First Session

Beijing, China, 18-22 April 2002



1. Recognizing the increasing contribution of aquaculture to nutritional, economic and social goals, there is an increased need for a better array of numerical data of reliable quality and for other information that measures and describes trends of the sector. Statistics are necessary to describe the status of the sector and monitor emerging trends, for policy-making, and sector management. The increased demand for data and the growing international attention to aquaculture and fishery management matters in general have revealed certain inadequacies of the existing data. This paper discusses the importance of information, data and statistics for aquaculture development and management, and provides an overview of FAO's work on aquaculture information and data. The document brings to the attention of the Sub-Committee the importance of improving aquaculture data, statistics and data collection standards, and requests the Sub-Committee for guidance and direction for future activities.


2. In recent years the demand for reliable data and information on fisheries and aquaculture has greatly increased. This increase is due to the need to formulate and monitor the implementation of sound policies that ensure sustainable exploitation and management of aquatic resources, in the light of the likely shortfall in the supply that will be needed to meet a sustained world demand for fish.

3. With few under-exploited freshwater and marine living resources, and stagnating yields from many natural stocks of commercial importance, the contribution of aquaculture as a food provider and source of social and economic benefits, especially in low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs), has gained increased recognition (see also COFI:AQ/I/2002/2).

4. Any consideration of current trends and future fish supply must account separately the actual and potential contributions of aquaculture and capture fisheries to meet the demand for fish by a world population that in the next 20 years is projected to grow on average between 0.9 - 1.2% per annum (i.e. adding yearly 69-77 million people).

5. A sound and reliable information basis on the two components of the fishery supply is essential for countries to respond to national and international requirements for sustainable development, conservation and environmental protection. Such an information basis would ensure the adequate monitoring of trends in capture fisheries and aquaculture, the provision of appropriate sustainability indicators that can be constructed from raw data, and the availability of a more complex array of data not exclusively of a biological nature to take into account the influence of social and economic factors and their interactions.

6. In a period of dynamic change, statistics are all the more necessary as a basis to describe the status of the sector and monitor emerging trends, for policy-making, sector management and to satisfy the diverse information requirements of the public at large. The increased data demand and the growing international attention to fishery matters in general have revealed the inadequacy of some national and international data. Collection of aquaculture data separately from fisheries data is a fairly new endeavour in many parts of the world. The growing importance of aquaculture requires closer attention to some aspects of data collection and their accurate reporting. Regional and international cooperation is required to improve data collection to adequate statistical standards, promote harmonized reporting for the sector, avoid duplication of efforts, and ensure the availability of reliable statistics as demanded by an increasing audience of data users.


7. Aquaculture has emerged as a fast and consistently growing food production system in an increasing number of countries. In 1999, 33 million metric tonnes (mmt) of fish, crustaceans and molluscs, worth US$ 49 billion, and more than 9 mmt of aquatic plants, worth US$ 6 billion, were produced. The largest part of the output (80%) is currently produced within LIFDCs, for domestic consumption and exports. It is estimated that the value of trade of farmed fishery products accounted for nearly one quarter of the total value of US$ 53 billion of world fishery exports in 1999. There are expectations that the sector will continue its contribution to food security and the achievement of national economic and social goals. The culture practice for some species is becoming worldwide, both in coastal and inland environments, and the culture of aquatic organisms is evolving rapidly through the diversification of species being reared under controlled aquatic environments and the types of human interventions in such processes. In 1999, there were 180 countries that produced through aquaculture practices commercial quantities of more than 350 species (see also COFI:AQ/I/2002/2).

8. Although different national approaches and traditions apply in dividing one from the other, aquaculture and capture fisheries are two separately recognizable activities utilizing distinct production processes to supply shares of the same markets. They often also compete for the same inputs. At the same time, they depend on each other in certain practices, such as the rearing to market size of fingerlings and juveniles taken from the wild or the restocking of natural water bodies with hatchery-produced juveniles. Aquaculture for certain high-value aquatic species is increasingly demanding fishmeal, which is largely produced from small pelagic marine fish.

