Aquaculture Key Information
Aquaculture is the fastest growing food supply sector in the world, and as a global industry it provides half of all seafood for human consumption. There is a strong emphasis within the industry to continue reducing its impacts on the environment and secure itself as a sustainable source of seafood for generations to come.
The supply of farmed fish for people to eat surpassed that of wild caught for the first time in 20141, 2. Since then, total world aquaculture production has recorded an all-time high of 110 million tonnes (live weight) in 2016, with a total estimated first-sale value of US$243 billion3. A more detailed breakdown of global production is given in the table. Often the single or majority source of species such as Atlantic salmon, sea bass, or warm water prawns available to UK seafood buyers and consumers is from aquaculture.
Through aquaculture, our oceans, seas, and increasingly inland waters, hold the potential to contribute significantly to food security for a growing human population. To provide seafood to meet projected global demand it has been estimated that aquaculture will need to more than double by mid-century4.
It is important to acknowledge that in comparison to farming terrestrial livestock, aquaculture is one of the most resource-efficient and least environmentally impactful ways to produce protein5. Farmed seafood generally converts more of the food it consumes into body mass, and thus harvestable protein, for us to eat6, 7. Like any other human activity, all forms of aquaculture have an impact on the environment. The nature and scale of impacts vary with the type of farming and the species involved, and as with other types of farming, the industry is reliant upon good stewardship and a respect for the environment for its existence and sustainable future.
What actually is aquaculture? A definition…
Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic organisms including fish, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic plants. Farming implies some sort of intervention in the rearing process to enhance production, such as regular stocking, feeding, protection from predators, and so on. Farming also implies individual or corporate ownership of the stock being cultivated, the planning, development and operation of aquaculture systems, sites, facilities and practices, and the production and transport8.
In 2014 a total of 580 species and/or species groups were farmed globally. This included; 362 finfishes (including hybrids), 104 molluscs, 62 crustaceans, 6 frogs and reptiles, 9 aquatic invertebrates, 37 aquatic plants2. Aquaculture species and how they are produced can be categorised in various ways:
- The species themselves can be freshwater, marine or diadromous (i.e. those that live in both fresh and marine waters)
- Depending on the species being farmed, they can be fed (i.e. most finfish and crustacean species) or non-fed (e.g. seaweeds, filter-feeding shellfish, and some fish species such as carps)
- The density of stock (i.e. how many fish or shellfish in an area or volume of water) defines a production system as either: extensive (low density), semi-intensive, or intensive (high density)
The type and intensity of farming depends on the species and on market demand. Generally fish and shellfish are farmed in ponds, tanks, suspended on supporting structures or confined in nets or cages in lakes or coastal waters. As shellfish such as bivalves generally stay in one place, they can also be farmed on the seabed.
What does responsible aquaculture entail?
There are certain key elements applicable to any aquaculture facility and its production which ensure its activities are responsibly undertaken and its potential impacts are minimised. These key elements include:
- A facility should have in place all the legally required authorisations and permissions determined by the location. These should be up to date and include those relating to the siting of the facility, which should be within a managed, defined, and/or zoned aquaculture development area if such an area has been designated
- The farm’s infrastructure (ponds, cages, feed and chemical stores, etc.) should be well designed and maintained to ensure the following: the stock is secure and grown in suitable conditions; pests are minimised; predators are deterred/dealt with by non-lethal methods; and consumables are properly stored
- Farm outputs, whether these be dissolved nutrients in waste water or packaging from consumables, need to be contained, processed or expelled from the facility in such a way as to minimise their effects on the environment
- The facility should source and on-grow quality seed from trusted and recognised hatcheries. In the absence of hatchery seed, it should use wild seed that is derived from well-managed and sustainable wild populations
- Where applicable, the facility should use the best commercial aquafeed available, i.e. feeds which can prove the origins of its marine ingredients and preferably derives those ingredients from well-managed and sustainable sources
- The farm should have and adhere to an up to date Health Management Plan, as well have access to qualified veterinary services when required
- Farm operations should be undertaken by a well-trained, dedicated team who are led by an effective manager. All staff should be treated with respect and appropriately rewarded for their efforts
There are a number of global, regional and national initiatives as well as independent 3rd party certification schemes that incorporate these elements and promote environmental and social best practice. Given the prominence of environmental issues as the development driver of aquaculture standards and certification, there is a strong emphasis on environmental criteria within them9. More information on aquaculture certification is given at the end of each Aquaculture Profile.
