Fresh fish have been removed from supermarket tanks in Beijing as businesses attempt to avoid inspections, a government source has told mainland outlet Caixin. They denied rumours that the move was related to pollution.

Beijing Youth Daily reported on Wednesday that they contacted supermarkets across the city, and many said they have stopped selling live fish.

Empty tanks at a Shou Hang supermarket in Chaoyang on Thursday. Photo: HKFP/Alastair Dawson.

Operators dodge inspection

An employee at a Carrefour supermarket in Haidian district told the newspaper that they received a notice to remove live river fish off the shelves, but did not know why. Another supermarket in Chaoyang district said that they received a notice from management to temporarily stop selling fresh river fish. Staff said freshwater fish would not be sold in the short-term and suggested that residents choose frozen saltwater fish instead.

However, an “authoritative source” from the State Food and Drug Administration cited by Caixin said that companies were seeking to avoid inspections and the move was unrelated to pollution. Last Thursday, the administration sent out notices for special inspections of aquatic products in ten cities, Caixin reported. One of the notices stated that samples would be taken to detect residues of veterinary drugs. As news of the inspections spread, live fish were pulled from the supermarkets.

“This means that, firstly, the work to keep the news confidential was not done very well. Secondly, the market has unspoken rules – the operators are hiding something, so they just pulled [the products] first,” the source said.

Empty tanks at a Shou Hang supermarket in Chaoyang on Thursday. Photo: HKFP/Alastair Dawson.

‘Normal business activity’

On Wednesday, the Beijing Food and Drug Administration published a post on Weibo refuting rumours that the fish were being pulled due to a contamination of water bodies in Beijing.

The de-shelving “is the independent actions of enterprises,” it said. “Beijing has not issued a general notice to stop selling live freshwater fish.”

Since May, supermarkets in the city have successively stopped selling freshwater fish, switching to frozen fish in line with consumer habits, it said. Near the end of the year, supermarkets are adjusting their suppliers and adjusting their stock according to consumer habits and sales volumes, “this is normal business activity for enterprises,” it said.

The administration said that the proportion of aquatic products which passed inspections has reached 90 per cent and above in recent years.

But the Beijing Youth Daily reporter found that out of 20 supermarkets including Carrefour, Walmart, Yonghui, and Wumart, only four said their stores are still selling live fish. Staff from high-end supermarket chain BHG told Caixin that they received notice from the company to pull all live fish from the shelves, with no notice of when they will restock.


Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.