Seafood has a special role in the Chinese luxury dining scene. Inviting people at a big seafood banquet is a way to strengthen social relationships with important partners in a professional context. For these reasons the high ranked people in government or the private sector often attend banquets as part of their work obligations. Seafood dishes served at banquets include lobster, giant geoduck clams, crabs and abalone, shark fin, sea cucumbers, and reef fish.
Data show that the country’s per capita consumption of seafood is increasing as Chinese middle class expands and incomes rise. However, this situation entails some concerns and problems.
The live reef fish for food trade represents one of the main fishery industries in Asia Pacific: major source countries are Indonesia and the Philippines, and the most of the exports go to Hong Kong and China.
Among reef fish, napoleon wrasse is the most lavishly priced, costing from 80 to 2000 yuan for 500 grams, followed by mouse grouper, a delicately mottled grey and black fish, scarlet leopard coral grouper, and other groupers.
Experts explain that the price represents the main attraction of these fish in Chinese seafood banquets: ordering them is a way of showing your guests that you value them and honour them. The price plays a more important role that the taste and attractive appearance of fishes.
On the other hand, environmentalists have raised doubts and concerns about the impact of the fish trade on fish stocks and the health of coral reefs across Southeast Asia. Environmental groups did fight for many years to establish stronger controls to regulate the trade. Additionally, these experts have highlighted the urgency of the situation: the napoleon wrasse is endangered, several other species are threatened, and the cyanide that is often used to catch them damages coral reefs.
Also, tuna and salmon are popular as sushi and sashimi, prepared a la Japanese style, and puffer fish is also a high status dish: studies show that marine fishes are preferred over freshwater fish, viewed as common and cheap. At the international level, shark-fin soup is the best-known seafood dish in these banquets. However, restaurant representatives have reported a significant decline in the consumption of shark fin: in recent years environmentalist campaigns have heavily publicized cruelty of harvesting shark fin, raising awareness of this issue among consumers.
Due to multiple food safety scandals and crimes in recent years, trust in the food system is extremely low.
Moreover, in recent years there have been significant policy developments that have had a significant impact on luxury seafood consumption. Governments have launched a widespread crackdown against all forms of government excess: government banquets were one of the main targets. For example, the government has recently announced a ban on shark fin at state banquets within few years.
In this framework, experts have stressed the importance to establish stronger measures in order to improve a stricter regulation.
According to experts, the strategies to achieve concrete results should include commitments for greater forms of traceability within the Chinese seafood market, the adoption of certification schemes, the use of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as a conservation instrument for endangered species consumed in China, and the development of consumer awareness campaigns.
In this way, reinforcing public awareness of environmental issues among consumers will play a crucial role as a driver of reduced consumption of unsustainably sourced seafood in Chinese banquets.
The gLAWcal Team
Thursday, 30 October 2014