- Seafish (http://www.seafish.org/media/1650672/_2_amended_sofia_2016_aquaculture_summary_-_august.pdf)
- FAO (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i5555e.pdf)
- FAO (http://www.fao.org/3/i9200en/I9200EN.pdf)
- World Resources Institute (http://www.wri.org/publication/improving-aquaculture)
- Hilburn, R. et al, 2018. The environmental cost of animal source foods. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The Ecological Society of America, 2018 (https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/fee.1822)
- National Geographic (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/aquaculture/)
- World Economic Forum (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/how-aquaculture-can-feed-the-world-and-save-the-planet-at-the-same-time/
- FAO (http://www.fao.org/faoterm/collection/aquaculture/en/)
- International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), 2016. State of Sustainability Initiatives Review: Standards and the Blue Economy’ 2016. International Institute for Sustainable Development (http://www.iisd.org/ssi/standards-and-the-blue-economy/)
Click on a box below for more information on global, European and UK aquaculture production.Close
Atlantic Salmon - Salmo salar
Atlantic salmon is one of the world’s most iconic farmed aquatic species. The majority of farmed Atlantic salmon are cultured in marine net-pens across northern Atlantic countries and along the west coast of the Americas.
Globally some 2.25 million tonnes of Atlantic salmon was produced in 2016. Norway, Chile and Scotland were the three largest producers, with a combined output of 85.8% of world production.
European Sea Bass - Dicentrachus labrax
The European sea bass aquaculture industry has grown strongly since the early 1990s and represents one of the most important farmed species in the Mediterranean.
The most important producer countries are Greece and Turkey. Sea bass are cultured intensively, predominantly in net-pens in coastal waters of southern Europe, and 2016 production stood at 191,003 tonnes.
Gilthead Sea Bream - Sparus aurata
The Gilthead sea bream aquaculture industry has grown strongly since the 1990s and represents one of the most important farmed species in the Mediterranean.
The most important producer countries are Greece and Turkey. Sea bream are cultured intensively, predominantly in floating net-pens in coastal waters of southern Europe, and 2016 global production stood at 185,980 tonnes.
Mussel farming extends across temperate and tropical regions in inshore environments, as well as in deeper, offshore waters.
Two main types of culture are carried out - seabed culture and suspended culture. No supplementary feed is provided, and no medicines or chemicals are administered during grow-out. The industry is still reliant on the collection of wild mussel seed (called ‘spat’) for on-growing.
Global production in 2016 equated to some two million tonnes. China produced almost half of this volume, whilst other important producing countries included Chile and Spain.
Oyster farming extends across many countries of the world in temperate and tropical regions. The adaptability of oysters makes them a good aquaculture species. No supplementary feed is provided, and no medicines or chemicals are administered during grow-out.
Most oyster species used in aquaculture can be found naturally in marine and brackish areas close to the coast in shallow depths and thus can be farmed in locations accessible at low tide. Pacific oysters are the most important cultured species globally
Global oyster production in 2016 equated to some 5.59 million tonnes, with China producing 86% of the global total.
Pangasius - Pangasianodon hypophthalmus
Pangasius are primarily cultured in high density ponds and the Mekong delta in Vietnam is at the centre of current production. Pangasius has become a popular aquaculture species across the Asia-Pacific region.
Pangasius production has grown rapidly since the mid-2000s, and is likely to develop further. Global production in 2016 was almost 2.5 million tonnes.
Scallop production extends across the world in cold and warm water regions, and although many countries have invested in aquaculture of scallops there are currently three main commercial producers – China, Japan and Peru.
Since the 1970’s cultivation of scallops has increased rapidly and now accounts for nearly three-quarters of world scallop production from both capture fisheries and aquaculture. No supplementary feed is provided, and no medicines or chemicals are administered during grow-out.
Global production in 2016 equated to some 2.1 million tonnes.
Tiger Prawn - Penaeus monodon
Tiger Prawns (widely known as "monodon") are native to the warm marine waters of Australia, South and SE Asia, and East Africa.
The farming of monodon is still reliant on wild seed, and as such farming of this species is concentrated around its native range; in extensive through to intensive ponds.
Some 701,081 tonnes of monodon were farmed in 2016 which equates to around 15% of global warm water prawn aquaculture.
White Leg Prawn - Litopenaeus vannamei
White Leg Prawns (widely known as "vannamei") are native to the warm marine waters of the Eastern Pacific.
The availability of hatchery-reared seed has enabled vannamei to be farmed across the globe.
Vannamei dominates warm water prawn aquaculture, accounting for around 75% of the world’s annual farmed prawn production. Global production in 2016 equated to some 4.15 million tonnes.