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Nation reels in leading role via floating fish farm

By XIE CHUANJIAO in Qingdao | (China Daily) | 2022-06-08

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An aerial view of the Tangdaowan Bay in Qingdao's West Coast New Area, Shandong province. The new area is making great efforts to boost its marine sectors. [Photo/China Daily]

Rising tide of marine businesses includes aquaculture, pharmacology

The world's first 100,000-metric-ton, smart fish-farming ship was delivered on May 20 in Qingdao, Shandong province, marking the latest innovation for China's aquaculture technology.

The ship, Conson No 1, is expected to help the nation's deep-sea aquaculture take a leading role in the industry by providing a new prototype, experts said.

The 249.9-meter-long mobile fish farm, with a dead weight of 100,000 tons and displacing 130,000 tons, has 15 tanks, each larger than two standard swimming pools. It can handle 3,700 tons of fish annually, including yellow croaker, grouper and Atlantic salmon.

The ship's smart technology can control temperature and salinity in the pools where the fish are growing. It features a total of 2,108 sensors to monitor water, oxygen, light, feeding and the growth of fish in real-time.

"Conson No 1 has made China's vision of deep-sea aquaculture into a reality, and will not only drive the nation's development of the aquaculture industry but also promote the upgrading of related equipment, technologies and business models," said Mai Kangsen, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a professor at Ocean University of China.

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Workers process salmon at Shenlan 1, China's first deep-sea fish farm off Qingdao, in June 2021. [YU FANGPING/FOR CHINA DAILY]

China's vision is to expand its marine sectors from areas just offshore to the deep sea in a reasonable and scientific way, while avoiding problems like overfishing and pollution, experts said.

The delivery of the vessel will start a new wave of marine aquaculture in China, which will feature the combination of artificial intelligence, information technology, shipbuilding technology and artificial aquaculture, Mai said.

The ship sailed from Qingdao after delivery, and headed to the sea near Ningde, Fujian province, where it was to load fish spawn to be raised aboard the ship. Plans call for the ship to cruise to different areas where conditions are advantageous for cultured fish to grow to adult size, officials said.

Developing marine aquaculture is just one step of the deepening ties of the port city of Qingdao to the ocean. The development of marine businesses is being highlighted more than ever, as was made clear at the city's Party congress in April.

Last year, the economic output of the city's marine businesses was worth 468.5 billion yuan ($69.9 billion), an increase of 17.1 percent year-on-year. They accounted for more than 30 percent of the city's GDP. Their value has been growing at an average annual rate of more than 10 percent over the past five years.

The government of Qingdao estimates that by 2025, the city's marine businesses will grow at an average rate of more than 7 percent annually, and the added value of sea-related strategic emerging industries will increase by more than 8 percent on average annually.

Qingdao is home to 30 percent of China's sea-focused academicians, 40 percent of domestic, high-end sea-related research and development platforms and 50 percent of the nation's internationally leading marine technologies. It also hosts a large number of sea-related universities, national labs and institutions.

When President Xi Jinping visited Qingdao in June 2018, he called for building up a strong maritime country, urging solid efforts to develop the marine economy.

Guan Huashi, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, spoke with Xi about the research and development of new medicines using biological resources from the sea during that visit. Guan told Xi that his dream was to build China's "blue drugstore". Xi told Guan, "We share the same dream."

Guan added, "I have always kept in mind what President Xi told me and I have spared no effort in these years to speed up the development of the blue drugstore."

Qingdao's West Coast New Area, a national-level new area approved by the central government in 2014, is the center of R&D for China's blue drugstore, Guan said. It has the world's largest marine microbial database, along with the country's only marine drug testing center, where Guan's academic team is working with local companies in the development of sea-based biological medicines.

The West Coast New Area has used its plentiful marine resources and technological advantages to advance high-quality development, officials said. During the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) period, the new area's marine businesses grew at an average annual rate of 14.4 percent, and accounted for 40 percent of the city's total marine business income and 10 percent of the total income of the province's marine industry.

The area is also home to the largest cluster of national-level marine fish farm pilot facilities, covering 6,630 hectares. Tests include the use of advanced technology with aquaculture.

"There are 280 cages on the surface of the sea, but we have only 20 workers responsible for raising about 28 million kilograms of fish throughout the year," said Xue Qinghai, manager of Luhaifeng Group, which runs one of the 14 national-level marine fish farm test facilities in the new area. "Intelligent operation has doubled breeding efficiency."

They also have placed a large number of artificial reefs on the sea floor to create advantageous conditions for marine life to live and reproduce, Xue said.

Local authorities have also taken other steps to improve the environment. Wooden walkways and pavilions have been built along the coast, creating a new sightseeing attraction. The Tangdaowan National Wetland Park in the West Coast New Area now attracts many rare birds, including red-crowned cranes, golden eagles, white-shouldered eagles and white-tailed sea eagles, especially when migratory species visit.

Earlier this year, the new area's Lingshan Island was recognized as China's first "minus carbon" island by the China Quality Certification Center, with-1,333 tons' equivalent of annual carbon emissions in 2020.The center said that in 2020, the island generated 5,668 tons of carbon dioxide, largely from energy consumption, agriculture and waste treatment, while the carbon sink from the island's forests would have removed 7,001 tons of greenhouse gases.

"This is the result of 35 years of continuous planting of trees and returning farmland to forest," said Jiang Xia, deputy director of the administrative committee of Lingshan Island Nature Reserve.

The administrative committee is planning to establish a carbon credit system on the island this year to encourage residents and tourists to be involved in more carbon mitigation, Jiang said.

Technological innovation has been a driving force in Qingdao's progress, officials said. Thanks to a smart ocean management platform launched in December 2020, different government departments of the West Coast New Area, including fisheries, environmental protection and maritime affairs, are now able to quickly share data on such topics as geography, locations of ports and fishing boats, natural disaster forecasts and monitoring of the ocean environment.

Qingdao's government plans to build the city into "a leading maritime hub with advanced marine technology, a highly developed marine economy, a good ocean environment, flourishing marine culture and active international maritime exchanges and cooperation", according to guidelines for the development of marine economy, which were recently unveiled by the city.

Building a modern port will provide fundamental support for the realization of this vision. Officials at Qingdao Port, operated by Shandong Port Group, say they are working hard to be close partners of the city in its development.

Qingdao Port, the largest foreign trade port in northern China, has leveraged opportunities created by the Belt and Road Initiative and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership to expand its connections with other RCEP members and strengthen its cargo capacity. It has also promoted regional economic development by providing more efficient logistics services and facilitating a favorable business environment, officials said. The port opened 19 new international shipping routes last year and three in January.

While developing an increasingly dense network of international maritime routes, Qingdao is also focusing on its connection with inland areas to create a multimodal transportation hub.

Last year, seven sea-rail multimodal lines were added, making for a total of 62. About 1.75 million twenty-foot equivalent units-a measure of volume in units of standard shipping containers-were handled this way. That was an increase of 6 percent from a year earlier, topping the nation for the seventh consecutive year.

In 2020, Qingdao surpassed Busan, South Korea, in container throughput to become the world's sixth busiest port and the busiest in northeastern Asia. But for the government of Qingdao, increased container traffic is just one primary objective. Officials said creating a world-class port will boost the city's industrial upgrading and overall development, especially with more closely interconnected flows of goods, capital, information and people.

Shandong Port Group has planned 27 projects with a combined investment of nearly 30 billion yuan to integrate the development of the port, multiple industries and the city. Seven of the projects, worth 7 billion yuan, have already been completed, and 20 others involving the construction of docks and warehouses for crude oil, liquid chemicals and bulk grain were started in February.