Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Sep 18, 2009 11:00 AM

Chinese farm-raised fish and mollusks

I am always amazed at the variety and reasonable cost of fish and shellfish at our local Ranch 99 market (a pan-Asian market and big seller of Chinese products). It seems the only place in my town where I can find the smaller Manila clams that I prefer to Littlenecks for making Linguine alle Vongole. Likewise with the cooked and shelled crawfish tails- absurdly cheap when you consider the time saved by not doing that work yourself. Blue crabs and other arthropods, shrimp paste and nice-smelling fresh fish...really makes a person want to cook dishes that you usually save for restaurants. But then, I don't look at the state of Chinese aquaculture with rose-colored glasses- toxic slag-ponds converted into tilapia farms, crawfish raised in PCB and lead-polluted estuaries...I could go on and haven't yet mentioned the questionable sources of the protein meal used to feed a lot of these species. I'm not even taking a look at this from the standpoint of conservation- that would have me eat locally and perhaps more safely, but it's hard to resist beautiful-looking tiger prawns at bargain basement prices over at the Asian market. I'm pretty certain that very little or even negligent oversight goes into the production of these delicacies- is this stuff safe to eat, even in small amounts?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Wow- I can't believe this topic hasn't stared a firestorm of discussion in nearly a year.

    Or maybe nobody knows.

    I've had the same thoughts as you, and hope that some knowledgeable soul will contribute soon.

    1 Reply
    1. re: EWSflash

      You might want to take a look at this site and see what goes on in the industry in particular China. Hopefuly things are getting better. Here is a recent video about China and fish farming that I found on the site Happy viewing

    2. I can offer what I know, from my perspective, in my field (disease and ecology):
      China's inspection system has two tracks, de facto. And the export track gets better inspection/has higher standards. However, it's still far less than perfect. China has quality regulation laws, but they mostly don't apply to early stages of production (e.g. farming). It's hard to trace products to their source, and many facilities are unlicensed. And surveillance (say, for virulent foodborne pathogens/antibiotic resistant nasties) is not linked to any *action* directly.
      The FDA inspects very few (<2%) out of all fish imports -- that's 5x lower than the rate of inspection by the EU, and 10x lower than Japan. Even at that low level of inspection, lots of Chinese shipments get turned away -- bacteria (especially Salmonella), spoilage and contamination with veterinary drugs like malachite green are the big reasons.
      One thing to consider is that Ranch 99, if they're a big chain, may have a special relationship with Chinese producers by which they get the best stuff and protect their customer base.In fact, expotr firms may exercise strict quality control -- the pesticide contamination in frozen spinach sent to Japan was bad for business.
      I wouldn't want to eat the stuff destined for the Chinese domestic market, but exports may be ok. I wouldn't become a regular consumer, but weighing the relative risks otherwise is up to you.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Whippet

        Thank you for the breakdown. I wasn't aware of the possibile differences between Chinese import and export. Still wary of the supercheap Japanese-style unagi at Ranch 99, though...


        1. re: SaltyRaisins

          So ask yourself before you cut into that fish if you’d like to invite the HAZ-MAT team over to dinner first. If you’d like to gain more information about this subject it can be found through journal searches of China’s aquaculture as well as by visiting the following sources:

          1. re: ospreycove

            Re:the whole issue-just as one should be wary of relatively unknown sources of food one should also be wary of Bad News stories to be found in many places.

            US aquaculture employs legions of media flacks who pollute the aether with endless tales of woe to frighten the credulous.

            1. re: Sam Salmon

              47% of human -consumed fish is now farm raised, and 60% of it is from China. An importer's ability to verify quality control is nothing more than a giant black hole. The healthiest feedstock there is rice bran, and it declines from there. Worldwide wild caught ocean catch peaked in 2008 and is in decline, so all future increases in human demand must come from aquaculture somewhere. Worldwide standards for quality control are not high on anyone's list.