Chinese Tilapia
Aquaculture Improvement Project

Last Update: June 2015

Species: Oreochromis spp., including:
tilapia nilotica (O. niloticus)
tilapia Mozambique (O. mossambicus)
red tilapia (a group of tilapia hybrids with one collective common name)
AIP Region:
Hainan Island, China

Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) conducted AIP scoping in three targeted tilapia-producing regions, starting with the AIP located on Hainan Island.   See below for map of production regions.  


Contact: If you would like more information about the AIP or wish to support the AIP, please contact SFP. 

Sustainability Information:
NGOs generally rank Chinese farmed tilapia poorly, but a notable improvement in the rating of pond-farmed Chinese tilapia was found lately:
a.    Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBAq SeafoodWatch - Chinese tilapia) ranks farmed tilapia from China yellow (Good Alternative)
as updated from the previous rating as red (Avoid) 
b.    Blue Ocean Institute (BOI Seafood Guide) ranks Chinese farmed tilapia orange (farming methods typically have large environmental impact)
Date Publicly Announced: 2011
China is the world’s leading tilapia producer, with approximately 1.40 million tonnes of production and 403,600 tonnes of export in 2013 (China Customs). Despite a slight drop in global share from 42 percent in 2010 to 38 percent of total production in 2012, China has remained the largest tilapia producer over the past decades. In only 10 years, tilapia yields in China have increased from only 600 thousand tonnes in 2000 to over 1.3 million tonnes in 2010.  China has four provincial regions producing tilapia, of which Guangdong province represents 48 percent of the total production. Hainan, a tropical island in the South China Sea, was the largest exporting province in 2011, and continues to lead in exports to the European Union (>47%). The United States has been the largest export market for Chinese tilapia, while the market share has decreased from over 50 percent before 2008 to approximately 42 percent of total exports in 2013. 
Chinese Aquatic Product Processing & Marketing Alliance (CAPPMA)
In the US, tilapia currently ranks fourth in popularity with consumers, with per capita consumption (edible weight) of 1.45 pounds (0.66 kg) in 2010. US imports of Chinese tilapia totaled 168 thousand tonnes imported in 2013, including 144 thousand tonnes of frozen fillets worth $644 million and 24 thousand tonnes of whole frozen tilapia worth $47 million. In 2013, China supplied approximately 74 percent of all tilapia (fresh and frozen) imported into the United States.
AIP Progress Update


