Value and importance of aquaculture

Aquaculture is the fastest growing food supply sector in the world and it helps us with food security.

Growth of aquaculture

Aquaculture is the fastest growing food supply sector in the world, and it helps with global, regional and local food security. In the period 1990–2020, total world aquaculture expanded by over 600% in annual output, with an average growth rate of 6.7%.

In 2020, the world’s total aquaculture production reached an all-time high of 122.6 million tonnes in live weight. Live weight is the weight of a whole fish before it’s been gutted and filleted, or a shellfish with its shell included.

This volume of global aquaculture had a total estimated first-sale value of US dollars (US$) 281.5 billion. First-sale value is how much say a fish, shellfish or seaweed is worth when it’s first harvested and before it undergoes processing and packaging ready for us to eat or use.

  • Of this total global production 35.1 million tonnes were from aquatic algae (which includes seaweeds), and with a value of US$16.5 billion.
  • Of this total global production, some 87.5 million tonnes were from aquatic animals, with a value of US$264.8 billion.

If we look more closely at the farmed aquatic animal numbers, we see they’re made up of:

  • 57.5 million tonnes of finfish with a value of US$146.1 billion
    • 49.1 million tonnes (worth US$109.8) from inland aquaculture
    • 8.3 million tonnes (US$36.2 billion) from marine and coastal aquaculture
  • 17.7 million tonnes of molluscs (mainly bivalves), worth US$29.8 billion
  • 11.2 million tonnes of crustaceans (around 60% being marine warmwater shrimp), worth US$81.5 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. In the next ten years, the aim is to sustainably expand global aquaculture production by up to 40% so it can satisfy the growing demand for aquatic food whilst generating jobs and securing incomes.

Along with fisheries, aquaculture is a critical pillar of FAOs Blue Transformation strategy, the aim of which is to enhance the role of aquatic foods in feeding the world through climate- and environment-friendly policies and practices, as well as technological innovations.

Further reading

If you’d like to find out more about global aquaculture you can have a look at the following resources:

Importance of aquaculture

Through aquaculture, our oceans, seas, and inland freshwaters hold huge potential to provide us with increased amounts of healthy and nutritious food. This is needed to feed an ever growing human population so aquaculture helps us with our ‘food security’.

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 eat. Farmed seafood can also help the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) become a reality.

Aquaculture also supports people and communities around the world by providing business opportunities and decent jobs.

Impacts of aquaculture

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. Research has also noted that many types of aquaculture (bivalve shellfish or seaweed for example) can have extremely positive impacts on the environment which in turn provides benefits for us. 

Ecosystem services, goods and benefits include the food, raw materials, clean air and water that nature provides. Our 2021 review summarises our knowledge of the ecosystem services provided by commercially important shellfish  - both farmed and wild.

Ecosystem Services, Goods and Benefits Derived From UK Commercially Important Shellfish

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.

Further reading

If you’d like to find out more about this you can have a look at the following resources, which were used to inform this article: