Aquafeeds in China amid a changing aquaculture landscape in 2019

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In 2019, industry estimates on the total aquafeed production were between 22 and 23 million tonnes while the Alltech Feed Survey gave a production of 16,527,000 tonnes. 

 “The feed demand for the carps rose in 2019, led by that for grass carp as more farmers began to use commercial feeds,”

Dong Qiufen, Guangdong Nutriera Group.

Production of various species of carps reached 18.2 million tonnes in 2019. In 2018, a 200% growth in demand for pangasius feeds was projected. This did not happen as low fish prices since early 2019 in Vietnam favoured imports and farming the fish in China slowed down.

Demand for snakehead fish feed doubled in 2019. The exponential rise for crayfish feeds (from 0.4 million in 2018) demonstrated the continued interest to farm this ‘small lobster’.

“In 2020, some expectations are small increases in the demand for feeds for the tilapia, grass carp and marine fish but lower than in 2019 for the common carp,”

Dr Zhou Enhua, US Soybean Export Council (USSEC), Shanghai.

Table 1. Estimates on aquafeed production in 2019 for some leading aquatic species provided by industry in China.

Environmental protection

The changing aquaculture landscape in China followed the nationwide promotions on green aquaculture and aquatic food safety. Zhou and Dong explained how regulations relating to environmental protection led to the removal of many cages from lakes and reservoirs, and how illegal offshore farming was stopped. Seafood safety supervision was further strengthened where farm inputs and final product inspections were strictly conducted. Zhou added that this favoured recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS) and the USSEC’s IPRS (In Pond Raceway System).

“We are promoting the IPRS technology here in China and elsewhere. We started the first IPRS demo with three raceways/ cells in Jiangsu province in 2013. Now the total number of estimated IPRS raceways has reached over 6,000 in more than 20 provinces and cities. This technology is recommended as one of the top nine advanced technologies for green and sustainable aquaculture in China. By adopting the new technology, farmers will also produce more fish in a controllable environment, thus increasing feed demand and use of more soybean meal.”


“Along the supply chain, new and high value business models have been developed quite rapidly. These included eco-branded fish, traceable certification, ready to eat or processed food, online and offline outlets and container farming. Industry emphasised this as part of the modernisation of China’s aquaculture industry where small or traditional farming activities were minimised, and high value and green models will be promoted to match government regulations and consumer’s preferences,” 


During TARS 2019, Dr Zhang Song, Guangdong Nutriera Group noted that strong environmental actions have pushed feed mills to update feed formulation and production technology to improve management and farming models. This is also producing feeds for higher farm productivity such as feeds specific for container RAS systems. In shrimp, industry reported less outdoor shrimp farms. Culture systems producing a minimum of 5kg/m3 are common.

Tilapia and shrimp feeds

Low demand and poor prices for the tilapia in 2019 significantly affected producers.

“In Hainan, it was USD2.0/kg in December as compared with USD2.42/kg in January. In Guangdong, it was USD2.28 in January and by December, prices dropped to USD2/kg. This is a major export item and with such low prices, feed millers stepped in to develop polyculture models with the vannamei shrimp and the local Chinese mud carp Cirrhinus molitorella to improve profit margins,”


Zhou added that feed producers also helped farmers to improve productivity and to expand the domestic market. In RAS for shrimp farming, where there have been massive investments, farmers pay little attention on the costs of feeds. Their focus is on high survival and short farming cycle, as well as shrimp with colour as preferred by consumers, which meant the use of functional feeds with astaxanthin.

 “In shrimp feeds, farmers believe that high fish meal and fish oil inclusions in feeds will give better growth performance but due to supply and price limitations, feed millers have been forced to adjust fish meal inclusion rates. According to some research and field results, high fish meal and fish oil diets are not necessary. Therefore, after several years of education and performance demonstrations, some farmers now do not insist on high fish meal and fish oil in feeds.”


Aquafeed outlook for 2020

“The immediate effects of the Covid-19 lockdown were labour and raw material shortages as well as shipping issues. By March, feed mill operations were normal,” said Frank Zhu, Kemin Aqua Science, based in Shanghai during a webinar in April. However, prices of some feed ingredients were initially higher but with better control on logistics, supply of ingredients stabilised. Fish meal prices increased by 40%. In March, most feed producers announced price increases. They leverage with feed additives to support ingredient price changes and supply issues.

“In the short term, there will be an impact on total aquafeed use as farmers are not confident on the economy and on seafood consumption,” said Dong. “In the long term, if the pandemic is well controlled, in 2-3 months, consumption will pick up and will encourage farming which will push up feed demand. Probably, some shrimp farmers may turn to fish culture. Overall, we estimate that fish feed production may only drop by 10% compared to 2019.”

This report is prepared by Zuridah Merican and is part of the annual review on the aquafeed industry in Asia, published in the May/June 2020 issue of Aqua Culture Asia Pacific Magazine

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