The billion-dollar business of China’s crayfish


China’s love for crayfish has created a multi-billion business in and out of the country.

Also called freshwater lobsters, mountain lobsters, or crawdads, crayfish resemble small lobsters. They’re considered as the more affordable type of crustaceans, and continues to get more and more popular.

These crustaceans are especially popular with millennials, who are using it as social tools. Qianjiang City in the country’s Hubei province, meanwhile, continues to be the one of the biggest crayfish suppliers in the world.

Millennial crayfish craving

A June report by the South China Morning Post reveals that the demand for crawfish in the country alone has employed five million people, making hundreds of thousands of tonnes each year.

Zhu Danpeng, an analyst with China Branding Institute, said in the same article that “crayfish night-outs” are now becoming a social tool for millennials in the country: “They get to chat with each other in a casual setting when having the messy feast.”

According to China’s Ministry of Agriculture, the young crayfish eaters are expected to “fuel an explosive growth of the current 14.66 billion yuan (US$2.15 billion) industry in years to come.”

It did not use to be like this, however. Crayfish wasn’t always this popular in the country—they were farmers’ worst nightmare, as they razed the fields, destroying rice seedlings, and making it very difficult to grow crops.

Growth in Qianjiang City

Qianjiang city is currently country’s biggest exporter of crayfish. The city, which is on the Yangtze River, is the perfect environment for the crustaceans.

It is believed that crayfish were brought to China’s Jiangsu province by a Japanese merchant in the 1920s.They then appeared in Qianjiang’s Juianghan Plain about three decades ago. It was sometime in the 1990s when the popularity really swept across the country.

There are a number of ways these crustaceans are enjoyed in China: served with Sichuan peppers and hot chili, or steamed.

According to Global Times, the crayfish industry has been receiving government support since 2001—the goal is to reach the annual production of 4 billion crayfish by 2020.

Crayfish creates $2 billion export business

China is now the world’s biggest producer and exporter of crayfish. These crustaceans, which this year made a 32% jump in consumption by China alone, has made its way to other countries as well.

According to a 2016 report by Xinhua, two out of three crayfish consumed in Europe comes from Qianjiang. A whopping $190 million worth of crayfish was reportedly sold to foreign buyers in 2015 alone.

China’s annual output of crayfish is 70 percent of the world’s total, and 80 percent of the crayfish that’s produced in Qianjiang are exported to Europe and the Unites States pre-cooked.

“In the past, we sent technicians abroad to learn about European people’s taste. Now we pay top dollar to get European chefs to work in Qianjiang,” Xinhua quotes said Zheng Zhonglong, general manager of Hubei Laker Group, as saying.

The revenue for Qianjiang’s crayfish online has also increased significantly, with the domestic market reading over 100 yuan in the past two years.

The trend and high demand have also paved way to festivities celebrating crayfish, like cooking schools dedicated to crayfish and crayfish festivals, which was just celebrated in Jiangsu last June.


Ofelia Sta. Maria

Ofelia is an experienced journalist covering the Chinese manufacturing sector for the English language market, sharing news and stories about the companies and people shaping the future of manufacturing in China.

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