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

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.

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:


For more information please contact:

Lee Cocker
Aquaculture Manager
07590 774 878