost and scale, accounts for 75% of the country’s seafood imports.
The report states that its findings “…largely contradict the narrative that Chinese domestic demand is driving massive Chinese imports, as imports are positively correlated with economic and population growth, although some imported species such as Atlantic salmon are primarily intended for the domestic market”.
The report also calculated that 11% of global seafood trade consists of a product considered an import to China and then an import to the country to which it is shipped after processing.
Unibond Seafood International CEO David Jiang, however, continued to question the report’s data and comments. In particular, he pointed to the claim that China’s exports of cod and haddock outweigh its imports, and told SeafoodSource that the claim that there is substitution in the industry is based on a false representation of facts.
“In our industry, to produce frozen headed and gutted (H&G) fish – for example cod – from live fish, the yield is around 70%, and to produce frozen fillets from H&G, the yield is around 70 percent,” Jiang said.
Jiang said China’s official import and export data for cod and haddock from 2018 to 2021 shows the relationship between imported and exported products.
“It is clearly stated that the volume of fish fillets exported fully matches the import of headed and gutted fish according to the industrial yield factor, which is 70%,” he said.
Data provided by Jiang showed that China imported 1,249,694 metric tons (MT) of H&G cod from 2015 to 2021, derived from a live weight of 1,785,277 MT at a conversion rate of 70%. During the same period, China exported 874,341 tonnes of cod fillets, which Jiang said represents 70% of the total live weight.
When it comes to cod, Jiang said, the imported live weight figure matches the exported figure almost perfectly.
“It’s quite similar in the case of haddock too. H&G Haddock’s conversion rate to fillet is around 57-60%,” Jiang said.
However, one of the report’s lead authors, Professor Frank Asche of the University of Florida, said the new data still matches the report.
“As far as I know, the data presented in the table [provided by Jiang] is in product weight, then exports are of course significantly lower than imports because imports are mostly whole fish while exports are fillets,” Asche said. “However, when converted to whole fish equivalents so that ‘fish weight’ is comparable using FAO data, we get our results.”
According to the research, only a few species groups produced by China are mainly for export, including sardines, mackerel, octopus and tilapia, “and a few species are mainly imported for domestic consumption, such as salmon. from the Atlantic, or as in the case of blue whiting, most likely exported under a different name.
The academic report suggests that China’s export processing model has harmed fishing communities and threatened the sustainability of the seafood industry elsewhere by directly and inadvertently facilitating mislabelling. By creating less economic value in other countries’ processing sectors, China’s efforts are undermining social sustainability globally, according to the report.
Photo courtesy of Groundfish Forum