Aquaculture producing the most seafood for human consumption, report finds

Published on
February 20, 2018

This is the third of a four-part series investigating the findings of "The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2016," a report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Part one, "Consumption figures reveal Latin America could become prized seafood market," appeared 9 January, and part two, "Capture fishery production maxed out," was published on 19 February. Part four, "Seafood prices to remain steady even as global seafood trade increases," will appear on 21 February.

The global aquaculture industry is expected to step up and play an increasingly pivotal part in food security efforts as the world’s population grows to an estimated 9.7 billion people by 2050, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Given the latest figures present within the 2016 edition of the FAO’s “State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture” report, the sector seems primed and poised for the challenge. 

Seafood farming has already made a considerable impact on world per capita fish supply, which reached a record high of 20 kilograms in 2014 thanks in large part to aquaculture’s steady growth, the FAO said. For the first time ever, aquaculture operations were responsible for contributing more fish for human consumption than their wild capture counterparts in 2014, harvesting 73.8 million metric tons (MT) of seafood that year with an estimated first-sale value of USD 160.2 billion (EUR 131.3 billion). 

While wild capture fisheries production has remained relatively static since the late 1980s, the aquaculture sector’s supply contributions have followed a consistent upward trend over the past several decades, the report found. Whereas seafood farms were responsible for just 7 percent of fish for human consumption in 1974, that share climbed to 26 percent in 1994 and 39 percent in 2004. 

Most seafood produced via aquaculture is destined for human consumption, which has added to the sector’s momentum in this regard, the FAO said. The ability to dependably harvest many different species of finfish, shellfish and aquatic plants has also facilitated gains for the world’s aquaculture industry. According to the FAO’s report, a total of 580 species and/or species groups have been farmed around the world as of 2014, including 362 finfishes (including hybrids), 104 mollusks, 62 crustaceans, 6 frogs and reptiles, 9 aquatic invertebrates, and 37 aquatic plants. 

Many of these farmed species have contributed to the global seafood economy in recent years.  In 2014, seafood farmers harvested 49.8 million MT of finfish (USD 99.2 billion, EUR 81.3 billion), 16.1 million MT of mollusks (USD 19 billion, EUR 15.5 billion), 6.9 million MT of crustaceans (USD 36.2 billion, EUR 29.6 billion), and 7.3 million MT of other aquatic animals, including frogs (USD 3.7 billion, EUR 3 billion), according to the FAO’s report. 

Because different countries report this data to the FAO in varying formats, values of aquaculture production are likely to be overstated, the organization said. However, the data still paints a convincing, predominantly accurate picture of current sector trends. 

“When used at aggregated levels, the value data illustrate clearly the development trend and the relative importance in value terms for comparison within the aquaculture sector itself,” the report said. 

Some regions of the world have started favoring aquaculture production over other methods, the FAO’s research revealed. Thirty-five countries, collectively accounting for 45 percent of the world’s population, produced more farmed seafood than wild-caught in 2014, including leading aquaculture pioneers such as China, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Egypt. “The other 30 countries in this group have relatively well-developed aquaculture sectors, e.g. Greece, the Czech Republic and Hungary in Europe, and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Nepal in Asia,” the report said. 

Overall, world aquaculture production of fish accounted for 44.1 percent of total production (including for non-food uses) from capture fisheries and aquaculture in 2014, an increase from 42.1 percent seen in 2012 and 31.1 percent seen in 2004, per the FAO’s findings. Most continents around the world have increased their share of aquaculture contributions when it comes to total fish production, except for Oceania, which has seen its share decline over the past three years, the report said.   

Asia continues to be a region to watch in terms of trailblazing aquaculture innovation and production. Countries like China, which represents more than 60 percent of world aquaculture production, have proven to be major players in the farmed seafood sector’s advancement, according to the FAO, and are expected to continue to lead the industry forward. 

“Asia as a whole has pushed far ahead of other continents in raising per capita farmed fish production for human consumption, but huge differences exist among different geographic regions within Asia,” the report said.

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