Aquaculture Newsletter

(August 1996 Number 13)

Policy Directions for Sustainable Aquaculture Development¹

David Insull¹ and Z.Shehadeh²
¹Policy and Planning Division ²Fishery Resources Division

Policy framework for sustainable contribution of aquaculture to food supply

Unless action is taken very soon, the combination of population increase and economic growth, the degradation of aquatic environments, and the increasing competition for resources will place enormous strains upon the capacity of aquaculture to sustain and expand its present contribution to food security. However, effective policy action can result in significant gains both in food supply and in economic terms.

At the national level, the aims of policy intervention (where policies exist) by governments in support of aquaculture vary according to national requirements and the specific conditions in individual countries. In general, however, countries may be expected to pursue policies which will optimise the contribution of their aquaculture sector to economic and social wellbeing (including nutritional and environmental values). This aim is, indeed, synonymous with seeking the optimum long-term contribution of the sector to food supply.

It is widely recognized that this goal is conditional on national frameworks being in place for achieving sustainable development. The latter has been defined by FAO² as follows: Sustainable development is the management and conservation of the natural resource base and the orientation of technological and institutional change in such a manner as to ensure the attainment and continued satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations. Such sustainable development (in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors) conserves land, water, plant and animal genetic resources, is environmentally non-degrading, technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable.

A framework for sustainable development in aquaculture - and all other development activities in fact - may be regarded as including the following principles³:

Maintenance of ecological systems. Aquaculture is a source of food and income. The sector and, ultimately, all economic activity - is dependent on the protection of biodiversity and the maintenance of biological systems and processes. This applies to the impact of the sector itself - through the use of certain aquaculture production systems - and the impact of other users on the resources that also support aquaculture. Traditional concepts of aquaculture development, therefore, have to be widened to include entire ecosystems. Uncertainty and risk, and the potential for irreversible damage must also be taken into consideration in development planning.

Improvements in wellbeing includes higher incomes in cash or in kind, better employment and working conditions, improved access to essential services, maintenance of good social relationships and desirable traditions and cultural values, and the preservation of the natural environment. Inter-generational equity in aquaculture is the principle by which the present generation utilizes and conserves the environment, and the resources on which aquaculture draws, in a manner which does not compromise their use by future generations. A key element of the principle is the protection of biodiversity and of ecological systems and processes.

Intra-generational equity is the principle by which all sections of the community share equitably in the costs and benefits of achieving sustainable development.

Adoption of a precautionary approach calls for proceeding cautiously where there is a risk of severe and irreversible damage to human beings and, by extension, to the resources and the environment, even in the absence of certainty about the impact or the causal relationships.

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries sets out the principles and international standards of behaviour for responsible aquaculture practices with a view to ensuring the effective conservation, management and development of resources, and the sustainability of aquaculture development, with due respect to ecosystems and biodiversity.

The rationale for government intervention

An enabling environment for the aquaculture sector to make the optimum contribution to economic and social welfare

In recent years governments have re-examined their role. This examination has been brought about partly by financial constraints and, in part, by changes in the perception of the respective roles of government and of other segments of society. As part of this examination, governments have recognized that the direct participation of the State in the production, processing and marketing of fish is not the best way to promote and protect the interests of either the sector or the consumers.

In general, the appropriate role for governments is increasingly seen as being the creation of an institutional and economic environment which enables economic sectors to make an optimum contribution to economic and social wellbeing. The measures which governments take in order to achieve this broad aim vary according to the specific economic, political, and cultural factors in each country.

Policies for the aquaculture sector are required when private decision-making and the market cannot ensure sustainable management of natural resources, or fail to provide the desired economic and social outcomes. Government intervention may also be required to provide the institutional framework within which aquaculture can develop.

Governmental interventions which affect the aquaculture sector fall into three categories: first, the macro-economic framework within which the sector operates; second, policies relating to, for example, land tenure, education, health care, provision of physical infrastructure, creation of alternative employment, population, etc.; and third, those measures which respond to the special characteristics of the aquaculture sector. This paper is concerned only with policies in the latter type of situation.

Policy issues for sustainable aquaculturedevelopment

To ensure a sustainable and increasing contribution of aquaculture to food security, policies have to be responsive to the main issues of sustainable development outlined earlier. For aquaculture, these are: protection of the environment and of biodiversity; economically viable aquaculture production; responsible utilization and management of resources; and equity in the distribution of development benefits. These are addressed here within the following broad policy areas: integrated resources management; environmental considerations; and institutional support and human resources development.

Integrated resources management

Competition for land and water and the possible external adverse effects of economic activities, e.g., upstream pollution damaging aquaculture production downstream, provide the justification for integrated management of catchment and coastal areas. Significant synergies can also be realised by the integration of aquaculture into agricultural farming systems and livestock production, and through closer links with agricultural and rural development in general. Particular attention has to be given to the net benefits to be derived from the use of resources by aquaculture compared with their use by other sectors.

