Seafood harvested from Xinjiang is on sale at a restaurant in Beijing, September 11, 2023. /CFP
In the farthest northwest region of China, people in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region are harvesting something unusual in the normal impression of a landlocked region – seafood. 
This autumn, Xinjiang’s seafood production has gained exponential traction from the public in the backdrop of Japan’s nuclear-contaminated water dumping, causing intense concern and worry regarding seafood safety and marine environment. Xinjiang’s lesser-known seafood export business became a novel alternative to meet the increasing demand for safer aquatic products in a safer breeding condition.
Fish from Xinjiang are satisfying Chinese buyers’ appetite for safe sea products. From triploid rainbow trout, redclaw crayfish, leopard coral grouper to widely-liked white shrimp, crabs, and tilapia, Xinjiang’s budding aquatic industry can satisfy all gourmets’ dreams of fresh seafood.
In the public impression, Xinjiang is often remembered as somewhere with long hours of sunlight, a vast Gobi desert, and rugged mountains with an extremely dry climate, unsuitable for seafood production due to the massive amount of water required. However, Xinjiang is a place consisting of multiple rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and natural ponds where the aquatic industry could find a way in.
“The third national land survey showed that more than 46 million mu (2.76 million hectares) of water area and mudflats are suitable materials for fishery,” according to Deng Kangchu, director of the fisheries supervision office under the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of Xinjiang. “There are 88 types of fish, among which 46 types are indigenous to Xinjiang.”
The workers slice the fish at a factory in Urumqi, the capital of northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, September 10, 2023. /CFP
The triploid rainbow trout is the star aquatic product that helps Xinjiang attract overwhelming nationwide attention with its bright pink fish meat, which closely resembles the taste and nutritional value of mouthwatering salmon for seafood enthusiasts.
In the triploid rainbow trout production farm at Nilka County, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, freshly caught trout were processed, packed, and delivered to customers’ tables within 24 hours. The aquaculture farm can process a total of 50 tonnes of trout each day.
Trout is a coldwater fish that requires a water temperature below 20 degrees Celsius. The fish also require an extremely high water quality.
“The melting snow from the Tianshan Mountains forms the largest reservoir in Xinjiang. With the mountains on the side, there is no industrial pollution and agricultural pollution, which keeps the water clean and favors the growth of the fish,” said Li Chunyu, the head technician of the local trout farm.
Four decades ago, archives show people bred trout in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, which grew into a noticeable trend after the government rolled out policies and guidance to promote the practice as an approach to boost the local economy in recent years. Nilka County seized the chance to foster a fishery base, taking advantage of its natural conditions.
The fishermen display the freshly-caught fish at Bosten Lake in the Bayingolin Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture of northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, June 23, 2023. /CFP
According to Deng, Xinjiang’s total fishery production in 2022 reached 173,000 tonnes, ranking second among the five northwest provinces and regions. The production of rainbow trout hit 4,554 tonnes, accounting for 15 percent of the country’s inland output. “Xinjiang’s fishery development is taking shape with a promising prospect,” said Deng.
Many food enthusiasts have doubts about whether trout may carry parasites in freshwater rather than in the sea, as they are inclined to eat the fish raw in small slices as sashimi.
Li said all the aquatic products go through tests before being available on the market, and there have been no reports of parasites. “We also work with third parties to trace possible issues such as parasites, microorganisms, and heavy metals, but nothing fails the standard.”
Zhang Renming, the director of a research institute affiliated with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of Xinjiang, explained that water quality and breeding management are two crucial factors in determining whether the products carry parasites. “The breeding waters in Nilka County originate from the Tianshan Mountains, which have high-quality pure water, and the fish eggs are grown in an artificial breeding environment after being introduced from overseas, so the entire process is controlled.”
Local fishery companies have adopted environmentally friendly breeding cages with advanced technology that are not only more durable against strong winds and waves but also prevent fish feed and excrement from being directly discharged into the water, posing a threat to the local ecosystem. They also use a cleaning robot with a sonar imaging system and optical cameras to clean the breeding cage more efficiently.
Crabs in fishing nets, Bayingolin Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang. /CFP
In addition to breeding trout, Xinjiang has also adopted technology to breed meaty white shrimp that used to live in the sea but now grow in freshwater.
In Aksu Prefecture of Xinjiang, people use a large pool of water with similar salinity to seawater to help baby shrimp transition to a freshwater environment. Each day, staff add more local freshwater to dilute the water until it becomes freshwater. The process takes about ten days. Then the shrimp are moved to pure freshwater pools where the temperature is controlled at around 25 degrees Celsius.
In Makit County, close to the Taklimakan Desert, local people grow redclaw crayfish in freshwater too. This technology has helped local residents have fresh seafood rather than depending on imports from other provinces close to the sea, saving transportation costs and time.
Xinjiang also encouraged local aquaculture companies to start pilot projects to repurpose saline-alkali land, which contains sufficient soluble salts and sodium, usually impairing the land’s productivity for growing anything.
Local technicians adjust the local saline-alkali water to be similar to natural seawater, simulating the ocean environment and breeding seafood, including tilapia, grouper, abalone, and lobster. The farmers also take advantage of an array of innovative technologies, such as an environment control system, water quality monitor equipment, and water circulation system, to yield a higher gross production.
According to Deng, aquaculture has grown to be an industry that can help thrive the village and boost local residents’ income in Xinjiang. Not only does Xinjiang’s seafood provide diverse dinner choices for the locals, but it also attracts growing interest nationwide and abroad.
In 2022, the total output value of Xinjiang’s fishery industry reached 4.2 billion yuan ($580 million), an increase of 921 million yuan compared to 2019, according to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of Xinjiang. The average annual income of a fisherman in Xinjiang is 19,960 yuan ($2,765), which is 3,410 yuan ($472) higher than the disposable personal income of a local rural resident.
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Copyright © 2023 CGTN. 京ICP备16065310号
Disinformation report hotline: 010-85061466