Aquaculture Profiles - Web Tool

Aquaculture is global industry, and now provides half of all our seafood. In comparison to farming land animals like cows and pigs, aquaculture is one of the most resource-efficient and least environmentally impactful ways to produce protein for us to eat. As with other types of farming, aquaculture is reliant upon the environment, so it needs to help look after it. The more responsible and sustainable aquaculture becomes, the more it will be able to provide great seafood for people across the world to eat, and for generations to come.

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Often the primary source of many aquatic animals destined for our dinner plates, such as Atlantic salmon, sea bass, or warm water prawns, is from aquaculture. The individual Aquaculture Profiles below offer lots of information on the farmed seafood most important to the UK market.

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Key Information

What is Aquaculture? Why is it Important?

What exactly is aquaculture?

Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic species – animals and plants – that live in water including those we typically think of as finfish (animals with gills and fins), shellfish (those with shells; for example crustaceans like shrimps, or bivalve molluscs such as mussels), and plants such as seaweeds which are large or ‘macro’ types of algae.

An aquaculture farmer will own the fish or seaweed he or she is growing, referring to it as their ‘stock’. They need to make sure this stock is kept healthy and protected so it grows to the right size for it to be harvested at the right time for those who wish to buy it. Careful planning and responsible operating of aquaculture sites is essential to reach production targets that are at the same time profitable and sustainable.

In 2018, over 600 aquatic organisms were farmed across the world. Despite this great diversity, only a handful of species make up most of the production volume; for example 90% of fish production was through rearing just 27 species / species groups. Compared with finfish, fewer species of crustaceans, molluscs and other aquatic animals are farmed1.

Aquaculture species and how they are farmed can be sorted in various ways:

  • Organisms themselves can be classified depending on where they live; in freshwater, marine waters (salty water), or both – so called diadromous species.
  • Depending on the aquatic animal, the farmer may need to provide food in the form of man-made feed, often in the form of pellets. Most finfish and crustacean species need to be fed. Other organisms like seaweed, shellfish, some fish species such as carp, will absorb dissolved nutrients and/or feed on naturally occurring food, such as plankton, found in the water they’re grown in. Shellfish for example, filter the water to remove these food particles and are therefore referred to as ‘filter-feeders’.
  • How many fish or shellfish in an area or volume of water used by the farm – the so-called ‘density of stock’- is also used to classify the farms production. It could be extensive (has low density stocking), semi-intensive, or intensive (high density).

The type and intensity of farming depends on the species and on how much we want to buy and eat it – the so-called ‘market demand’. Generally fish and shellfish are farmed in ponds, tanks, suspended on ropes or poles, or held in nets and cages in freshwater lakes or waters around the coast. As shellfish such as bivalves (those with two hinged shells protecting the fleshy part of the animal) generally don’t move around but stay in one place, they can also be left to grow on the seabed.

Is aquaculture really that important?

Aquaculture is the fastest growing food supplying sector in the world. The farming of aquatic animals grew on average 5.3% per year between 2001 and 2018. Through aquaculture, our oceans, seas, and inland freshwaters hold huge potential to provide us with increased amounts of healthy and nutritious food which is needed to feed an ever growing human population. Aquaculture helps us with our ‘food security’. Aquaculture also supports people and communities around the world by providing business opportunities and decent jobs.

The supply of farmed aquatic organisms for people to eat surpassed that of wild caught seafood for the first time in 2014. In 2018, the world’s total aquaculture production reached an all-time high of 114.5 million tonnes in live weight – the weight of a whole fish before it’s been filleted, or a shellfish with the shell included). This volume of farmed aquatic organisms had a total estimated first-sale value of 263 billion U.S dollars (US$)1.(remember US$1 billion = one thousand million U.S dollars – so farming aquaculture organisms is worth a LOT of money!). First-sale value is how much say a fish or shellfish is worth when it’s first harvested and before it undergoes processing and packaging ready for us to eat). If we breakdown these huge production and value numbers we see they’re made up of:

82.1 million tonnes of aquatic animals, worth US$250.1 billion. This includes:

  • 54 million tonnes of finfish with a value of US$139.7 billion
  • 17.7 million tonnes of molluscs (mainly bivalves), worth US$34.6 billion
  • 9.4 million tonnes of crustaceans (mainly marine shrimp), worth US$69.3 billion

32.4 million tonnes of aquatic algae, with a value of US$13.3 billion

Often the primary source of many aquatic animals we like to eat, such as Atlantic salmon, sea bass, or warm water prawns, is from aquaculture. By 2030, 62% of all seafood produced and destined for our dinner plates will come from aquaculture2.

Aquaculture can massively contribute to and help secure global food supplies which are produced using methods that are good for the environment and for society. In comparison to farming land animals like cows and pigs, aquaculture is one of the most resource-efficient and least environmentally impactful ways to produce protein for us to eat3 – 5. Farmed seafood can also help the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)6 become a reality.

