Is China’s Coastal Aquaculture Production a House of Cards?

Shrimp cocktail. Photo: © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

Shrimp cocktail. Photo: © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

By Craig Leisher, Senior Social Scientist

More than a dozen species are now aqua-farmed on a large scale, but Penaeid shrimp—like the ones on a shrimp cocktail platter—are the largest aquaculture exports by value.

And no country exports more shrimp than China. Yet how sustainable is shrimp aquaculture production in China?

China produces approximately 70% of the world’s aquaculture shrimp, and its major shrimp-producing areas include the Yellow River Delta and the Pearl River Delta.

A new study using Synthetic Aperture Radar finds that aquaculture areas in China’s Yellow River Delta subsided approximately 1 meter (3.28 feet) between 2007 and 2011. This drop in the level of the land is concentrated around aquaculture facilities that extract groundwater.

By one estimate, 1 billion m3 of water in the Yellow River Delta was extracted in 2001—or enough water to supply 20 million people for a year at the minimum needed for human health and economic development.

As the delta areas subside, coastal flooding becomes more likely with substantial consequences for China’s delta aquaculture facilities and production.

But it is not just subsidence of the land, over-pumping of groundwater, and coastal flooding that could imperil China’s aquaculture production. Like other shrimp-producing countries, high antibiotic use and water pollution are ongoing challenges in China.

If shrimp production declines in China, it is likely to increase in the other top-shrimp producing countries of Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. This could have consequences for the remaining mangroves in Southeast Asia given that shrimp aquaculture has historically been the primary cause of the loss of mangroves in the region.

Weirdly, the fate of Chinese shrimp production and the mangroves in Southeast Asia may be entwined.

Posted In: Agriculture, Science, Water

Craig Leisher is Senior Advisor on Conservation and Poverty Issues. He works to build a better understanding of how conservation initiatives generate tangible benefits to people and nature.

 Make a comment


Featured Content

Osprey Cam: Watch Our Wild Neighbors
Watch the ospreys live 24/7 as they nest and raise their young -- and learn more about these fascinating birds from our scientist.

What is Cool Green Science?

noun 1. Blog where Nature Conservancy scientists, science writers and external experts discuss and debate how conservation can meet the challenges of a 9 billion + planet.

2. Blog with astonishing photos, videos and dispatches of Nature Conservancy science in the field.

3. Home of Weird Nature, The Cooler, Quick Study, Traveling Naturalist and other amazing features.

Cool Green Science is managed by Matt Miller, the Conservancy's deputy director for science communications at the Conservancy, and edited by Bob Lalasz, its director of science communications. Email us your feedback.

Editors’ Choice

Where Have The Monarchs Gone?
Monarch butterflies are disappearing. What's going on? Is there anything we can do about it?

North America's Greatest Bird Spectacle?
The Platte River is alive with 500,000 sandhill cranes. Learn how you can catch the action--even from your computer.

The Strangest Wildlife Rescue?
Meet the animal that was saved from extinction because someone broke a wildlife law.

Latest Tweets from @nature_brains