China urgently needs to establish a quality-control system for seafood following its accession to the World Trade Organisation, a top scientist said. Xiang Jianhai, director of the Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the European Union had used WTO regulations to ban Chinese seafood. He said the EU imposed the ban as the mainland had not yet established a watchdog to maintain standards. 'This kind of trade dispute is quite common and different countries are setting up barriers to protect their own products.' He said to improve consumer confidence, China should quickly establish a comprehensive code of practice to ensure its seafood was clean and free of harmful chemicals. The formulation of a safety code was also important for domestic consumers, he said. Seafood exports comprise one-third of the country's total agricultural exports. In 2000, the production value of China's aquaculture industry reached 220 billion yuan (HK$204 billion). Professor Xiang said China should also boost efforts to explore undersea oil reserves in a bid to protect future energy supplies. He said less than 10 per cent of China's undersea oil reserves had so far been explored. Professor Xiang also called for better protection of China's wetlands. He said they would be vital for the sustainable development of coastal cities and China's aquaculture industry. 'I don't know exactly how fast they are dwindling, but I must say the pace of deterioration is appalling.' Local authorities often ignore the importance of wetlands. Property development and fish farms have been main factors behind their destruction. Professor Xiang recommended a campaign - similar to those restoring farmland to forests and grasslands - to be introduced to protect China's wetlands. In response to a report by the University of British Columbia's Fisheries Centre, which said China had been over-reporting fish catches, Professor Xiang said the way China compiled its statistics was different from the West. 'We counted all the fish, small and large,' he said. 'In the West, they only counted the large ones and threw away the small ones.'