IntraFish spoke to China's largest trout producer about its plans for expansion, and how the domestic market is increasingly hungry for home-grown, sustainably raised fish.
China's largest trout farmer was established 11 years ago,but since 2012 has been actively transforming its production for a greener future. With a licence for 20,000 metric tons of trout in the pristine waters of Long Yang Xia Lake in Qinghai province, northeastern China, the producer is choosing to farm just half its capacity until as such time it can sustainably produce the rest. "The priority for us is to farm while protecting the environment." CEO Ying Miyan told IntraFish.
Contrary to common belief about China's aquaculture operations, Long Yang Xia's focus is on "increasing farming technology and enhancing product quality, not on the expansion of volume." The 383 square kilometer lake on the Tibetan Plateau in which it farms, is filled with 24.7 billion cubic meters of glacier meltwater and with visibility of more than five meters and an average temperature of 12 deg C, it is the ideal climate for the coldwater species.
While some smaller companies operate downstream of the producer, Long Yang Xia is the only one operating in the reservoir.
So,in its drive for eco-friendly production, Long Yang Xia has imported several new technologies and equipment from Norway including automated feeding and storm proof cages from Akva, processing lines from Seaside and feed from Denmark-based BioMar, which recently culminated in the signing of a strategic cooperation agreement between the two companies to work more closely together.
A unique location, Long Yang Xia's farm started as the subject of trials with BioMar and lead to a strong relationship between the two companies. "BioMar has a very strong tech team," said Ying. "Combining high performance, low discharge feed and a technical team who was able to get the feeding right in special conditions, produced very good results."
Chinese government opening opportunities
The company's major product is gutted round fish, which until recently it found a large market for in Russia.But with the lifting of trade embargoes on Norwegian salmonid producers,the majority of its product is today sold within China, a growing market for salmonids, with increasing environmental concern related to the food it consumes.
The Chinese government has also launched an initiative towards green development in aquaculture, Ying told IntraFish.
"The initiative was jointly issued by 10 Chinese governmental departments," she said. "Environmental protection has always been a focus of the Chinese government, but will be even more so in the future."
The drive has in turn sparked consumer interest, said Ying. "Consumers are paying more attention to environmental protection and are now very concerned, in part due to the government's regulations and promotion of environmental use."
To this end, the company now labels its product with species and origin and carries a green government logo certifying it as coming from an environmentally-friendly source.
But production does not come without challenges. At 2,600 meters above sea level, the farm has to deal with lower dissolved oxygen in the water and farming trout in these unique environmental conditions requires, as Ying puts it, very specific techniques.
But she also has faith in the fact that environmental protection is a great opportunity and strongly believes the return on investment is there in the Chinese and other markets.
"The market requirement in China is huge," said Ying. "The country has been importing a lot from Norway and Chile."
But for Long Yang Xia it is for now about quality over quantity. "The middle class in China is increasing fast and they have big willingness to pay for high quality products," she said. "This is what we will give them."
While financial sustainability is of course key to any business, it is not just the unique marketing opportunities that drive Ying's focus on environmental care.
"Within the Tibetan Plateau, we are upstream of many important waters. We have to have that social responsibility, not only for economic benefits," said Ying. "We have to think of our children, our children's children too. Environmental protection is the lifeline of our company."