The New York Times
January 31, 2011
Fish Farming Overtaking Traditional Fisheries
By DAVID JOLLY
PARIS - Aquaculture is overtaking traditional fisheries in global
production, the Food and Agriculture Organization said Monday, but a
scientist with the organization, a United Nations
nations/index.html?inline=nyt-org> body, said that the practice could not
continue growing indefinitely at the current pace.
Fish farming is the fastest growing area of animal food production,
increasing at a 6.6 percent annual rate from 1970 to 2008, the F.A.O. said
in a report, State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2010. Over that
period, the global per capita supply of farm-raised fish rose to 7.8
kilograms, or 17.2 pounds, from 0.7 kilogram.
"We're going to run into constraints," Kevern Cochrane (AFS member, '09),
director of the F.A.O.'s resources use and conservation division and a
contributor to the report, said by telephone, "in terms of space
availability, water availability - particularly fresh water - and also
environmental impacts and supply of feed."
"Growth is not sustainable indefinitely at that level," he said, "and we are
currently seeing a reduction in the annual rate of increase."
Aquaculture now makes up 46 percent of the world's food-fish supply in
volume terms, up from 43 percent in 2006, according to the report, and
appeared to have overtaken wild fisheries in dollar value, at $98.4 billion
in 2008 compared with $93.9 billion. The increasing share of aquaculture in
the overall picture shows that "in terms of capture fisheries, we've now
more or less peaked" at the current 90 million tons of annual harvest, Mr.
Cochrane said. "That is probably the limit of what we can get from
sustainably harvested fisheries.
"The challenge to fishing countries is to ensure that capture fisheries
production is sustained at its current levels, but with healthy stocks," he
said. "If that production begins to decline, it is a sign that we're failing
in effective management."
About 32 percent of world fish stocks are overexploited, depleted or
recovering and need to be urgently rebuilt, according to the report.
Nonetheless, people are eating more fish, thanks to aquaculture: The report
showed that global fish consumption rose to a record of almost 17 kilograms
Wally Stevens, executive director of the Global Aquaculture Alliance, a
trade association, said Monday that the industry's target actually was to
increase the annual output of the aquaculture industry 7 percent.
"Our attitude is that aquaculture production must double in the next 10
years to keep pace with global demand, and in particular the changes in
demand coming from growth in middle-class populations in developing
nations," he said.
Fish can be raised in tanks and ponds, and - with the aid of cages or nets -
in oceans, lakes or rivers. With most of the world's fisheries operating at
or above their sustainable yields, aquaculture is seen as the only way to
increase the supply of fish in a world hungry for protein.
China, which raises freshwater and marine species including, carp, tilapia,
sea bream and sea bass, alone accounts for 62 percent of global farmed fish
China and some of its Asian neighbors have gone a long way toward fully
developing their aquaculture potential, Mr. Cochrane said, while other
regions, particularly Latin America and Africa, still have significant room
to increase output.
Many scientists have been critical of the practice of harvesting wild ocean
species - often small fish like anchovies - to provide fish oil and fish
meal for farmed carnivorous fish like salmon and tuna, arguing that it is an
inefficient way of producing protein. From an environmental standpoint, it
would make more sense to eat the anchovies directly, these scientists say.
Just over 80 percent of all wild fish go for human consumption, according to
the report, with the remainder used mainly for fish meal and fish oil and in
On the question of feeding wild fish to farmed fish, Mr. Cochrane said the
position of the F.A.O. was that "as long as the fisheries are conducted in a
sustainable and responsible manner, it's up to the countries to decide how
to use the catch in the optimal manner."
Mr. Stevens of the Global Aquaculture Alliance said the industry had been
steadily reducing the amount of wild fish it needed to produce a constant
amount of farmed fish.
"People are learning how to use the fish oil and fish meal more efficiently,
by providing different formulations of feed at different stages of the
fish's lifecycle," he said. "But equally important is the development of soy
oil, soy meal and rendered byproducts of other animals that can be added to
feed. We don't think feed will be a restriction on aquaculture in the next
Join AFS or renew for 2011 at www.fisheries.org/afs/membership.html