Aquaculture Continues to Grow, Gaining On Capture Fisheries

By Heather Sadusky

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 5.10.40 PM
(credit: FAO)

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Outlook, a biannual report on global food markets released this month, expects to see an increase in fisheries production in 2017 driven by aquaculture.

Specifically, global fish consumption is expected to grow by 1.1% in 2017, as aquaculture grows at an even faster rate of 4-5% each year. The FAO reports that capture, wild-caught fisheries have stagnated, hence the need for aquaculture to continue to produce fish for increasing demand. Recently there has been a pattern of growth in domestic demand of seafood, as total global production increases but the volume of traded fish does not.

An upward price trend has also been noticed for fish and fishery products, which is driven by a global demand that is outpacing supply. This increasing demand is largely coming from developing regions as populations achieve higher incomes, but also from the robust markets of the US and the EU.

The FAO report forecasts a 3.8% growth in aquaculture in 2017, from 2016 production numbers. Aquaculture is “expected to account for approximately 48 percent of the estimated 172.2 million tonnes of fish produced in 2017,” (p.54, FAO). That’s nearly half of all seafood produced across the world, and soon enough aquaculture will account for more than half of global seafood supplies.

FAO biannual report fisheries production
(credit: FAO, NSC)

Several fisheries are spotlighted in the report. The shrimp farming season in Southeast Asia just began in April, but 2017 export volumes are expected to grow. The supply of whitefish is expected to increase by 2.3%, growth that will most likely be accounted for by farmed whitefish, such as pangasius and tilapia. “Production of farmed whitefish is expected to grow by 4.5 percent, to 11.3 million tons, while supplies of wild-caught groundfish are expected to decline by 0.7 percent to 7.3 million tons,” (p.56, FAO). This is a fishery where aquaculture production has indeed surpassed capture production. Similarly, landings of Atlantic cod and haddock are forecasted to fall in 2017.

Farmed salmon is expected to return to its normal growth rate of 5-6% per year, after a reduction in supply in 2016 that caused record-breaking high prices. Aquaculture produces over 14 million tons of bivalves—mussels, clams, scallops and oysters—each year. Most of this, however, is consumed domestically by the producing country, as is the case in China where 80% of the world’s bivalves are produced. There is a growing acceptance of farmed bivalves considering their environmental benefits and remarkable yield of protein. This is leading to an increased demand, and prices are expected to increase despite an increasing volume in the global market.

This biannual report showcases the importance of aquaculture in the world’s seafood supply. Despite the magnitude of fish and fishery products supplied by aquaculture—just about half of global production—demand continues to grow. In order to meet that demand, and amid the fizzling out of wild-caught fisheries, aquaculture will have to be a solution.


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