Aquaculture growth slowing

by Josh Sosland
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ROME — After growing at heady rates during the late 1980s, 1990s and earlier in this decade, the world aquaculture industry appears to be expanding at a slower rate, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

World fish consumption in 2006 totaled 110.4 million tonnes with 51.7 million tonnes, or 47%, coming from aquaculture.

In the three years ended in 2006, aquaculture grew 6%, down from 7% in the previous decade and 12% in the 1985-95 period.

The F.A.O. described the industry as "reaching an important crossroads," facing challenges in the sector’s ability to meet future world demand for fish.

Because production from traditional capture fisheries has reached a plateau, the F.A.O. estimated aquaculture production will carry the burden of growth if fish consumption is not to decline. By 2030, aquaculture production will need to be 56% larger — an additional 28.8 million tonnes, to 80.5 million tonnes — to maintain per capita consumption at current levels.

Several impediments stand in the way of achieving that growth, the F.A.O. said.

"The question remains whether the aquaculture sector can grow fast enough to sustain projected demand for fish while ensuring consumer protection, maintaining environmental integrity and achieving social responsibility," the organization said in a paper presented at a meeting of the F.A.O. Committee on Fisheries. A subcommittee of the group focused on aquaculture met in Puerto Varas, Chile, Oct. 6-10.

Offering background on aquaculture, the F.A.O. noted most farmed fish consumed in the developing world are herbivores or omnivores such as carps or tilapia. Species such as salmon or shrimp, often raised in developing countries and exported to the developed world (and an important source of jobs and income), eat other fish, in the form of meal or oil.

Growth in aquaculture had been fueled by a reduction in the poultry sector’s reliance on fishmeal in poultry feeds. As a result, the volume of fishmeal and fish oil used in formulated aquaculture feeds tripled between 1996 and 2006.

"It is probable that the livestock and poultry sectors will continue to use less and less fishmeal in their feeds, which is good for the future of feed-based aquaculture," said Rohana Subasinghe, an F.A.O. fish farming expert and secretary of the subcommittee. "However, more and more formulated feeds are being used for non-filter feeding omnivorous fish like carps, thus the need for fishmeal is increasing. We must make efficiency improvements in the use of feed and also some serious strides in coming up with alternative protein supplements."

International trade in fish totals $9 billion a year. Challenges facing the industry include increased concentration of fish farms into fewer hands, the environmental impact of fish farming, food safety and antibiotic use and the impact that climate change may have on aquaculture.

The F.A.O. offered as a possible help certification allowing buyers and consumers to choose fish "produced in a sustainable, healthy and socially responsible way." Such certification has been introduced in several areas, but the F.A.O. said producers struggle "to meet the various standards being applied by different companies, countries or certifying organizations, which can differ significantly."

The proliferation of schemes also increases the risk that a certification may be watered down and unreliable.

"F.A.O. has been working with the Network of Aquaculture Centers in the Asia Pacific to draw up global guidelines on how aquaculture certification schemes ought to be established and applied," the F.A.O. said.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, October 14, 2008, starting on Page 23. Click here to search that archive.

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