Beijing, 31 July 2017 – 4 million tons of China’s total annual domestic fisheries catch is comprised of so-called “trash” fish – fish too young or too small to be consumed by humans – a Greenpeace East Asia investigation has found. This accounts for nearly one third of all catch and is equivalent to more than the annual catch of Japan. For Chinese trawlers, which account for about half of China’s total catch, the proportion of trash fish rises to 50% of catch. Catching trash fish on this scale is placing extra pressure on China’s already heavily over-exploited fish resources and causing further damage to an already stretched ecosystem.

Though too small for human consumption, ‘trash fish’ catch is increasingly in demand from China’s booming aquaculture industry which processes the catch into fish feed.  

“In the space of 50 years, China’s domestic catch has deteriorated from ‘low volume, high value’ mature and big fish to ‘high volume, low value’ juvenile and small fish. This is a classic case of fishing down the food web, and it is quite simply not sustainable. With the emergence of a huge market for fish feed made from ‘trash’ fish, it is imperative that the government better regulate this type of fishing practices, before it is too late for China’s ocean ecosystem,” said Rashid Kang, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia.

“In a healthy and sustainable marine fishing industry, fish species should be allowed to mature before being caught, otherwise they are unable to reproduce and fast reach the point where stocks collapse.”

Greenpeace East Asia’s investigation found that 44% of fish species from a total of 218 species in 80 samples of trash fish taken from 22 ports along the Chinese coast were ‘edible and economic fish’, of which 75% of fish were juvenile. This demonstrates that the fishing industry is increasing pressure on the species most valuable to China’s food safety and the profits of the struggling industry.

In 2014 China’s aquaculture industry consumed 7.2 million tons of domestically caught wild fish as fish feed, larger than Indonesia’s entire annual catch.[1] An additional 5.1 million tons of fish feed are sourced from outside China. The industry grew 10 fold from 1986 to 2015 and now occupies more than 60% of global aquaculture production. This is creating a large and unsustainable demand for trash fish.[2]

Professor. Yvonne Sadovy de Mitcheson, Swire Institute of Marine Science, University of Hong Kong, and advisor to Greenpeace’s report:

“How best to develop fish farming’s role as a contribution to food security and how best to use ‘feed’ or ‘trash’ fish and invertebrates can only be determined by better understanding the volumes involved and the possible implications of their use for the future health of marine ecosystems. Given China’s major importance globally, both as a seafood consumer and as a seafood farming nation, the question is extremely important and relevant.”

“There is now an opportunity for the country to be a leader in sustainably produced seafood if it can find and maintain the right balance between human use and the health of the marine ecosystem it exploits.” [3]

A historical analysis of catches in China’s domestic seas also shows a decline in the proportion of edible and economic fish and a corresponding increase in the number of juvenile and trash fish. According to official data, China’s annual marine catch has exceed the total annual allowance since 1994, and continued to grow. [4] The overfishing of China’s seas and the industry’s increasing reliance on uneconomic fish species is one of the forces encouraging Chinese fishing companies to invest in overseas fishing.

The report looks into the issue of trash fish populations from the perspective of both marine fisheries and the aquaculture industry. Greenpeace conducted one year of on-site investigation in the eight main fisheries provinces of China, collected 926 questionnaires from local fishermen and took 80 samples of trash fish from 22 ports. Desktop research into databases and statistical materials were also used to analyse China’s aquaculture industry and deduce the volume of marine fishery resources consumed by aquaculture,

In order to tackle the problem of overexploitation of trash fish resources, Greenpeace East Asia recommends that the quantity of trash fish caught be reduced by enhanced regulations on mesh size, fishing gear, fish species size and the use of a quota system. The quantity of trash fish caught annually should be recorded and included in basic fisheries statistics. It is also important to develop more Marine Protected Areas in which young fish could more easily grow to maturity. At the aquaculture end, Greenpeace East Asia suggest that the government establish strict requirements for fish feed sustainability. In addition, China must strengthen its domestic fisheries management system in order to effectively tackle illegal fishing. The many legal loopholes in fisheries management need to be closed through unified regional management measures.

Notes to Editors:
A media briefing of the report is available HERE
The full report (in Chinese) is available HERE
A selection of images from Greenpeace East Asia’s fieldwork investigation are available HERE
[1] Greenpeace East Asia report, ‘Status of China’s Marine Trash Fish and Its Revelatory Implications for the Sustainable Development of China’s Marine Fisheries Industry’ and ‘Research Report on the Usage of Marine Fisheries Resources by China’s Aquaculture Industry’
[2] Calculated based on data from ‘China Fisheries Statistical Yearbook’ and from the FAO The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016’.
[3] From Preface for ‘Status of China’s Marine Trash Fish and Its Revelatory Implications for the Sustainable Development of China’s Marine Fisheries Industry’
[4] As released by China’s Ministry of Agriculure,

Media Contacts:

Tom Baxter, International Communications Officer, Greenpeace East Asia, Beijing | +86 156 5241 1229 | [email protected]

Greenpeace International Press Desk, [email protected], phone: +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)