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Aquatic Genetic Resources - A valuable and unexplored reserve of biodiversity for food and agriculture

Harvesting seaweed


fish on hand


Aquatic genetic resources (AqGR) for food and agriculture underpin production in both capture fisheries and aquaculture. They are the basis on which the aquaculture sector and capture fisheries will be able to exist and grow sustainably. AqGR allow organisms to reproduce and grow, adapt to natural and human-induced impacts such as climate change, resist diseases and parasites, and continue to evolve. The diversity of AqGR determines the adaptability and resilience of species to changing environments and contributes to the wide variety of shapes, colours and other characteristics of aquatic species. Variability in AqGR is also the foundation for genetic improvement for aquaculture.

Aquatic genetic resources for food and agriculture include DNA, genes, chromosomes, tissues, gametes, embryos and other early life history stages, individuals, strains, stocks, and communities of organisms of actual or potential value for food and agriculture. They underpin the productivity and sustainability of world aquaculture and capture fisheries, and the essential services provided by aquatic ecosystems in marine, brackish and freshwaters.

Genetic resources for terrestrial agriculture have been developed over millennia and there are a multitude of breeds of livestock and varieties of plants used in agriculture. We rely on a large number of aquatic species in aquaculture and for capture fisheries but there are relatively few distinct strains of aquatic species. Overall, we know little about the genetic diversity of aquatic living resources in the wild or under domestication, especially below the level of species.

There is also a wide range of technologies that can be applied to the genetic improvement of species for aquaculture and rapid advances are being made in genomics and other molecular approaches. Despite the existence of these technologies and their proven application for generating genetic gains (e.g. through well managed selective breeding), genetic improvement has yet to have a major impact on aquaculture production. Widespread and appropriate adoption of genetic improvement technologies could contribute to large scale and sustainable increases in aquaculture production.

FAO, through the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department and the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, has a mandate to halt the loss of genetic resources and to ensure food security and sustainable development by promoting the conservation sustainable use and development of AqGR including their exchange, access and fair and equitable sharing of benefits