At the China Fisheries and Seafood Expo, which concluded recently in the eastern coastal city of Qingdao, Shandong province, seafood dealers were busy selecting products and preparing for the upcoming Lunar New Year sales season in January.

Sun Zhiyong, a purchaser visiting the expo, told Xinhua News Agency that he used to buy large quantities of red meat in preparation for New Year banquets, but now he has turned to seafood markets.

“My childhood memories of the dining table consist of a few fish. But now, gone are the days when seafood consumption was a luxury for Chinese people, who aspire to enjoy seafood as part of their diet,” said Sun.

China now is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing seafood markets. In 2018, the country’s total output of aquatic products reached 64.58 million metric tons, 144 times more than that in 1949, with an annual per capita share of 46 kilograms.

“I’ve been in the seafood business for almost 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Peter Redmayne, president of Sea Fare Expositions, an organizer of the CFSE. “It’s incredible that a market this big can keep growing this fast.”

With a greater variety of imported seafood flooding into China, consumers are able to taste a wide range of products as diverse as king crab from Russia, shrimp from South America, salmon from Norway and sea cucumber from the North Atlantic, the report said.

“We see more and more overseas companies exhibiting at the expo each year,” said Redmayne. “China is expanding imports to meet the growing demand for seafood among its increasingly affluent population. This is great news for seafood suppliers worldwide.”

In the first eight months of this year, China’s seafood imports surged more than 20% year-on-year in terms of both volume and value, Yu Kangzhen, vice-minister of agriculture and rural affairs, said on the sidelines of the CFSE.

“People in China are becoming more interested in high-quality and wild-caught seafood products such as our best sellers cold water shrimp, halibut, sea cucumber and capelin,” said Blaine Sullivan, president of the Canadian seafood company Ocean Choice.

As an exhibitor at CFSE for over 10 years, the firm has seen over 15% of its products being exported to China with the number of species continuing to rise, Sullivan said.

In addition, a greater number of direct international flights to second-and third-tier cities in China are making it easier to develop new markets, and the country’s customs officials are also clearing shipments more quickly, the report said.

“The next edition of CFSE will move to a new venue with more space, so we can meet the growing demand from overseas suppliers and Chinese importers,” Redmayne said.