China’s low-impact traditional fish farms

The world's biggest producer of aquaculture is not just focusing on the big-scale but also sustainable low impact fish farms

Would you be surprised to learn that China is a world leader in sustainable seafood?  This video shows how fish farmers in China use some ingenious and low-impact traditional methods to produce more fish than any other country.

It’s Slow Food on a massive scale, it’s permaculture, and it tastes great.  Along with fish, the farms produce lovely Chinese silk.  If this was being done by hyper-educated urban refugees, it would be on the front cover of fancy magazines.

China produces more fish through aquaculture than any other country. Most of China’s farmed fish are carp and other species low in the food chain that thrive on a mostly vegetarian diet.  This success allows China to provide people with a protein-rich, low-cost seafood diet that has a low marine footprint.  

Modernisation is creating some challenges that China’s aquaculture scientists are working hard to solve. For example, competition for labor is driving up costs and undermining traditional low footprint production systems. Ongoing research is modernising fish farming methods that date back more than a thousand years and utilise ingenious and sustainable methods for recycling nutrients.

One fascinating method for farming carp is to grow several species together with mulberry plants and silkworms.  

In this farming system, rich pond mud fertilises mulberry plants, mulberry leaves are fed to silkworms, and silkworm pupae and waste feeds fish directly and fertilises a rich pond ecosystem that includes pond plants and animals that carp can eat. Use of several species of carp with different food preferences increases fish production from the pond with minimal need to artificially feed the fish.  

Scientists in China are now actively developing new fish farming methods that retain some of the sustainability values of traditional systems while also increasing the productivity per hectare of fish ponds. One important goal is to maintain or increase fish production without relying on feeding fishmeal and fish oil, containing wild caught fish many of which are in limited supply, expensive and can come from unsustainable fisheries.  

China`s approach to using modernised yet traditional approaches for low marine footprint fish farming are also benefitting other countries. Chinese scientists are training fish farmers from all over the world with the aim of reducing stress on marine ecosystems. 

Can China succeed where most of the West has failed, retaining traditional food production systems that could lead to a truly “green” economy?

This is a guest post by Mark Powell, global seafood advisor at WWF International