What is Aquaculture? The Easy Version

Aquaculture is a term that is foreign to some; others hear it mentioned in the news as it gains traction on serious issues of sustainability; many rely on it for their livelihoods. The similarity to agriculture stems from the Latin ager – cultūra meaning Field – Culture/ Growing, aqua meaning rain/water; resulting in aquaculture – The cultivation of aquatic produce.

Fresh water aquaculture is by far the most productive sector of the industry however mariculture (marine aquaculture) is rapidly expanding. There are three main categories of produce: Fish, Shellfish (Crustaceans and Molluscs) and Seaweed (Algae).

Algae or seaweed is an enormous global industry, probably impacting more aspects of your life than any other aquatic produce. The polysaccharides found in red, brown and green seaweed are used in numerous industrial processes.

seaweedSeaweed production to 2010 (FAO)

Toothpaste, dairy products, ketchup, clothes, bandages, plasters, stitches, agar dishes and various nutritional products are all common uses for algae extracts. Not only is seaweed a staple food in many Asian cultures but the global demand has soared with inclusion in health supplements  and Japanese sushi becoming a popular style of cooking in western society.

There has been recent excitement and huge investment in micro algae for the relatively high volume of oils they contain. President Obama famously declared micro algae oils as a potential solution to oil reliance, this is refuted by many experts as the volume of micro algae needed is so high that it is uneconomical to produce (Costs more than retail price!). Macro algae however is a potential area for development with some species growing 50cm a day.

Shellfish covers both Molluscs (Oysters, Muscles and Abalone) and Crustaceans (Crabs, Shrimp and Crayfish); these are primarily farmed for nutrition however there is a growing secondary industry for byproducts from processing. In particular the conductive chemicals within shrimp shells and the potential as a fuel source. Shellfish industries are internationally important to local economies and as such provide an important social service in many countries.

Fish farming is the best-known form of aquaculture; depending on where you live you will associate it with different species. British with Salmon, Scandinavian with Salmon, Polish with Carp, Greek with Sea Bass, China with Carp, Nigerian with Tilapia. These species can be farmed in various ways and in similar ways. The way they are farmed depends on scale, economic value and demand.

Salmon are a unique example, with intensely high public opinion of the fish and as such high demand; the value of salmon is relatively high compared to other fish species around the world. Salmon farming accounts for 5% of global fish production yet 30% of global fish production value.

Global_aquaculture_productionAquaculture global production split into produce type

The population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 (UN Projection) and as it stands 47% of all aquatic produce is produced through aquaculture; this is expected to rise to meet global nutritional demand. The global aquaculture industry continues to expand as capture fisheries have stagnated with decreases in fish stocks and climatic effects, aquaculture fisheries continue to expand.

aquaculture_figure_1 Caught vs Aquaculture Fish Production as of 2011

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