SFP involvement in China began at the end of 2007, when SFP advised key corporate partners on their tilapia procurement policy and sourcing, evaluating sources in Hainan (seven farms) and Beihai (two farms). SFP’s corporate partner engagement includes both major tilapia suppliers and key retail and foodservice buyers.
2008 – 2010
From 2008 to 2010, SFP conducted audits on 10 tilapia farms in six countries, comparing the three main international standards: GLOBALG.A.P, Global Agriculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices (GAA/BAP), and the International Standard for Responsible Tilapia Aquaculture developed by the World Wildlife Fund (ASC/ISRTA). The objective of these audits was to identify similarities in criteria and areas where the standards differed. The benchmarking project included four tilapia farms in China. These farms represented both small- and commercial-scale production facilities utilizing two different production systems (pond and cages). Aside from identifying similarities and differences among criteria and requirements used by the three standards, this project also identified outstanding issues in the farms, which most producers were able to address as a result of the trial audit. To date, all four farms are now certified under one or more of the commercial aquaculture standards.
Since early 2011, SFP has initiated a Chinese Tilapia AIP by conducting a series of scoping studies to have an in-depth understanding of the Chinese tilapia supply chain and its challenges as it moves toward sustainable development. The studies, along with multi-stakeholder engagement through the Aquaculture Policy Roundtable (APR), have enabled SFP outstanding capacity to motivate the supply chain to adopt zonal management approaches to achieve regional improvement, hence reducing environmental and social risks along the supply chain.
Field research projects to assess the impact of tilapia farming on the external environment and its associated risks on disease outbreaks. Along with Hainan Institute of Aquaculture and Hainan University, SFP investigated environmental impacts of tilapia farming through measuring water quality within and outside farming systems (pond and reservoir). The first phase of the study monitored five representative commercial-scale farms in Hainan over two production cycles in 2011 (2nd phase commenced March 2013).
SFP is also working with producer groups (local tilapia associations) and key feed distributors along with Chinese feed companies (e.g., Haid and Tongwei) to enhance tilapia farmers' both technical and institutional capacity to further adopt collaborative measures with zonal management approaches.  Such initiative included an orientation workshop in 2011 for selected producers in Hainan on the three major tilapia standards, mentioned above, used in the comparison audits. The workshop introduced the different standards available to tilapia producers in China, particularly raising the farmer’s awareness on environmental issues. 
On September 4, 2012, SFP successfully organized its first Aquaculture Policy Roundtable (APR) in Hainan to engage key tilapia processors, farmers, and feed and seed producers in Hainan Province, the largest tilapia production region in China, into an AIP. This roundtable provided face-to-face communication between tilapia producers in China and buyers from North America, and established a roadmap for SFP’s Chinese Tilapia AIP to pilot its zonal management approach in Hainan. 
The roundtable achieved agreement among participants to establish a Hainan Tilapia Sustainability Alliance, at which zonal management on disease control, water resource allocation and pollution elimination, biodiversity impacts, and food safety regulation will be introduced to the supply chain. A regional profile of tilapia was planned to be established and updated in FishSource and Metrics systems to guide buyers and retailers for sustainable sourcing of tilapia. 
Field research projects to assess the impact of tilapia farming on the external environment and its associated risks on disease outbreaks continued in collaboration with a local university in 2013. The study identified three farming zones within Hainan Island and assessed the impacts of existing farming practices and management on aquatic environment around nine typical farms, including both small-to-medium- and commercial-scale farms. The study aims to evaluate cumulative environmental impacts and disease risks at the zonal level.
In mid-June, late August, and early November 2013, SFP organized local roundtables with participation from a diverse group of stakeholders across main production regions (including Wenchang, Qionghai, and Ding’an counties). Participants included hatcheries, feed mills, feed distributors, farmers, middlemen (fish harvesters and service providers), processors, and research institutes, as well as representatives of government aquaculture extensions. At these meetings, local farmers’ groups and co-ops discussed the feasibility of establishing their own Code of Good Practices (CoGP) as a guideline to unite stakeholders’ voices and actions, setting up the foundation to build regional management for tilapia production. Foreign and domestic experts on aquaculture disease and epidemiology were invited to share their knowledge and experiences with producers. Face-to-face communication between farmers and processors was facilitated, paving the way for smoother collaboration in the future. Proposed actions will improve information sharing and data reporting across the local supply chain, and collaborative measures to control food safety and environmental impacts within the region. 
In November 2013, five key tilapia stakeholders (including processors, feed and seed producers, and service providers) in Hainan signed an MoU with SFP to jointly launch the Hainan Tilapia Sustainability Alliance.  The five founding member companies of the Alliance (Kingwin Aquaculture, ProGift, Sky-Blue Ocean, Xiangtai, and Tongwei) have actively worked with SFP to build the institutional structure of the Alliance, and develop technical and managerial contents of a CoGP. 
