Aquaculture Profiles - Web Tool

Aquaculture is global industry, and now provides half of all seafood for human consumption, and is one of the most resource-efficient ways to produce protein us to eat. There is a strong emphasis within the industry to continue reducing its impacts and secure itself as a sustainable source of seafood for generations to come. Open a Key Information' drop box below to find out more.

Often the single or majority source of species such as Atlantic salmon, sea bass, or warm water prawns available to the UK 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?

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 transport1.

As of 2016 a total of 598 species and/or species groups were farmed globally. This included; 369 finfishes (including 5 hybrids)109 molluscs64 crustaceans7 amphibians and reptiles (excluding alligators, caimans, or crocodiles)9 aquatic invertebrates40 aquatic plants. Despite this great diversity, aquaculture production by volume is dominated by a small number of species or species groups, for example finfish farming, the most diverse sub-sector, relied on 27 species and species groups to produce over 90% of the total production in 20163.

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.

Aquaculture is the fastest growing food supply sector in the world. Through aquaculture, our oceans, seas, and increasingly inland waters, hold the potential to contribute significantly to food security for a growing human population.

The supply of farmed fish for people to eat surpassed that of wild caught for the first time in 20141 3. Since then, total world aquaculture production has recorded an all-time high of 110.2 million tonnes (live weight) in 2016, with a total estimated first-sale value of US$243 billion2. A more detailed breakdown of global production is given in the table below.

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., and by 2030, 62% of all seafood produced for human consumption will come from aquaculture4.

Aquaculture can contribute to an environmentally and socially beneficial global food system, and in comparison to farming terrestrial livestock, aquaculture is one of the most resource-efficient and least environmentally impactful ways to produce protein 5 – 8.

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 as a sustainable seafood source for generations to come.

Much progress has been made in the sustainability of aquaculture production7, and many types of aquaculture (bivalve shellfish or seaweed for example) can have extremely positive impacts on the environment which in turn provides beneficial services for us9, 10.

  1. FAO (
  2. FAO SOFIA Report 2018 (
  3. FAO SOFIA Report, 2016 (
  4. GAA, 2019 (
  5. Hilburn, R. et al, 2018. ‘The environmental cost of animal source foods. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.’ The Ecological Society of America, 2018 (
  6. National Geographic (
  7. GAA, 2019 (
  8. World Economic Forum (
  9. Alleway, H., et al, 2018. ‘The Ecosystem Services of Marine Aquaculture: Valuing Benefits to People and Nature.’ BioScience, biy137. Published 5th Dec. 2018
  10. van der Schatte Oliver, A . et al, 2018. ‘A global review of the ecosystem services provided by bivalve aquaculture’. Reviews in Aquaculture, 1–23

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 them1. More information on aquaculture certification is given at the end of each Aquaculture Profile.

  1. International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), 2016. State of Sustainability Initiatives Review: Standards and the Blue Economy’ 2016. International Institute for Sustainable Development (

Production Scales

Global Production

Growth in supplies of seafood for human consumption from capture fisheries and farming has outpaced population growth in the past five decades. Seafood supplies increased at an average rate of 3.2% in the period 1961 to 2013. One major factor in increased supplies has been aquaculture. During 2001-2016, average annual growth rate of world aquaculture was 5.8%1, 2.

Almost all fish* produced from aquaculture is food destined for human consumption. The map highlights where the majority of global farmed food fish comes from, and who are the biggest producers.

Asia (predominantly China) dominates global aquaculture food fish production with almost 90%; Europe in contrast produced only 3.7% in 2016, and some 70% of global aquaculture production is from small-scale producers3. In terms of employment, in 2016 some 19.2 million people were engaged in aquaculture across the globe, with China accounting for 5 million of these2.

EU Production

Europe is the world’s largest seafood market, as well as being the largest seafood importer globally. Even excluding intra-European Union (EU) trade, Europe accounts for some 20-25% of the global seafood market4 and relies on imports for two thirds of the seafood it consumes. In Europe, aquaculture accounts for about 20% of fish production, whilst in the EU it directly employs some 75,000 people, and mainly composed of SMEs or micro-enterprises in coastal and rural areas5, 6.

EU aquaculture production is mainly concentrated in five countries: Spain (21%), France (15%), Italy (14%), UK (14%), and Greece (10%). In 2016 sales from the EU aquaculture sector reached 1.4 million tonnes worth €4.9 billion; sales increases of 6% volume and 8% value compared to 2014. The economic performance of the EU aquaculture sector has been improving in recent years, and positive growth and profits are being seen in all the three major sub-segments, namely marine fish (which accounted for 31% in terms of production tonnage), freshwater fish (22%) and shellfish (47%). In value terms, they accounted for 55%, 21% and 23% of the production value respectively6.

Despite the positive industry performance in 2016, the European Commission Strategy for the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture adopted in 2009, as well as the Strategic Guidelines proposed in 2013 remain relevant today as do the challenges identified: simplify administrative procedures; securing sustainable development and growth of aquaculture through coordinated spatial planning; enhancing the competitiveness of EU aquaculture; and promoting a level playing field for EU operators by exploiting their competitive advantages5.

Despite the EU only representing 1.2% of world aquaculture production by volume and 1.9% by value6, its products are high quality, as are its research and environmental standards.

UK Production

In 2016 total UK aquaculture production was 194,168 tonnes7. UK aquaculture is a diverse industry and a devolved responsibility across the individual nations, with many official and independent bodies active within it.

Scottish Atlantic salmon grown in coastal net-pens dominates UK aquaculture harvest tonnage and value. Five companies are responsible for 93% of the industrialised Scottish salmon industry8, and employ some 1,200 full time staff in marine salmon production9. Scotland also produces significant amounts of farmed shellfish, particularly from Shetland. Scottish aquaculture has been estimated to contribute as much as £1.8 billion turnover and 8,800 jobs to the whole UK10.

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 trout production for food and restocking inland waters. England also has significant aquaculture sectors supplying fish such as barbel, tench, Crucian and Koi carp to coarse fisheries and ornamental fish enthusiasts. Many aquaculture businesses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)11.

Potential exists to increase aquaculture production across the UK, and it is important to see such potential realised in order to help secure future UK seafood supplies as well as encourage sustainable economic growth in rural and coastal communities. Nations across the UK acknowledge the importance of the industry and support its future growth12 – 15. The Seafood 2040 Strategy for instance, highlights aquaculture as an opportunity to generate sustainable protein for domestic consumption or export, and provide employment in fragile coastal communities12.

  1. FAO SOFIA Report, 2016 (
  2. FAO SOFIA Report, 2018 (
  3. FAO (
  4. CBI (
  5. European Parliament, 2018. Towards a sustainable and competitive European aquaculture sector: current status and future challenges. Draft Report, May 2018 (
  6. STECF (
  7. Cefas, pers. comm., 2018
  8. Marine Harvest (
  9. Marine Scotland (
  10. Marine Scotland (
  11. Seafish (
  12. Seafood 2040 (
  13. Scotland Food and Drink (
  14. Welsh Government (
  15. Northern Ireland Executive/DAERA (


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


Atlantic Salmon - Salmo salar


European Sea Bass - Dicentrachus labrax


Gilthead Sea Bream - Sparus aurata






Pangasius - Pangasianodon hypophthalmus


Rainbow Trout - Oncorhynchus mykiss




Tiger Prawn - Penaeus monodon


Tilapia - Oreochromis / Sarotherodon / Tilapia spp.


Turbot - Psetta maxima


White Leg Prawn - Litopenaeus vannamei