Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world. The aquaculture industry provides 43 percent or nearly half of fish consumed worldwide. That's up from just 9 percent in 1980. According to a new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, global fish farm production is increasing by 8% percent a year. But rising consumer demand and declining catches of ocean fish are challenging the aquaculture industry to step up its production even more.
The State of the World Aquaculture: 2006
was released at an FAO meeting in New Delhi earlier in September.
Rohana Subahsinghe heads FAO's aquaculture division and was lead author of the report. He says the real strength of the worldwide fish market is its diversity. "There is a tremendous demand for commercially-produced and internationally-traded commodities like shrimp and salmon and catfish," he says, adding that production of other low value and high quantity fish like tilapias and carps are also increasing.
More than half the 600 fish species FAO monitors are listed as "fully exploited." Another 25 percent are described as either "over-exploited" or "depleted." Despite these statistics, Subahsinghe is optimistic that aquaculture can help bridge the supply gap as the wild fish catch declines. But he says producers will have to deal with rising energy costs, a shortage of investment capital and other obstacles. "One of the key challenges that aquaculture product producers will face is to produce a product that is environmentally friendly, socially acceptable and equitable and also, in terms of human health, a very safe product to eat."
At the FAO's New Delhi meeting, delegates from 50 nations took a major step toward those health and safety goals. They agreed on principles for sustainable shrimp farming, an industry that is often criticized for its adverse impact on the environment. Subahsinghe says FAO is committed to assist the governments to improve the sustainability of shrimp farming. "We've also been asked to expand our international principles development to other commodities like salmon, catfish, the mollusks and oysters. We will be working on that also."
According to the FAO, Africa is the only region of the world where fish consumption has declined over the past decade. Subahsinghe says governments represented in New Delhi made a commitment to reverse that trend. "All governments, all developed and developing nations in that meeting, unanimously agreed that we should provide more support and focus on Africa and aquaculture development as a part of Africa's development over the next decade."
Subahsinghe says aquaculture is critically important in the fight against global hunger. He says the new FAO report, The State of the World's Aquaculture: 2006, provides an encouraging snapshot of an industry whose growth will provide food and jobs for millions in need.