9. Cross-sectoral opportunities and the common utilization of natural resources, such as land and water, and other inputs, such as fertilizers and feed ingredients, with agriculture and capture fisheries require a sound data and information basis for management and development. While changes over time are important to monitor, it is critical to ensure the comparability of aquaculture information with that for fisheries and agriculture, especially in areas of interaction. The interaction with fisheries is stronger in coastal marine and brackishwater culture practices, while the interaction with agriculture is more applicable in the inland aquaculture of freshwater species.

10. Aquaculture policy-making and management is a dynamic interdisciplinary process that accounts for biological, environmental, economic, social and institutional influences, the combined result of which shapes the activities based upon them and their performance over time. The collection, compilation, analysis and presentation of reliable evidence of current achievements at the local, national, regional and global levels are the essential basis for monitoring the structure, production and performance of the aquaculture sector. They also contribute to the calculation of sustainability indicators that provide evidence of meaningful impact of good policies.

11. For many countries, aquaculture production represents a major source of foreign exchange earnings. A number of trade issues are emerging as the sector becomes more competitive; countries will try to protect their traditional markets, while expanding into new ones. Complex environmental regulations apply to aquaculture producers, especially in many developed countries, which are the largest consumers of some of the high-value cultured species. Environmental pressure groups are increasingly demanding guarantees that sustainable practices have been used in the rearing of aquatic products. There are increasing consumer concerns about the environmental impacts of certain aquaculture practices.

12. The need for aquaculture data and information collection and for reporting responsibilities is embedded in the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF)1, and some data needs are further elaborated in the associated FAO Technical Guidelines.2 The Code recognizes that reliable and timely data are required for the competent authorities of national governments to effectively discharge their general responsibility in the promotion of the development of environmentally sound and sustainable aquaculture practices that are well-integrated into rural, agricultural and coastal development. Data and information are essential to raise the awareness of the general public of the benefits of aquaculture for enhanced food supply and income generation, and to stimulate research and economic interest.
13. Status and trend studies are fundamental to the FAO mandate, and the lead role of FAO in bringing about global improvements to fishery and aquaculture data and information, both quality and coverage-wise, is recognized. FAO has been working to make available to its Member Governments and the international community improved information on aquaculture and fisheries that is easily and freely accessible, through a system utilizing advanced technology. While the availability of data via the Internet is increasing the community of data users and their demands for clarity and quality assurance of the information, there is some concern about the uneven quality of national data.


14. For more than 15 years, FAO has been promoting the reporting of aquaculture production statistics, separately identified within the total fishery production. It has equally promoted the improvement of data quality and comparability through the adoption of international statistical standards in data collection and reporting. Conforming to international standards facilitates the inter-country comparability of aquaculture data, and within the fishery sector, it allows the better monitoring of trends in both components of the supply.

15. FAO currently collects, collates, evaluates, analyses and disseminates annual statistics on world aquaculture production in terms of quantity and value. A questionnaire to report these statistics at the national level was designed in consultation with regional experts. Through this reporting mechanism, countries inform FAO of production by weight and value from aquaculture in marine, brackish and freshwater environments, as well as provide information on rearing systems and stocking to the wild.

