14 Sep 2020

ChinaTip #

China, the global largest seafood market.

China consumes the largest quantity of seafood in the world and consequently, imports the most. China’s seafood consumption accounts for 45% of the global volume, meaning 65 million tons out of 144 million tons. It is followed by the European Union – 13 million tons, Japan – 7.4 million tons, the United States – 7.1 million tons and India – 4.8 million tons.


The booming Chinese seafood market offers huge opportunities for the international seafood exporters. The growing Chinese consumer demand coupled with the insufficient volume of domestic production and fishing in Chinese waters, made seafood imports in China to increase year by year. The Chinese demand for a large amount of high-quality protein provided by the aqua culture products could be explained by several factors: the steady increase of residents’ income, frequency of consumption and also the number of consumers.


The consumption of seafood in China has risen from 11.5 kg per person in 1990 to 25.4 kg in 2004, and it is expected to reach to 35.9 kg this year.

According to official Chinese data, seafood consumption is not evenly spread across China. On the eastern coastal areas, consumption is high – the consumption per capita of seafood exceeds 25 kg in Fujian, Hainan and Shanghai regions, while in the inland areas is pretty low as cold chain transportation is not properly developed in these regions.

Traditionally, Chinese consumers prefer fresh and live seafood to processed foods, so domestic consumption of processed seafood is relatively low. However, the consumption of processed seafood is expected to rise steadily due to improvements in the China’s processing, distribution and cold chain systems, as well as the growth of the number of young consumers. Currently, China’s processed imported seafood accounts for a large proportion of China’s seafood imports.


Along with consumption, China developed also processing capabilities. Every year, it buys a large amount of raw fish from all over the world, and then exports it to overseas markets after intensive processing. Shandong and Liaoning provinces are the most important processing areas of China. The processed products are mainly frozen pollock, frozen shrimps, frozen cod, frozen cuttlefish and squid. The raw materials mainly come from Russia, Ecuador, the United States and Indonesia.


How China influences the global market of seafood from a leadership position.


China has created a huge demand in the global seafood market. According to the Rabobank report “The Changing Appetite of the Chinese”, in the next few years, China is likely to become a 20 billion US dollars seafood import market. The improvement of Chinese people’s consumption power is one of the driving forces for the development of the global seafood industry. Every year, countries around the world export large volumes seafood to China. This demand has brought profit growth to global seafood producers.

The top ten importers of seafood in China includes Russia, Ecuador, India, Canada, Vietnam, the United States, Indonesia, Australia, Norway, and Thailand. The imports from these 10 countries accounts for nearly 70% of the China’s total seafood imports.

The ten most popular imported seafood products in the Chinese market are: shrimps, lobsters, frozen pollock, crabs, salmon, frozen cod, cuttlefish, squid, frozen catfish fillets and flounders.

Salmon mainly comes from Norway and Chile; lobster mainly from Australia, New Zealand and Mexico. More than 50% of the imported shrimps are from Ecuador. About 40% of live, fresh crabs come from Russia, and 14% from Mexico.

Data provided by the Chinese Customs reveals that 93% of frozen pollock fish are imported from Russia; more than 65% of frozen flounder comes from the United States, and 17% from Russia. 42% of frozen cuttlefish and squid are from Indonesia, and 17% from New Zealand.

China is the largest export destination of Russian frozen fish. In 2019, 53% of frozen fish exported from Russia to China far exceeded the second largest destination, South Korea (23%).

Holding such a pivotal role in the global seafood market, any changes occurred in China rellated to fishery output and market demand have a domino effect on global prices.


The most promising fish categories to export to China.


With the development of the China’s economy and its citizens’ purchasing power, Chinese consumers become increasingly interested about healthy, pollution-free and high-quality seafood products.

In terms of popularity, the most consumed seafood products in China are shrimp, plaice, and squid. Chinese consumers’ pursuit for great quality and healthy seafood made place in the market also for the high-end products such as lobster, salmon, king crab, abalone, and scallops. These premium products gained in popularity among medium consumers influenced also by the growing convenience of the purchase channels.



China’s shrimp imports grow at a high speed, surpassing the United States in 2019, to become the world’s largest shrimp importer. In 2019, China’s shrimp imports amounted to 722,000 tons, and the value of imports was 4.47 billion US dollars, an increase of 179.8% and 146.8%, respectively. In the same year, the U.S. shrimp imports amounted to 700,000 tons and the value of imports was 6 billion US dollars. Although the United States is still a major shrimp importer, the growth rate has slowed down.

Cuttlefish and squid
In 2019, China imported 155415.0 tons of cuttlefish and squid, and the import value was 33.27 million U.S. dollars.


COVID-19 reinforced the China opportunity for seafood exporters.


China and the global seafood industry have been severely impacted by the pandemic, which triggered international trade barriers, slowdown of global economic growth, and the weakening of people’s purchasing power. But compared with other countries in the world, the consumption potential of seafood in the Chinese market is still very large. China’s pandemic recovery is faster than other regions’ so foreign countries value and deploy imports in the Chinese market. The COVID-19 pandemic is effectively controlled in China and seafood consumption is recovering.

At the same time, the income level of the Chinese people continues to increase, and the middle class is expected to continue to grow in the future. According to statistics, the Chinese middle class has expanded, reaching to the first place in the world, with 109 million people, accounting for 11% of the Chinese population. The middle and high-income groups have higher demands on food consumption so the prospects for seafood consumption are positive.

After the pandemic, the seafood market in China will be more standardized in all chain points: processing, warehousing, cold chain transportation and sales, which will improve the quality of the entire seafood industry and eliminate not-complying markets and processing companies.


China innovation in seafood.

The pandemic has transformed the Chinese consumers’ food standards: they demand safety and quality for food products.

Seafood products in China now can be traced to the source and consumers largely adopted this guarantee. Also QR codes applied on products packaging allow them to obtain relevant information about the product: content, logistics certificate, proof of origin, and get advice on how to cook food. Producers could get data consumers and intelligently use it to optimize the manufacturing process, improve quality, and strengthen the connection between customers and products.

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Categories: China shrimp market

China, the global largest seafood market.
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