Value and importance of aquaculture
Growth of aquaculture
The farming of aquatic animals grew on average 5.3% per year between 2001 and 2018. In 2014, the supply of farmed aquatic organisms for people to eat surpassed wild caught seafood for the first time.
In 2018, the world’s total aquaculture production reached an all-time high of 114.5 million tonnes in live weight. Live weight is 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 US dollars (US$) 263 billion. First-sale value is how much say a fish or shellfish is worth when it’s first harvested and before it undergoes processing and packaging ready for us to eat.
If we breakdown these huge production and value numbers we see they’re made up of:
- 82.1 million tonnes of aquatic animals, worth US$ 250.1 billion. This includes:
- 54 million tonnes of finfish with a value of US$ 139.7 billion
- 7 million tonnes of molluscs (mainly bivalves), worth US$ 34.6 billion
- 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 aquaculture.
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.
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.
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:
- The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO)
- What is Aquaculture and Why Do We Need It? Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) ‘Aquaculture 101 series 2019-20
- Hilburn, R. et al, 2018. ‘The environmental cost of animal source foods. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.’ The Ecological Society of America, 2018
- Responsible Consumption and Production of Farmed Seafood. GAA ‘Aquaculture 101 series 2019-20
- How Farmed Seafood Can Support Climate Action. GAA ‘Aquaculture 101 series 2019-20
- UN Sustainable Development Goals, 2020
- Alleway, H.K. et al, 2018. ‘The Ecosystem Services of Marine Aquaculture: Valuing Benefits to People and Nature.’ BioScience, Volume 69, Jan.2019
- Gentry, R.R. et al, 2019. ‘Exploring the Potential for Marine Aquaculture to Contribute to Ecosystem Services.’ Review in Aquaculture, 2019
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