Aquaculture overtakes wild fisheries for first time: UN report

A fisherman prepares to catch shrimp with a net at a shrimp farm and restaurant in Isla Venado, Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Photo: AFP

A fisherman prepares to catch shrimp with a net at a shrimp farm and restaurant in Isla Venado, Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Photo: AFP

Published Jun 10, 2024


Aquaculture is playing an increasingly important role in meeting the world’s food needs, surpassing wild fisheries in aquatic animal production for the first time, according to a report published on Friday.

With global demand for aquatic foods expected to keep growing, an increase in sustainable production is vital to ensure healthy diets, the United Nations’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said.

In 2022, aquaculture yielded 94.4 million tons of aquatic animal production – 51% of the total, and 57% of the production destined for human consumption, it said.

“Aquatic systems are increasingly recognised as vital for food and nutrition security,” according to the report, released as experts gathered in Costa Rica for talks on ocean conservation.

“Because of their great diversity and capacity to supply ecosystem services and sustain healthy diets, aquatic food systems represent a viable and effective solution that offers greater opportunities to improve global food security and nutrition,” it added.

While wild fisheries production has stayed largely unchanged for decades, aquaculture has increased by 6.6% since 2020, the report noted.

The sustainability of wild fishery resources remained a cause for concern, it added.

The proportion of marine stocks fished within biologically sustainable levels decreased to 62.3% in 2021, 2.3% lower than in 2019, the report said.

“Urgent action is needed to accelerate fishery stock conservation and rebuilding.”

Call for investment

With the world’s population projected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, “providing sufficient food, nutrition and livelihoods for this growing population demands significant investments”, it added.

“Aquaculture has a major role to play, particularly in Africa, where its great potential is not yet realized,” the report said, noting that more than 40 percent of the world’s population cannot afford a healthy diet.

Aquatic products remain one of the most traded food commodities, generating a record $195 billion (R3.7 trillion) in 2022 – a 19% increase from pre-pandemic levels, it said.

“Despite these significant achievements, the sector still faces major challenges from climate change and disasters, water scarcity, pollution, biodiversity loss” and other man-made impacts, it added.

The report was released to coincide with a meeting in San Jose of country representatives, scientists and international experts to prepare for the third UN Ocean Conference, to be held in France in 2025.

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Li Junhua said at the start of the talks that protecting the ocean was “not an option but an imperative”.

Costa Rica President Rodrigo Chaves, who is hosting the two-day meeting, said if the world does not act, “we as a generation would be taking away the future of humanity”.

Issues set for debate at the meeting include the capacity of the world’s oceans to absorb carbon dioxide, the need for sustainable fishing and tackling marine pollution.