Upwards of 50% of all seafood consumed in the world is farm produced, but much more investment in aquaculture is needed.
The global aquaculture industry is a tremendous success story, and one that I must admit I was quite unaware of. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, aquaculture is the fastest growing source of animal protein. Currently, salmon, shrimp, pangasius, tilapia, abalone, clams, trout, oysters, scallops, mussels, seriola and cobia are the most common species of farmed seafood. Sixty percent of aquaculture production is from bodies of freshwater while the balance is from estuaries or the sea.
The worldwide total yearly aquaculture production of finfish, shellfish and plants now surpasses 75 million metric tons. This compares with beef (65 million metric tons), pork (109 million metric tons) and poultry (98 million metric tons), making aquaculture a major source of protein. In 2012, more than 50% of the world’s seafood consumed was produced in aquaculture operations. This is particularly impressive, since a mere 30 years ago less than 10% of all seafood was produced by aquaculture. While seafood production from wild capture has remained relatively flat over the past 30 years, growing at a mere 1.0% annually, seafood produced by aquaculture has grown by 8.3% per year.
This dramatic growth in aquaculture has enabled global per capita consumption of aquatic protein and plants to increase over time without further taxing wild species. In fact, aquatic plant and animal contribution to the human diet has reached an all-time record of 23.9 kilograms per person on average; supplying 3 billion people with at least 15% of their animal protein intake. Over the past 30 years, per capita consumption of seafood has grown by 1.1% annually, which is close to keeping up with population growth, which averaged 1.5% annually over the same time period.
The FAO projects that aquaculture has the potential to meet the protein needs of 500 million additional people. On June 12, 2012 the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan spoke at the AquaVision 2012 Conference in Norway reinforcing the role of aquaculture in feeding nine billion people by 2050.
Globally, aquaculture is heavily concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region. According to the FAO’s most recent statistics, the Asia-Pacific region accounts for 89.1% of global aquaculture production with China alone contributing 62.3%. Of the fifteen leading aquaculture-producing countries, eleven are in the Asia-Pacific region. Africa, on the other hand, only produces 2% of global aquaculture, and yet is one of the more protein-deficient regions of the world. Production in the Asia-Pacific region is primarily accomplished by small-scale farmers, while in North America, Latin America and Europe, producers utilize more intensive, factory-farm methods.
The type of species produced is highly variable based on region. For instance, China leads in the production of carp; Thailand, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and China lead with shrimps and prawns, while Norway and Chile lead in salmon production. Geography and biology do not explain this dramatic difference. The potential for coastal saltwater aquaculture is considerable. For instance, food-challenged Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa and could advance as a major producer of farmed shrimps.
Why is aquaculture growing so rapidly? Because it is efficient, and efficient resource use is critical to meeting the needs of a rapidly growing population this century. Fish raised in a farm environment convert feed to protein much more efficiently than the farming of land animals. The primary reason for this is that fish are cold blooded and they require no energy to maintain their body temperature. The following chart compares the feed efficiencies of fish to terrestrial animals (kilos of grain per one kilo of meat):
Food security has become a pressing global issue. The amount of arable land and what can be produced from it is finite. The world needs to use every resource available as efficiently as possible in order to feed its population. It is my opinion that further investment in aquaculture, sooner rather than later, is critical.