By Heather Chinn
Aquaculture has overtaken fishing from the wild to become the biggest source of seafood for human consumption, according to a United Nations report issued this year.
It comes at a time when people are eating more seafood than ever before. Globally, an average of 14.4kg of fish was consumed per person in 2013 - the latest year for which detailed figures are available, up from an average of 9.9kg in the 1960s.
The trend looks to have continued in 2014 and 2015, and the popularity of seafood is even more marked in the Western world where average annual consumption per person reached 26.8kg in 2013.
The increase is almost entirely because of the massive expansion in aquaculture over the last few decades.
In1974 aquaculture or aqua-farming accounted for just seven per cent of fish in the global human diet.
Since then the industry has grown rapidly and in 2014 the sector’s contribution to the supply of fish for human consumption overtook that of wild-caught fish for the first time.
Wild capture fishing still accounts for more than half of all global fish production once use for fertilisers, pet food and food for farmed fish are added to the total, but aquaculture is still growing whereas rates of capture from the wild have remained largely unchanged since the 1980s.
In 2014, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) world aquaculture production reached an all-time high of 101.1 million tonnes, including 73.8 million tonnes of aquatic animals, consisting of finfish, molluscs, crustaceans and other aquatic animals such as frogs. The remaining 27.3 million tonnes were aquatic plants, mostly seaweeds.
China leads the world in aquaculture, singlehandedly accounting for more than 60 per cent of global production in 2014 with a total of 45.5 million tonnes. The continent of Asia as a whole has accounted for about 89 per cent of world aquaculture production of fish for human consumption in the past two decades leaving the Western world lagging by some distance.
Of the top 25 countries for aquaculture production in 2014 just four were European. Norway, which specialises in marine aquaculture, chiefly caged Atlantic salmon, was eighth. Spain, which has a thriving marine aquaculture sector producing molluscs, seabass and sea bream as well as a smaller inland aquaculture industry was 22nd, and the UK and France were 24th and 25th. The UK is the largest producer of farmed salmon in the European Union, while France’s aquaculture sector is dominated by production of oysters, mainly molluscs.
The top 25 countries, each producing over 200 000 tonnes from aquaculture, collectively accounted for 96.3 per cent of farmed fish and 99.3 per cent of farmed aquatic plants across the globe, according to the UN report “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016”.
Jose Graziano da Silva, Director General of the UN FAO, described the report as “highlighting the tremendous potential of the oceans and inland waters now, and even more so in the future, to contribute significantly to food security and adequate nutrition for a global population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050”.
Photo: a salmon farm in Loch Alsh, Scotland. Credit: Farm Protest Group/Marine Photobank