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We are shifting from being ocean hunters to ocean farmers. In 2014, for the first time in history, the global population ate more farmed fish than wild fish; this was a development as transformative as our forebears’ long ago shift from hunting and gathering on land to being able to rely on agriculture. Aquaculture in the ocean is a booming industry. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, global aquaculture production reached a record 122.6 million metric tons by 2020, including 87.5 million tons of aquatic animals worth $264.8 billion. The contribution of aquaculture to the global production of aquatic animals meanwhile reached a record 49.2%, and the production of finfish alone during 2020 was valued at $146.1 billion, according to the FAO. While such growth has been geographically diverse, the vast majority is currently centred in Asia. China alone represents 56% of global aquaculture production for aquatic animals. Ultimately, the industry’s expansion could help meet a growing global demand for food from animal sources, which may increase by 80% by 2050 - fuelled by global population growth, and by increasing levels of prosperity in developing countries. While aquaculture can help increase global food security, there are also significant challenges involved in keeping nutritious seafood products produced in lower-income nations within those domestic markets, where they can help fight malnutrition and undernutrition. That is because farmed seafood like shrimp is now often exported from developing to developed nations (the top exporters of frozen shrimp in 2021 included Ecuador, India, and Viet Nam, according to the OEC, while the top importers were the US, China, and Japan). In addition, just like farming on land, farming in the ocean can be environmentally destructive. While proponents of aquaculture note that it can take pressure off of frequently-overfished wild stocks, the negative effects of aquaculture include pollution, the harvesting of at-risk wild fish to feed farmed fish, and the destruction of wild fish nursery grounds (like mangrove forests) in order to build fish farms. Innovation could enable more responsible fish farming, particularly as an increasingly crowded and protein-hungry world looks to the ocean for nourishment. The challenge will be to make ocean aquaculture something that can successfully meet food shortfalls, without also inflicting damage on ecosystems.

Aquaculture

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Aquaculture