16. The transition from fisheries to aquaculture may be viewed as a continuum of increasing levels of human intervention, from the simple extraction of a wild stock from its natural environment to fish rearing in a completely human-controlled environment. Dividing neatly the two activities has elements of subjectivity. Initially FAO statistical efforts concentrated on formulating and reaching consensus on a working definition of aquaculture that was both internationally acceptable and permanent, for data collection. The statistical definition, which was agreed upon in consultation with international fishery bodies and individual experts3, has been used to separate the global production into two distinct components, one for capture from wild stocks and one for harvests from controlled environments. The process has been long and needs refinements. It is recognized that some respondents may have problems in applying the agreed definition in classifying certain types of activities into aquaculture or fisheries, and with the inclusion or exclusion of their output in production statistics.
17. In order to ensure full comparability with capture fisheries, the same species classification, coding scheme and record format used for nominal catches and landings are being used by FAO to store these data. The current FAO aquaculture production database shows annual figures from 1970 and is organized by countries, three aquatic environments and more than 350 species/items of commercial importance.
18. The recent identification of the operation of fish hatcheries and fish farms as separate from fishing, in the UN International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC)- Rev. 3 is an important advancement.4 Internationally promoted macro-economic classifications, which are the framework of many other economic and social data collections, once implemented in national programmes, will contribute to improving conceptual harmonization, data comparability and consistency. This change will ensure that in the implementation of national programmes, aquaculture statistics will be dealt consistently with other economic data and will ensure the harmonized treatment of aquaculture data in national statistical systems.

19. National, regional and international seminars and workshops have been held to promote methodologies that ensure data comparability, reliability and continuity, through harmonized concepts and classifications and standardized surveys.5 In acknowledging the similarities that exist between agriculture and aquaculture, such as farm management practices and integrated agro-aquatic culture practices, FAO has been advocating the extension of the scope of agriculture censuses to include collection of structural information on aquaculture.6


20. As with other economic activities, historical constraints to accurate reporting and trends monitoring are institutional and technical, and have national, regional and global dimensions. They include the relative importance of the activity to the national economy, varying types of national administration, unclear and non-harmonized terminology, inadequate accuracy and incompleteness of nationally collected data, often based on systems that are not evolving quickly enough to meet the information requirements of rapidly evolving practices.

21. Although in some countries the growing of aquatic organisms has been a traditional activity practised for several centuries, aquaculture is a fairly new industry. Unlike capture fisheries, the separate monitoring of aquaculture is relatively new in most countries, and often there are less well-established systems of data collection as compared to capture fisheries. Therefore international standards and practices in the data collection methods and programmes, and data management have yet to be fully developed and tested.

22. In countries where aquaculture data are systematically collected by well-defined methods, there may be a net distinction between collection of data on mariculture (generally cultivation in marine coastal waters) and that on brackish and freshwater culture, as the former is often surveyed together with capture fisheries, producing data of comparable quality. Other differences concern monitoring extensive versus intensive operations, and industrial versus commercial and cottage-level activities. It is likely that some segments of aquaculture production may be omitted from national surveys due to the fragmented nature of the production units. Large numbers of small units dispersed in rural areas, such as households practising integrated agriculture and aquaculture for small-scale commercial purposes and home consumption, may be logistically difficult to survey and the collection of information and data more costly. Despite the critical contribution of such semi-commercial practices to food security, human nutrition and poverty alleviation in many rural areas, their individual generation of small economic value is the reason that they are frequently neglected in surveys.

23. The global FAO data set suffers from the little attention paid by some countries to timely and accurate reporting. During the early 1990s approximately 60% of the countries approached did not report their aquaculture production to FAO. After some improvement (e.g. only 40% of countries failed to report in 1997), in 1998 and 1999 the percentage of non-reporting countries had increased again to approximately 45%. Half of the reporting countries did not provide any indication of production according to different practices. Often in reporting, large amounts of farmed fish are not identified to the species level and are either generically reported at higher taxonomic level or as an all-embracing miscellaneous category. The amount of fish generically reported represented 11% of world aquaculture production in 1999, increasing from 7% in 1970 and 1980. This practice is common in capture fisheries, where it may find a practical justification in fishers' habit of sorting at landing only commercially important species. It is less justifiable in aquaculture, since farmers decide which species to rear and what amount to harvest, and thus are potentially able to report correctly their output at the species level.

24. The quality of the international data ultimately depends on prevailing national statistical standards and attitudes in reporting. There is increasing concern for the loss of reliability of statistics of some important aquaculture producers, which requires shifting attention to the improvement of data quality. FAO has conducted national and regional seminars to identify methodological shortcomings and how they may be rectified.