On the state level, SFP has worked closely with the national industry association, China Aquatic Product Processing and Marketing Alliance (CAPPMA). SFP has been actively involved with CAPPMA and its members in discussing sustainable development of tilapia at forums and conferences, advising key Chinese policy makers to improve their regulations and standards.  SFP assisted CAPPMA in organizing the 10th Chinese Tilapia Industry Forum, which was held in Dalian on November 6, 2013. At the forum, the zonal management approach and the multi-stakeholder dialogue under the Hainan Tilapia Sustainability Alliance was presented to a wider audience of domestic and international stakeholders.
Field research on regional environmental impact assessment and disease risks evaluation were conducted. All field data were processed and analyzed, and the final reports have been developed. Key findings and summary reports were shared with local stakeholders.
At the Seafood North America exhibition in Boston, SFP convened a Supplier Roundtable meeting to share progress with the AIP and strengthen supply chain engagement with the AIP.
In mid-May 2014, a successful roundtable with over 70 attendees was organized in Wenchang, the largest tilapia-producing zone in Hainan, to allow farmers to have a face-to-face conversation with leading buyers and retailers from North America. Straightforward dialogue facilitated the building of trust among various stakeholders along the supply chain. This resulted in gaining more support and commitment from corporate partners to collaborate with farmers and processors on experimenting best practices at both farm and zonal levels.
The five founding members of the Alliance and SFP have continued working on developing the Code of Good Practices and essential structure for the Alliance administration and management. A technical officer was hired to provide technical guidance to AIP participants in order to strengthen the Alliance further.
On September 11, the Alliance hosted a workshop to introduce the concept and approaches of zonal management for aquaculture to a wide-ranging audience, including farmers, hatcheries, feedmills, processors, and governments. The workshop, which served to launch the Farm-in-Transit (FIT) project funded by IDH Foundation, also offered an opportunity for local governments to learn about the zonal management and traceability systems that are essential to help industry build a regional brand for Hainan tilapia.
The Pearl River Institute of Aquaculture (Guangzhou), and the Research Center for Quality and Standards, the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences (Beijing) initiated collaboration with the local industry to strengthen the development of a Code of Good Practices and provide technical guidance to farmers on better water management and disease control measures. This will help local industry build a traceability system to track small- to medium-scale farmers’ practices and incorporate that system with the one employed by processing plants. In that way, a fully traceable progression from fingerlings to fillets will be established for a zone in the near future.
The leading buyer, Fishin’ Co., has continued supporting the Hainan industry to explore multi-stakeholder collaboration throughout the value chain. Their president, Mr. Manish Kumar, gave a speech at the workshop in September to urge local governments and industry to work together. 
On November 5, during the China Seafood Expo in Qingdao, SFP held the second Chinese Tilapia Supplier Roundtable to discuss the lessons learned from the Hainan Tilapia AIP and the potential for industry to initiate more AIPs in China.
January – May
Since the end of 2014, the Alliance had organized a few meetings to share the draft Code of Good Practices with stakeholders and gathered feedback and comments. Public consultation, a relatively new process to the Chinese industry and government, has made the drafted Code of Good Practices (CoGP) the focus of a lot of questions. The leading institute, PRI, reviewed all comments and integrated them into the revision. The final version was officially released in March 2015. The 10 pilot farms identified in 2014 have been experimenting on practices according to drafted CoGP. Another 15 farms, across five counties and cities (Haikou, Wenchang, Qionghai, Ding’an, Tunchang), have been gradually added to the pilot list since March 2015. The CoGP was recently updated with a revision to the section on “rearing fingerlings.” Its Chinese and English versions will be publically available on the Alliance’s website ( in June.
In response to increasing attention focused on chemical residue violations in exported seafood, the Alliance members urged the regional processor association (HAPPMA) and provincial government to hold a meeting to discuss the essential measures and plans relating to this issue. The Alliance updated the government on the progress of the AIP and reassured the industry commitment on producing responsibly raised and environment-friendly tilapia through participating in the ongoing development of zonal management with SFP.  The industry has encountered turmoil with very low export demand and abnormal weather in production regions, which has significantly discouraged tilapia farmers from stocking fish in ponds. The Alliance has facilitated discussion and debate within local industry, circulating industry news and market analysis among all stakeholders. These efforts helped enhance farmers’ access to up-to-date market information and their capacity in making well-founded decisions.  Meanwhile, technical training and guidance on CoGP have been continually delivered to farms, advising them to keep systematic records of water monitoring, feeding, and application of medicines.
The Alliance has been closely working with leading tilapia buyer Fishin’ Co. to identify the best local partners (both hatchery and farms) to enhance quality control through enrolling facilities in iBAP, a new program administered by the Global Aquaculture Allance (GAA). The Alliance aims to engage dozens of farms in a zone to be certified in groups that collectively manage the farming environment and shared disease risks. The iBAP initiative and the AIP have a great opportunity for synergy.