Tilapia in China

China is the world’s largest producer of tilapia. Favourable cultivation conditions have enabled the Chinese tilapia sector to more than quadruple production over the past 20 years to a peak of around 1.9 million metric tons in 2016. Since 2015 demand for tilapia from China has softened due to increased overseas competition, leaving the sector with lower export volume and value along with excess production capacity. Addressing the 13th International Tilapia Industry Development Forum (Sept 2016), Dr Cui He, Executive Vice President and Secretary General of the China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Alliance (CAPPMA) stated: “at present (the) Chinese tilapia industry is in the stage of transformation and upgrading with good production modes to meet market demand.” This statement reflects a collective shift in strategy in the Chinese tilapia sector from a production based agenda to an agenda based on quality, as well as environmental and social responsibility. The WorldFish’s Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia (GIFT) (Oreochromis niloticus niloticus L) and a hybrid of Nile tilapia (O. niloticus) and blue tilapia (O. aureus) constitute 95% of total tilapia production and exports. Other species like red tilapia strains (O. spp), Mozambique tilapia (O. mossambicus) and remaining strains represent less than 5% of total production and are more often raised for domestic consumption. Export-oriented tilapia is primarily produced by corporate vertically integrated companies. Due to a softening international market demand, the Chinese tilapia sector recognizes the need to develop a domestic Chinese market to offset reduced exports.

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Tilapia production and export statistics

Species wise production in 2015 (tonnes)

Source: Personal correspondence industry expert.

The development of the Chinese tilapia sector can be characterized as one of 'trial and error' as O. mossambicus, O niloticus, O. aureus, the GIFT strain and the hybrid (O. niloticus♀×O. aureus♂) were introduced, tested and refined over a period of almost 40 years. Currently, the dominant species is GIFT tilapia which represents about 90% of total tilapia production. In the late 1990's once a reliable

broodstock base was established, the Chinese tilapia sector was poised to grow. A strong broodstock base combined with market demand led to a period of sustainable growth. Between 2003 and 2012 Chinese tilapia production almost doubled from approximately 810,000 metric tons to 1,500,000 metric ton. FAO figures also shows a similar increase, with a tilapia production of 1,866,642 tonnes in 2016.

As of 2015 export demand for tilapia from China has been declining due to increased overseas competition, leaving the sector with excess production capacity. Therefore it is unlikely that production volume will grow in the coming years as the focus has now shifted from increasing production to finding new markets, both international and domestic. Entry to their own domestic markets has been difficult as it is price competitive, resulting in 2017 for the preference of cheaper Vietnamese pangasius products over Chinese grown tilapia (UCN, 2017).

Production by province in 2015 (tonnes)

Source: China Aquatic Product Processing and Marketing Alliance (CAPPMA)

China its tilapia production is concentrated in 5 provinces: Guangdong (42%), Hainan (20%), Guangxi (17%), Yunnan (10%) and Fujian (7%). The subtropical to humid subtropical climate makes these provinces ideal for raising tilapia. At the 13th International Tilapia Industry Development Forum (Sept 2016), the city of Maoming located in

Guangdong province was recently officially recognized as the capital city of tilapia production in China

As the general focus has shifted more to marketing, none of the above mentioned provinces focus on expanding production. On top of reduced market demand, changing climate patterns such as colder winter temperatures are also limiting production. Abnormally low temperatures in 2008 and 2016 resulted in massive mortality and production losses across the production areas. In Yunnan, which is located more inland, production is restricted to 1 grow-out cycle (harvesting is concentrated from September till December) making future expansion there problematic. In addition, while the monsoon season brings beneficial rainfall, violent typhoons can also result in infrastructure damage due to flooding and high winds. On average China is hit by 6 typhoons a year. The July 2014 super typhoon Rammasun was particularly destructive to the island of Hainan and the province of Guangxi. 62 People were killed in China and damage and losses were estimated US$ 6.2 billion.

A unique development in Hainan province was the launching of the Hainan Tilapia Sustainability Alliance (HTSA) in 2015. In April of 2016, version 2 of the HTSA the Code of Good Practice was issued and 35 pilot farms have applied these standards. In the spirit of openness and transparency these farms post their monitoring results on the HTSA website.

Tilapia export markets

Source: Trade Map (2018), International Trade Centre, intracen.org

Between 2012 and 2017 the combined exports of fillets and whole fish peaked in 2013, after which exports of both products dropped. Exports of fillets to traditional markets such the United States, Mexico and Russia declined with respective 47,113 tonnes (37%), 12,321 (31%) tonnes and 12,804 tonnes (69%). Decreasing exports have been attributed to increased global

competition with markets such as Mexico and Honduras, whose exports of frozen tilapia fillets to the United States have increased. Declining imports of tilapia (and also shrimp and pangasius) in Russia is possibly related to domestic and global economic sanctions that have been levied since 2014, but imports are slowly picking up again.

Newly emerging markets are Iran and Israel for frozen fillets and African countries, such as Ivory Coast, Zambia, Burkina Faso and Cameroon for whole fish. The African market composes of 33% (87,678 t) of China's total tilapia exports, translating to roughly to 184 million US$. However, the emerging export markets have not been sufficient to compensate for overall declines. To offset with the stagnant and declining export markets the Chinese tilapia sector is focusing on the domestic market and improving product quality to reinvigorate demand.

Export products in 2017 (tonnes)

Source: Trade Map (2018), International Trade Centre, intracen.org

Total exports of fillets and whole fish tilapia products reached a value of 714 million US$ in 2017, of which fillets were responsible for 64% of the value. In terms of volume, the relative share of fillets and whole fish is almost equivalent. Export data for the sector shows that two new trends have emerged in market demand: A decline in demand for fillets and an increase in demand for whole fish. As whole fish is less

profitable, this change exacerbates the profitability of the already decreased exports. The relative share of value-added tilapia products in terms of volume and value is unclear, and are not included in both export graphs.

Extreme variance and ultimate decline in market price over the last four years has caused the Chinese tilapia sector to cease pursuing increases in production in an attempt to stabilize prices. The additional decrease in aggregate volume and value has put the entire Chinese tilapia sector in the extremely difficult position of declining profits. Traditionally in the seafood industry, in such situations, sector players such as farmers exit and periods of consolidation can occur at the processing level. In an effort to remedy the situation, the Chinese tilapia sector has now turned toward developing the domestic market and placing an increased emphasis on quality and value-added products.


Last updated: 01/06/2018

  • Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)

    # Farms 6
    # Farms in assessment 0
    # CoC partners 25
    Total volume (MT) 11,437
  • Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP)

    # Farms 99
    # Hatcheries 13
    # Feed mills 11
    # Factories 46
    Total volume (MT) NA

Supply Chain

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Risk assessment

Environmental risks

  • Overfishing as a result of unsustainable marine feed ingredients
  • Water allocation
  • Water pollution

Social risks

  • Dependence on distributors by independent farms
  • Workers’ safety at hatcheries, farms, and in feed mills and processing plants
  • Workers’ rights in factories

Quality and supply chain risks

  • Climate (e.g. flooding and damage caused by typhoons)
  • Disease and mortality
  • Outsourcing of harvest – biosecurity risk
  • Level of soaking and glazing
  • Food safety issues (e.g. antibiotic and chemical)

Species in China

Click on the species and find out more about the species in China