25. An immediate objective for improvement of the FAO aquaculture system is to make accessible as a database information on aquaculture production units (surface of waters for growing purposes, number of cages, pens, ponds, tanks, reservoirs, etc.) and type of culture, in addition to the existing statistics on production quantity and price per kilogram by species and aquatic environment. Scarcity of reporting and the dubious quality of the historical data have been the reasons for not accomplishing this earlier. Further attention is required towards developing harmonized concepts, definitions and terminology.

26. Especially now that aquaculture is regarded by many countries as a new economic opportunity for rural livelihoods and poverty alleviation (see also COFI:AQ/I/2002/3), socio-economic data on the scale and extent of rural aquaculture practices by these communities are required for better planning and management. Benefits can derive either through quantitatively and qualitatively (as fish contributes to protein intake and has a nutrient profile superior to other animal proteins) improved household food supplies, employment and income, as well as increased availability of low-cost fish from local markets. The numbers of rural people involved, their livelihoods, relevant socio-cultural data, and the contribution of rural aquaculture to their livelihoods are among the variables for which data and information are required for integrated participatory management and development of community production for local consumption.


27. Aquaculture statistics are needed by a wide range of data users including governments, researchers, aqua-farmers, banks, industries working in the food sector and animal feed and health, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (particularly those concerned with food security, development and planning), environmentalists, and the public at large.

28. The FAO Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries No. 5 ("Aquaculture Development") recognize that, especially during a period of sustained global growth in aquaculture, States, in collaboration with interested partners, should develop appropriate means to monitor their aquaculture activities, and also to facilitate policy formulation and development planning, through the collection of information and data relating to their aquaculture farming practices and production, their economic performance and their positive and negative effects on other activities.

29. Although the need for statistical data as a basis for planning, management, and assessment studies is internationally recognized, it has not been addressed adequately in many countries. National governments are encouraged to develop their aquaculture monitoring and reporting systems. Work should not be isolated, but coordinated with aquaculture development, management and planning at both the central and field levels.

30. In addition to production statistics, there is a need for data on the structural aspects of the sector, such as areas under cultivation, types and capacities of production systems, resource use (e.g. land, water, feed components, seed, etc.), and employment in the aquaculture sector and its allied services. Also growing is the strong interest in information on domestic and international demand for aquaculture products, including consumption patterns, product prices, trade, market opportunities and the socio-economic data required to monitor rural aquaculture. As a minimum, the following data should be collected and reported:

31. Collaboration with, and among aquaculturists, their associations, input suppliers, product processors and traders, and other private initiatives interested in the aquaculture sector may need to be further strengthened in order to improve data acquisition and collection, as well as collation, analysis, interpretation, dissemination and appropriate use of information and data.

32. The flow of information relevant to aquaculture among various sectoral agencies and authorities, whether primarily or partly concerned with aquaculture development aspects, can be facilitated through adequate institutional linkages. As outlined in the Technical Guidelines on Aquaculture Development for the CCRF, acting through the appropriate regional and international bodies of which they are members, States should share relevant data to permit regional and global monitoring of progress and problems, facilitate policy-making, and permit forecasting of opportunities and needs.

33. Since the sector is often characterized by great diversity in respect of the major species cultured, the varying intensity of the culture in various environments, and different types of national farming practices, the most appropriate methodologies for data collection for each subsector/segment of the industry should be identified.

34. In principle, the statistical techniques for surveying production of highly capitalized intensive farms could be the same techniques through which countries estimate production of other food and non-food industries. Data collection methods for large-scale commercial farms would be based on direct reporting by the operators (similar to direct reporting by industrial fisheries), while for small/medium farms they would be based on sampling. Managers of large farms could easily fill elaborated questionnaires with information extracted from their accounting books; however, confidentiality must be guaranteed so that managers need not be concerned about tax liability.