Like any other human activity, all forms of aquaculture have an impact on the environment – how much varies with the type of farming and the species involved. In recent years a lot of progress has been made in the sustainability of aquaculture production, and many types of aquaculture (bivalve shellfish or seaweed for example) can have extremely positive impacts on the environment which in turn provides benefits for us7, 8.

As with other types of farming, aquaculture is reliant upon the environment, so it needs to help look after it. The more responsible and sustainable aquaculture becomes, the more it will be able to provide great seafood for people across the world to eat, and for generations to come.

  1. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO)
  2. What is Aquaculture and Why Do We Need It? Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) ‘Aquaculture 101 series 2019-20
  3. Hilburn, R. et al, 2018. ‘The environmental cost of animal source foods. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.’ The Ecological Society of America, 2018
  4. Responsible Consumption and Production of Farmed Seafood. GAA ‘Aquaculture 101 series 2019-20
  5. How Farmed Seafood Can Support Climate Action. GAA ‘Aquaculture 101 series 2019-20
  6. UN Sustainable Development Goals, 2020
  7. Alleway, H.K. et al, 2018. ‘The Ecosystem Services of Marine Aquaculture: Valuing Benefits to People and Nature.’ BioScience, Volume 69, Jan.2019
  8. Gentry, R.R. et al, 2019. ‘Exploring the Potential for Marine Aquaculture to Contribute to Ecosystem Services.’ Review in Aquaculture, 2019

What Is Responsible Aquaculture? What Does It Involve?

There are some general, key principals that apply to any aquaculture farm or site and the work that is done there. Following these rules helps make sure farm activities are undertaken responsibly and any potential impacts are reduced as much as possible. They include:

  • Having all the required permissions and licences that relate to the farm, its operations and its management, up to date and regularly checked. The exact permissions and licences a farm needs will be determined by the relevant authorities in the country where the farm is located.
  • All buildings and structures that make up the farm – for instance, the ponds or cages, the feed and chemical stores, and so on – should be well designed and kept in good condition. If this is done, the farm’s stock is grown in suitable, safe conditions. Pests which can infest a farm are kept to minimum. Predators that could prey on the stock are deterred from coming onto the site, and if they do, they aren’t killing as a means of controlling them. Also items that are used regularly, like feed or chemicals, are stored correctly and safely.
  • Unwanted materials and wastes the farm might produce – from veterinary treatments keeping the stock healthy, through to packaging feed is delivered in – all need to be managed carefully. They need to be contained, processed, used or removed. Whichever option is chosen, it needs to be done in such a way that it minimises any potential effects on the environment.
  • Generally farms use very young, very small aquatic organisms (such youngsters are often called ‘seed’) to re-stock their ponds or cages, and so begin the growing cycle. This seed should come from hatcheries (facilities that specialise in producing young organisms) that are trusted and sells of good quality, healthy youngsters. If a farm uses seed taken from the wild, it should only use it if the wild population it comes from is healthy and well-managed.
  • If the farmer is raising aquatic animals that need to be given feed, such as salmon or shrimp, then the so called ‘aquafeed’ a farmer uses should be the best available. Ideally the ingredients in these aquafeeds – such as fishmeal, or plant crops such as soy – should come from sustainable sources.
  • The farm should have controls in place to make sure the welfare of the animals being reared is kept to the highest standards it can be. A qualified vet should be on call if they are needed.
  • The team that works on the farm should be well-trained, dedicated, and led by a good manager. All staff must be treated with respect and get fair and proper wages for their efforts.

There are many global, regional and national programmes trying to educate farmers and encourage more responsible and sustainable aquaculture. A long side these are a number of independent schemes that promote the best way to farm seafood. These schemes set standards for reducing environmental impacts, as well as for stock and worker welfare. A farm that reaches these standards can be certified – this then helps show other farmers and the people that buy harvested fish or seaweed just how responsible that farmer is. Some of the most important aquaculture certification standards are those from the Aquaculture Stewardship Council1, the Global Aquaculture Alliance2, and GlobalG.A.P.3

  1. Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)
  2. Global Aquaculture Alliance Best Aquaculture Practices (GAA BAP)
  3. GlobalG.A.P Aquaculture

Production Scales

Aquaculture Production across the World

Over the past few decades, supplies of all seafood available for people to eat – often simply called ‘food fish’ – has increased. This is because the aquatic organisms we now farm add massively to the supplies of wild fish and shellfish fishermen catch in our oceans, seas, rivers and lakes.

Almost all the aquatic animals we now harvest from aquaculture – the finfish, crustaceans and molluscs – will be eaten by us.

The latest State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 20201 report tells us that Asia is by far the largest aquaculture region. As the map shows, nearly 73 million tonnes of food fish was farmed across Asia in 2018 – almost 89% of the world’s total. The farming of food fish in China is much greater than in any other country – in 2018, China alone produced 47.5 million tonnes.

