Fish for 9 billion peopleThe global population is growing at a breathtaking pace. In 1950 the world had a total of 2.5 billion people, a figure that had burgeoned to 7 billion by 2012. According to United Nations estimates, this number could exceed the 9 billion mark by mid-century. As populations increase, so too does the need for food. Fish is a widespread, affordable and healthy source of valuable protein. There is no question, therefore, that the global demand for fish will intensify in future. When we consider that the amount of wild-captured fish has not increased in recent years, only one alternative remains: fish farming, or aquaculture, must fill the gap. Is it capable of doing so? This is the question many scientists around the world are trying to answer. For many years aquaculture played a relatively minor role in global fish production, but its significance has increased dramatically over the past 20 years, spurred by the demand from Asia’s fast-growing populations. Today, aquaculture makes a major contribution to human nutrition. For example, it provides a large proportion of the animal protein consumed in China, Bangladesh and Indonesia. Global production of fish, mussels and crab in 2010 was almost 60 million tonnes, a figure which includes production in marine waters, brackish water and freshwater. Aquaculture production is now about three quarters of that from ocean fish and seafood caught in the wild. In 2011 this amounted to 78.9 million tonnes. No other food industry has shown such growth as aquaculture in recent decades. Between 1970 and 2008 annual production worldwide increased by an average of 8.4 per cent; much more than poultry farming and egg production, which have the second highest growth rates after aquaculture.
Asia – the cradle of fish farmingAquaculture is not equally important in all countries and all regions. For instance, central Europe in general prefers its fish to be caught in the wild. In China on the other hand, fish farming is widespread and has enjoyed a millennia long tradition, since carp were first domesticated. China is still the undisputed leader in aquaculture production. Since 1970 it has recorded annual growth rates in aquaculture production of an average 10 per cent, although recently these have slowed to about 6 per cent. Today 61 per cent of global production comes from China, with Asia as a whole supplying a massive 89 per cent. This figure includes both fish farming inland (in freshwater) and in coastal areas. The proportion generated in the other world regions is therefore small. Europe and America produced approximately 2.5 million tonnes each in 2010, Africa a little below 1.3 million tonnes and Oceania less than 200,000 tonnes. For a long time aquaculture in many Asian countries has mainly provided food for local populations. Nations such as Thailand and Vietnam traditionally farm fish in the flooded rice fields; many people catch their lunch or evening meal from the neighbouring rice paddy. This widespread peasant practice, never captured in actual numbers, makes it difficult to estimate the actual extent of aquaculture production. For this reason experts assume that some Asian states produce totals even greater than those quoted in the statistics. What is certain, however, is that aquaculture has not developed equally in all Asian states. The 10 largest producers alone generate 53 million tonnes, a massive 86 per cent of global aquaculture production, with the remaining Asian states producing only about 1.5 million tonnes. These countries still use only small amounts of farmed fish for their own consumption needs.
Modest growth in America and EuropeBetween 1970 and 2000 aquaculture production in America and Europe grew by 4 to 5 per cent per annum. Since then it has increased by a moderate 1 to 2 per cent a year. Chile is the most important producer in America, since major salmon farms were established there over the last 20 years. In 2010 Chile supplied a good 700,000 tonnes of farmed fish, mainly salmon. The second largest producer on the American continent is the USA with slightly under 500,000 tonnes of fish. Norway is the most important aquaculture nation in Europe, with about 1 million tonnes of farmed fish, followed by Spain with a good 250,000 tonnes; France takes third place with 220,000 tonnes. The main aquatic products farmed in Europe are salmon, rainbow trout, eel and carp.
Aquaculture – a prospect for Africa?Developments in Africa are of paramount interest. Although aquaculture production was barely 1.3 million tonnes in 2010, experts nonetheless expect to see fish farming become further established in Africa. It would enable the – relatively easy – generation of large amounts of valuable protein for the growing population. Egypt is the trailblazer here, with large numbers of finfish (tilapias, mullets and catfish) being farmed in the Nile Delta. Aquaculture is also expected to grow wherever fish is a traditional food, but where insufficient wild fish will be available to meet the growing demand. The lack of wild fish, particularly in urban centres, is forcing a change in thinking. Take Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, on the Gulf of Guinea as an example. The people living around the Lagos Lagoon have always farmed catfish for their own use, but now the early stages of commercial aquaculture are becoming evident, and further expansion is expected. Similar developments are being seen in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. Small and medium-sized businesses are also becoming involved in Zambia and Uganda, with the aim of operating commercial aquaculture on a large scale. Experts are praising these approaches, because they believe this is the only way of making enough fish available to supply local markets. Furthermore, there is great interest in the large-scale expansion of fish farming in countries such as South Africa. For about 5 years now a national aquaculture association has been involved in setting up aquaculture operations. Some of the technology applied will be exported to other African nations, although in some countries the importation of the facilities is still complicated by exorbitantly high duties. In many other regions of Africa, however, an aquaculture industry is still a long way off. For this reason non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been trying for some years to encourage aquaculture among individual communities. With the exception of a few nations, aquaculture in Africa is still at an embryonic stage, and its potential is far from being exploited. It will take at least 10 years before any appreciable production increases are seen. Unfortunately, even if strong expansion should occur, aquaculture is unlikely to be able to keep pace with the needs of the fast-growing population.
- 4.3 > Marine water, brackish water and freshwater – aquaculture production has shown strong growth in all areas over the past 30 years.
From salmon to pangasius – aquaculture productsAbout 600 species are raised worldwide by aquaculture. Depending on local traditions and preferences, different species are in high demand in different regions of the world. The species raised include fish, crabs, mussels, amphibians (frogs), aquatic reptiles, sea cucumbers, jellyfish and sea squirts (fleshy organisms which live on the sea floor and filter the water). China farms mussels and carp in particular, and in terms of the latter, has done so for several thousand years. The carp is also a popular farmed fish throughout the rest of Asia. Finfish are found here, too, along with catfish and shrimps, and prawns which are exported all over the world. For some years now a popular Asian export fish has been the pangasius, of which there are several different species. These catfish are white-fleshed, neutral-tasting and almost bone-free. At first it was necessary to catch juvenile fish in the wild for breeding purposes, but in the early 1990s a French-Vietnamese project succeeded in breeding two types of pangasius in captivity. Only then was it possible to breed the fish in large numbers, allowing its export on a grand scale. Today the export of pangasius is a global winner. In Europe, however, the farming of mainly salmonids is preferred, including salmon and trout along with turbot and mussels. Only small numbers of carp and other finfish are bred in captivity. In the past 10 years production of sea bass, common dentex and gilthead seabream has expanded, particularly in Greece, Italy and Turkey, mostly in net cages in coastal bays. Salmonids are also the dominant group of farmed fish in South America, mainly in Chile, followed in equal parts by shrimps, prawns and mussels. Shrimps and prawns, catfish, mussels and salmonids are farmed in North America, mainly in Canada. Tilapia, catfish and other finfish are of particular interest in Africa, while shrimps and prawns predominate in Oceania. >