35. The data issue is more complex for the operations of small-size units, and especially for rural units, which may produce both for subsistence and for commercial operations. There are implications for all types of data, not only production but also employment and financial revenues. For the accurate enumeration and survey of the medium and smaller units, sampling is most likely the correct solution. For sample-based surveys, statistical units must be defined (e.g. a geographical area unit, or the farm, as in agriculture). List frame (e.g. hatcheries, nurseries etc.) or area frames (e.g. lowland wetlands) may be chosen, or a combination of an area sample design with a list sample design.

36. As it is recognized that human and financial resources for developing aquaculture monitoring and reporting are limiting factors, countries should maximize the use of existing available data for the needs of multiple users. In several developing economies, the expansion of the aquaculture sector is closely related to agricultural activities and rural development. Priority should be given to strengthen national systems, as they basically serve the national needs.

37. Aquaculture statistics coverage should be improved and data quality should be checked through effective validation schemes. There is a need to consider the scope of the data collected in view of changing data needs, both for production and planning, and in view of the evolution of production technologies. Countries should consider establishing a national multi-disciplinary coordination mechanism to continuously develop and monitor aquaculture statistics programmes at the national and local levels.

38. National fishery statistical services should evolve integrated statistical programs in order to optimally utilize limited logistic and human resources, avoid duplication of activities and eliminate dissemination of conflicting statistics. In the case of rural aquaculture, optimum use should be made of agricultural surveys.

39. To enable effective and efficient aquaculture management and planning, well-presented statistical and non-statistical information with analytical explanations should be provided as relevant and reliable time-series information. In order to produce such information, relevant institutions and experts should be involved in the analytical process.

40. Capacity development of the statistical personnel at different levels, particularly training of primary data collectors, should be encouraged. Countries may consider existing arrangements such as FAO's Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC) and Technical Cooperation Program (TCP) to meet their training needs and other requirements. Regional workshops have also proved to be a very cost-effective and useful means of building capacity.

41. Work to further harmonize aquaculture concepts and terminology should continue, and the implementation in data collection systems of activities designated into particular practices (i.e. capture, enhanced, culture) should be expanded to ensure harmonization and to avoid double counting or missing out. Future requirements include data exchange systems that permit the electronic transfer of data to and from countries and FAO.

42. The donor community should provide increased financial and technical assistance in the field of fishery and aquaculture statistics to strengthen the national capability in using acceptable statistical methods for the collection, processing, storage, analysis and dissemination of fishery and aquaculture statistics. The systems should produce representative data of known quality, in a timely manner and at established periodicity.


43. The Sub-Committee is invited to consider the proposed approach and provide guidance on the priority of actions to be taken for improving the global information on status and trends of world aquaculture, and their reporting, in particular on:

  1. harmonizing and standardizing aquaculture statistics and concepts;
  2. cooperating on means to improve the quality of statistics on aquaculture and the role of FAO in this endeavour;
  3. identifying effective mechanisms to establish and maintain arrangements for generating, sharing and using data and information; and
  4. demonstrating a renewed commitment by countries to collect reliable statistics for their own policy-making and planning purposes, as well as to submit to FAO.

1 FAO. 1995. Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Rome, FAO, 41 p.

2 FAO Fisheries Department. 1997. Aquaculture development. FAO Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries No. 5, Rome, FAO, 40 p.

3 For statistical purposes, FAO defines aquaculture as the farming of aquatic organisms, that is, some form of human intervention (such as regular stocking, feeding, protection from predators) is implied in the rearing process to enhance production, in addition to the individual or corporate ownership of the exploitable stock.

4 In March 2001, the Technical Sub-group of the Expert Group on International and Social Classifications approved splitting of existing class 0500 (Fishing, Fish-farming and related service activities) into two new classes 0501 (Fishing) and 0502 (Fish farming).

5 See for example "The SEAFDEC/FAO Expert Consultation on Variables and Terminology for Aquaculture Monitoring in Asia" , Bangkok, 13-16 September 1999, Volume 1 and 2, Bangkok, Thailand, May 2000.

6 Thailand National Statistical Office/FAO Workshop on Census of Agriculture 2000: Structural Aquaculture Statistics, 28 February-3 March 2000, Songkhla, Thailand.