Fish farming has a vital role to play in global food security

by Thomas Jensen
FAO Aquaculture photo library

China alone accounts for about 60 percent of world aquaculture production by quantity and about 50 percent by value. Here, a happy fish harvest.

Against a backdrop of global economic uncertainty and food price volatility demand for fish and fishery products as a source of high-quality, affordable animal protein is rising steadily. From 1990 to 2008, per capita world fish consumption increased by 27 percent (from 14 kg in 1990 to 17 kg in 2008) despite a 26 percent growth in world population during this period. This increase in fish consumption is mainly attributed to aquaculture growth.

 Aquaculture remains the fastest growing food producing sector in the world and is set to overtake capture fisheries as a source of food destined for human consumption. It currently contributes nearly 50 percent to global food fish supplies and is expected to continue this contribution in the decades to come and to improve food and nutrition security globally. However, as the global population is growing at an alarming rate and there are expected to be nine billion people on the planet by 2050, maintaining the level of consumption of aquatic food could become an intimidating task.

Bringing several important benefits to society

In the recent past, aquaculture has shown its potential to generate important benefits to society and to contribute to the well-being of humanity. With an 8 percent annual growth rate over the past three decades, aquaculture produced 73 million metric tones worldwide in 2009, which represents 39 percent of the production volumes produced from both aquaculture and capture fisheries. In 2008, aquaculture brought about 105 billion USD to the world economy, which represented 53 percent of the total value of aquatic products that year. The sector’s contribution to the world economy grew by 121 percent in comparison with 1998.

Asia retains its dominant position

Yet, as a young industry, with globalisation aquaculture has become an international and complex business operating in many countries and involving many species cultured under different farming environments and systems, using different technologies and targeting different markets. Asia has retained its progressively dominant position in world aquaculture production accounting for nearly 90 percent of world aquaculture production by quantity and nearly 80 percent by value. China alone accounts for about 60 percent of world aquaculture production by quantity and about 50 percent by value.

Growth in aquaculture production is not uniform among the regions. While Latin America and the Caribbean show significant annual growth, in Europe and North America growth has slowed substantially in recent years.

The contribution from aquaculture to total production has increased markedly for all major species groups, except for marine species. Currently aquaculture accounts for about 75 percent of global freshwater finfish production, more than 60 percent of diadromous species and about 45 percent of crustacean production. While the overall share of aquaculture in total production of marine species is at very low level – about 2.5 percent, aquaculture does dominate production for some species, such as flathead grey mullet, gilthead seabream, European seabass, etc. For many species now produced through aquaculture farmed production is substantially higher than the highest catch ever recorded.

Importance of a growing sector

Aquaculture growth not only makes more aquatic products for consumption available, but also results in other economic, social and environmental benefits to society. Together with fisheries, aquaculture, directly or indirectly, plays an essential role in the livelihoods of millions of people around the world.

Overall, employment in fisheries and aquaculture sector has grown faster than the world’s population and employment in traditional agriculture. Today aquaculture and capture fisheries directly employ over 45 million people, supporting the livelihood of 8 percent of the world’s population, and each sector provides about 50 percent of the world’s aquatic food supply. It has been estimated that in 2008 aquaculture created about 11 million full-time jobs worldwide. Regardless of the accuracy of these numbers, these estimates represent an 85 percent increase in aquaculture employment compared to 1990.

If overall production is to keep pace with an expanding world population, and if capture fisheries remain stagnant, future growth will have to come from aquaculture – the sector which produces fish for food, livelihood and trade.

Source: FAO

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