China has rolled out a national policy with a new approach toward aquaculture, according to a leading Chinese researcher in the field.

Dong Shuanglin, a professor at the Key Laboratory of Mariculture at the Ocean University of China in Qingdao, has spent much of his career researching mariculture along the coast of Shandong Province, currently an area of focus for numerous companies seeking to develop mariculture initiatives in China. He said such efforts are now being guided by China’s National Marine Ranch Demonstration Area Construction Plan, implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, which has prioritized the construction of large-scale, integrated multitrophic systems, many of which include leisure facilities.

So far, the authorities overseeing the plan’s implementation have approved five batches of 110 national marine ranch demonstration areas, with 41 in Shandong Province, Dong said.

“Whether a win-win situation for corporate profits and environmental resource protection can be achievable has become the key to the sustainability of this type of marine ranching,” Dong told SeafoodSource.

Shandong Province is home to several mariculture trials organized by both China’s national government and its provincial authorities. In 2019, the province launched the Comprehensive Pilot Program for the Construction of Modernized Marine Ranches in Shandong Province. Dong said the aim of the plan “is to explore over three years new paths for the development of marine ranches suitable for the characteristics of different types of sea areas through the creation of a number of modern marine ranches in Shandong Province with significant ecological, economic, and social benefits.”

“The goal of the pilot programs is to form science-based marine ranching construction management and operation system mechanisms with standardized technical support systems, as well as evaluation and assessment systems which can be replicated in marine ranches across the country,” Dong said.

The marine ranches built by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs are mainly artificial reef-type and “multiplication and release” marine ranches for leisure angling, while the marine ranches built in Shandong Province also include deep-sea aquaculture and marine ranches that combine the multiplication and release model, mostly for stock replenishment and leisure fishing, as well as aquaculture.

“The main goal of the construction of the national marine pasture demonstration zone is to protect the fishery ecological environment and to conserve fishery resources,” he said. “The main mover or implementation body of the demonstration zones is enterprises. Demonstration zones where enterprises are responsible usually can effectively protect the environment and resources in the sea area where they are located, but it is not easy for responsible enterprises to make profits because of this.”

Offshore aquaculture in China usually refers to aquaculture carried out in open seas with a water depth of 20 to 50 meters, while deep-sea aquaculture refers to aquaculture carried out in open seas with a water depth of more than 50 meters. Both types of marine aquaculture are governed by the National Fishery Law of 1986, as well as the Ocean Environment Protection Law of 1999.

The General Office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs issued the National Marine Ranch Demonstration Zone Management Work Regulations (Trial) notice in 2019, and established the Marine Ranch Construction Expert Advisory Committee to provide support for the construction and management of national marine ranches and to provide decision-making consultation and technical support, Dong said.

“It also regularly organizes technical training related to marine ranches to improve the construction and management of demonstration areas,” he said.

China’s government is keen that “cultural service functions” –such as eco-tourism – also be integrated into marine ranching systems. Likewise, it’s keen to see integrated multi-trophic aquaculture, a multi-species approach whereby byproducts from one species feeds another, in the construction of such marine ranches, Dong said.

Enough research has been on the impact of the large-scale expansion of offshore and deep-sea aquaculture and its impact on the marine environment to allow for prudent development of the sector, Dong said.

“China has conducted long-term and in-depth research on the impact of inshore and offshore aquaculture on the marine environment. Now it has begun to restrict and ban some fed aquaculture in the bay and encourage the development of open seas,” he said. “As for deep-water aquaculture, such as salmon farming in the cold-water mass of the Yellow Sea, 120 nautical miles from the shore, we have also done an assessment of the aquaculture capacity and environmental carrying capacity.”

Photo courtesy of Ocean University of China

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