China is building the world’s biggest offshore fish farm ship in a bid to meet its massive demand for the foodstuff in a more environmentally friendly way.
The 249-metre (816 feet) long, 45-metre wide aquaculture vessel is being built by the state-owned China State Shipbuilding Corporation at its shipyard in Qingdao, Shandong province and is scheduled for completion in March 2022.
With a displacement of more than 100,000 tonnes, it will be powered by an all-electric propulsion system and have a top speed of 10 knots.
The ship will be fitted with 80,000 cubic metres of aquaculture tanks and a temperature-controlled supply chain, and farm mostly high-value species, like large yellow croaker, grouper and Atlantic salmon, the company said.
China’s shipbuilders are at the forefront of the fish farming industry. In April, Yantai CIMC Raffles Shipyard, based in east China’s Shandong province, delivered the world’s largest offshore fish farm platform to Norwegian aquaculture company Nordlaks.
The Jostein Albert is 385 metres long, 59.5 metres wide and capable of holding 10,000 tonnes of salmon in six pens.
But unlike that platform, which is based on oil rig technology, the new farming ship is self-propelled, which means it can more easily avoid harsh weather such as typhoons and red tides – the common name for harmful algae blooms.
China produces and consumes about two-thirds of the world’s fish. In 2018, its fisheries produced 64.6 million tonnes of seafood, of which 47.6 million tonnes came from aquaculture, including 16.4 million tonnes from nearshore marine farms, according to figures from the United Nations.
But the country’s massive appetite for seafood is damaging to the environment. Nearshore tanks are known to be a major source of water pollution, while overfishing in the Yellow, East China and South China seas has pushed many species to the brink of extinction.
Large yellow croakers, for instance, are highly desirable, but excessive fishing means they are now officially classified as critically endangered. The new aquaculture ship will be able to produce 3,200 tonnes of them a year.
China’s overzealous fishing practices have also led to clashes and conflicts with vessels from other countries, not only in the disputed waters of the South China Sea but as far afield as Argentina’s exclusive economic zone.
Chen Xiangmiao, an associate researcher at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said that offshore fish farming on the high seas and deep oceans could be a solution to all of those problems.
“With deeper water, faster currents and more suitable temperatures, the offshore farms can minimise their impact on the environment while ensuring the needs of the domestic market are met,” he said.
Chen said that in the future, China might also consider sharing its aquaculture technology with its neighbours in the South China Sea region, where fish stocks have fallen by about 60 per cent in recent decades due to intense competition among rival claimants to the waters.
“If aquaculture can replace fishing in the South China Sea, it would not only preserve the ecological system but also help to improve political stability,” he said.
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This article China’s giant aquaculture ship can help the environment and South China Sea ties, expert says first appeared on South China Morning Post