Could aquaculture be the solution to feed an ever growing global population?

Posted by Lee Cocker, Aquaculture Manager on 15 July 2016

The 13th of July was declared Fish Dependence Day in the EU, the day that the EU used up all its domestic catch for consumption and will now have to rely on seafood imports from the rest of the world to meet consumption demands for the remainder of 2016.

It's a little tongue in cheek of course, but the message from the New Economics Foundation (which calculates this figure every year) is clear. We rely heavily on imports from developing countries and it is our - and by our, we mean the seafood industries, Governments and consumers across the EU- responsibility to ensure those demands do not have a negative impact on those fishing communities and their marine environments.

However, with the EU population projected to grow to 525 million by 2050, the demand for seafood will grow with it. It is unlikely that the fish stocks in EU waters will grow at the same rate so how do we ensure that we are not putting more pressure on those developing countries?

In their latest edition of 'The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture' (July 2016), the FAO states that any future growth in fish production and consumption will mainly come from aquaculture. Aquaculture is an efficient protein production method (in comparison to terrestrial livestock farming), and can produce traceable, high quality, healthy seafood in large volumes. World aquaculture production of fish* in 2014 totaled 73.8 million tonnes with a value of US$160.2 billion. Aquaculture continues to prove its ability to bridge the gap between supply and demand, and reduce pressure on wild fisheries, and a significant milestone was reached in 2014 when aquaculture's contribution to global fish supply for human consumption overtook that of wild-caught fish for the first time. (Note: * 'fish' refers to finfish, shellfish (crustaceans, mollusc), etc.)

In the decade 2005 - 2014, fish culture production grew at healthy 5.8% annually; this far outpaces world population growth, which was 1.2% per annum between 2010 and 2014. Increased seafood supplies have resulted in an average world per capita fish consumption that was estimated at over 20kg in 2014 (in the 1960s it was only 9.9kg). However, European nations, and the UK in particular, have seen a lack of significant growth in aquaculture over the past 35 years, especially when compared to regions such as South East Asia.

The aquaculture production figures (in metric tonnes) derived from the FAO's 'Global Aquaculture Production Statistics Database' highlight the differences in aquaculture growth from 1980 to 2015, and we have produced two graphs from those figures:

  •  Graph 1: Aquaculture Production in Tonnes of Aquatic Animals for Food  - World, South and SE  Asia, and Europe

Aqua graph 1

  •  Graph 2: Aquaculture Production in Tonnes of Aquatic Animals for Food  - Europe, the 28 Countries of the European Union, and UK

Aquaculture Graph2

Graph 1 clearly demonstrates the huge disparity between Asian and European aquaculture production levels, as well as the steep growth trend seen in world aquaculture production over the past 35 years. This is driven, and therefore mirrored by the trend in Asian aquaculture; the European production trend is almost 'flat' and could be described as stagnating. Global growth in aquaculture has been ~6% annually over the past 10 years.

Graph 2 clearly highlights the lower overall production figures in Europe, the EU and UK compared with Asia; it also shows the shallow, stagnant trend in aquaculture growth in the EU and the UK.

If we want to ensure the world's population has access to seafood in the future, as one of the healthiest proteins available, and ensure Fish Dependence Day becomes a thing of the past, then the UK and the EU needs to invest in aquaculture now.


To help support UK industry, Seafish work with culturists to ensure that information, advice and training is freely available. We provide market data, legal advice and technical information to culturists operating in the UK.

We also provide market information and support organisations and groups who work with the sector, and we have a small team of aquaculture experts on hand to answer specific enquiries. We also run the Aquaculture Common Issues Group.
Download the Seafish Guide to Aquaculture here.