Chinese cheque-out

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Ask Canadian politicians what they think about competition from China when it comes to wild-caught Atlantic Canadian seafood products and you’ll get a vigorous shoulder shrug to the tune of, “Meh, that’s the way it is, and that’s all we can do about it” or something like that.

I’ll be curious to see how they react, however, when/if the Chinese start running roughshod over the sexy aquaculture industry — because that train appears to be heading down the tracks.

According to reports by Mark Godfrey, writing from Beijing for SeafoodSource, a recent development in China will likely see the government move ahead with co-funding of insurance for aquaculture operations in the country.

What does that mean? Basically, that means that aquaculture operators in China will now be afforded the protection of insurance coverage in the event of things like typhoons, floods, disease outbreaks, etc. Whether or not this means strictly government-driven insurance or if the big global insurance companies will be allowed in the mix remains to be seen. But, either way, it’s big news.

According to Godfrey’s report, aquaculture in China accounts for 70 per cent of the entire global total (editor’s note: holy sh*t) and in 2011 aquaculture projects in the country covered about eight million hectares — or a space just a little smaller than the entire island of Newfoundland (editor’s note: holy mega-sh*t).

Can you imagine what happens to that industry when it can expand even FURTHER (editor’s note: holy super-mega-sh*t) under the protection of insurance?

Producers here will say, wait a minute now, other than oysters, China doesn’t produce the same things we do here. We are mostly all about salmon, trout and mussels. China is focused largely on carp, seaweed and prawns/shrimp, along with some different scallop species.

Actually you may have to hold the line on that thought.

It seems China is starting to get into farming other species like rainbow trout, coho salmon, mussels, tilapia and even different species of crab. For the rest of the seafood producing world, even the smallest blip in a country and industry the size of China is like being in bed with an elephant — we will feel every twitch and toss the snoring pachyderm makes.

Aside from the potential competition, another point to consider: what do you think happens when/if they start dumping all kinds of cheap farmed product on the market? Would it lower the overall value of aquaculture products? And given the food security history and worries along China’s coasts, with everything from red tide to algae problems, could it create overall quality or food safety concern problems in the eye of consumers? And given the penchant for Chinese knock-off production (ask the ice wine producers of Ontario about it) could it create more confusion in the grocery store seafood counters of the world?

At any rate the Chinese, just as they are in so many other industries, bear watching from an aquaculture perspective.

They’ve got the people, the resources, the experience (the Chinese have been fish farming in one form or another for about 5,500 years) and now they might be on the verge of getting some all-important insurance protection.

Gulp.

Jamie Baker is the managing editor for The Navigator magazine, www.thenavigatormagazine.com

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