As for the world’s other regions – the Americas, Africa, Europe and Oceania – they accounted for the remaining 11% of global food fish aquaculture. Europe for instance, produced just over 3 million tonnes, which equaled just 3.9% of the global total in 2018.

Many people today work in seafood production. In 2018, almost 60 million people across the world were producing seafood – 20.5 million or these were aquaculture farmers, the rest were fishermen.

European Union Production

The European Union (EU) is one the world’s major seafood markets. In 2017, the supply of seafood products for people to eat in the 28 nations that make up the EU was 14.6 million tonnes. This came from wild caught species and aquaculture. The EU relies on bringing in seafood from other parts of the world, and in 2017 over 9 million tonnes were imported.

Of the 2017 seafood supply the EU actually produced itself, almost 1.4 million tonnes was from its own aquaculture industry which was mainly located in five countries: Spain, UK, France, Italy and Greece (remember, in 2017 the UK was still a member of the EU). This was a 10 year high, and worth just over 5 billion euros2.

EU aquaculture production is. The performance of EU aquaculture seems to have been improving in recent years across the farming of marine fish, freshwater fish and shellfish. However, to help the EU aquaculture industry develop further, key challenges need to be tackled. These included simplifying the rules and regulations that govern EU aquaculture, being better at coordinating where aquaculture takes place (known as ‘spatial planning’), and making the various parts of the industry better at competing against its rivals across the world (so called ‘increased competiveness’).

Despite the EU aquaculture only representing nearly 4% of world food fish aquaculture production by volume in 20181, its products are high quality, as are its research and environmental standards.

United Kingdom Production

Aquaculture is a very varied industry with nearly 1,700 production sites across the four individual nations that make up the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) and which employed almost 3,300 people in 2017. There are many official and independent players active within – administrators, regulators, supporters and other interested parties. In 2018, the total United Kingdom (UK) aquaculture production was 189,921 tonnes (live weight). This had a first sale value of just over £962 million3.

Atlantic salmon farmed in floating cages up and down Scotland’s west coast dominates UK aquaculture. This efficient, industrialised industry accounted for 82% of all UK aquaculture production in 20183. Scotland also produces significant amounts of farmed shellfish, particularly from Shetland. Scottish aquaculture was estimated to contribute as much as £1.8 billion turnover and 8,800 jobs to the whole UK back in 20134.

Aquaculture elsewhere in the UK differs significantly from Scotland. Collectively the industries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland place emphasis on shellfish, particularly mussels and oysters, and Rainbow trout production (for us to eat and to restock lakes and rivers for sport fishing). Most of the aquaculture businesses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland aren’t large, but what are known as ‘small to medium-sized enterprises’ or SMEs; if we combine figures for English, Welsh and Northern Irish mussel, oyster and trout enterprises in 2017, over 80% employed less than five people3.

England also has significant aquaculture sectors supplying freshwater fish such as tench, and carps such as Koi, to fisheries and to those of us that keep ornamental fish in ponds and tanks.

Potential exists to increase UK aquaculture, and not only by producing more of the species we farm now, but by developing others such as seaweed culture, or species such as warm water shrimp in land-based recirculation systems. This will help secure future UK seafood supplies as well as encourage investment and sustainable economic growth across the countryside and along the coastline.

All four nations across the UK recognise the importance and potential of aquaculture, and support its future growth. In England for instance, the Seafood 2040 Strategy5, highlights aquaculture as an opportunity to generate sustainable food for us to eat and export, whilst creating opportunities and jobs in the process.

  1. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 report by the FAO
  2. The EU Fish Market 2019 report by European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA)
  3. UK aquaculture production and value statistics 2018, and employment figures 2017 – Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), pers. comm., 2020
  4. An Assessment of the Benefits to Scotland of Aquaculture report, 2013 – Marine Scotland
  5. Seafood 2040 Strategy: A strategic framework for England

Glossary

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have put together a ‘Term Portal’ created to store, manage and update concepts, terms and definitions related to their various fields of activity – aquaculture being one of them.

We find it to be an invaluable resource. Click here to visit.

Aquaculture Profiles

Quick List:

Atlantic Halibut - Hippoglossus hippoglossus

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Atlantic Salmon - Salmo salar

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European Sea Bass - Dicentrachus labrax

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Gilthead Sea Bream - Sparus aurata

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Mussels

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Oysters

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Pangasius - Pangasianodon hypophthalmus

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Rainbow Trout - Oncorhynchus mykiss

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Scallops

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Tiger Prawn - Penaeus monodon

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Tilapia - Oreochromis / Sarotherodon / Tilapia spp.

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Turbot - Psetta maxima

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White Leg Prawn - Litopenaeus vannamei

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