Increasing competition for resources and, in many countries, pressing food security concerns, call for careful consideration of the species to be produced and the nature of the production systems to be promoted for the further expansion of aquaculture, with respect to efficient use of resources and affordability of the product. Integrated agriculture-aquaculture systems, semi-intensive polyculture systems integrated with other farming activities and using farm-prepared supplementary feeds, traditional and new brackishwater polyculture systems, and culture-based fisheries in small reservoirs deserve special attention.

In many countries, aquaculture development is hampered by the lack of sector-specific development policies and plans. Aquaculture is often not given consideration in land-use planning or water resource management programmes, and compatible use of irrigation systems and reservoirs for aquaculture is often blocked by the lack of a mechanism for integrating development. Within the framework of integrated resources management, there is need to formulate and enforce economic and non-economic policy instruments that govern resource use, including the leasing of public land and water areas, zoning and other measures, which take aquaculture into consideration as a potential resource user. Regulation of uses of scarce resources may avoid conflicts between resource users while taking into account the interests of the various parties.

Environmental management, including conser-vation of biodiversity, and the maintenance of social equity

Aquaculture activities may stress the environment in which they take place and, conversely, environmental changes which have their origin in economic activities of other sectors may damage aquaculture activities. In order to avoid overreaching the environmental carrying capacity, it is important to assess environmental impacts of aquaculture through appropriate research.

The implementation of appropriate policy instruments can be expected, on the one hand, to curtail aquaculture development inecologically sensitive and intensively utilized areas and bring about changes in resource use and production systems. On the other hand, it will increase the availability of suitable environments and resources for aquaculture, and stimulate technological innovations for increasing the efficiency of resource utilization, and for reducing and treating waste discharge.

There is need for practical development guidelines, codes of practice and regulations to safeguard the environment and ensure wise use of resources at the regional and international levels; this need has been recognized and is being addressed, particularly in developed countries. Compliance with these codes and guidelines, in which standards have to be set regarding pollution and product quality, including chemical residues for which use practices need to be established, will enhance sustainable aquaculture production.

Many diseases are closely linked to environmental deterioration and stress associated with the intensification of aquaculture practices; a number of the viral diseases have no known treatment. Prevention, rather than treatment should, therefore, be the main mitigating approach. The problem has to be addressed within the broader context of collective sustainable management of aquatic resources, fish farm design, siting and system management at the farm level.

To address environmental and disease threats, applied research is needed to formulate approaches adapted to production systems. Although significant progress has been made in many aspects of disease control, it remains a complex field which will require constant research to formulate preventive measures, and to contain or eradicate pathological threats as they occur. In this connection, regulation may be required to guard against the spread of disease.

There are circumstances under which aquaculture could pose risks to biodiversity and, accordingly, there is need to establish rational and practical production criteria. There is a growing awareness and appreciation of the value of genetic diversity to aquaculture and many of the key issues are being actively debated. A legally binding Convention on Biological Diversity has been established, codes of practice for the introduction and transfer of exotic species have been elaborated and adopted in some countries, and approaches have been initiated to reduce or eliminate the potential for genetic degradation of wild stocks (e.g., release of sterile juveniles). In many countries, however, institutional mechanisms are required to be developed to enforce the Convention. In most cases, also, a great deal remains to be done to arrive at practical approaches (e.g., data bases on genetic resources of wild and cultured species, practical guidelines for predicting risks of exotic species and genetically modified species, cost-effective means for preservation of genetic resources, etc.). In addition, regulations may be required to govern the introduction of exotic species.

Where traditional or customary resource users are threatened by aquaculture development, legislation may be required to ensure that such users are treated equitably.

Institutional support and human resources development

The rapid growth of aquaculture in many countries and the consequent requirement for the necessary supporting policies, including thoserelated to the integrated management of resources used by aquaculture, calls for increased capability in policy and planning. In many countries, there is a need for training to improve or establish national capacities in the aquaculture sector, in policy formulation, development planning, and monitoring, surveillance and enforcement.

In general, development plans for aquaculture are necessary, where warranted by development potential, which relate the human and institutional resources required to achieve any given level of potential production. For the formulation of strategies, plans and policies, improvements of the information base (e.g., statistics, markets, production potentials, resource requirements, micro-economics, environmental and social impact assessments, interaction with other sectors, etc.) is often required.

Institutional support of different kinds is required to use available resources for food and income most effectively. Culture-based fisheries, for example, which offer great potential for increasing fish supply (whether it is regarded as inland capture fisheries or aquaculture), and can be effective in increasing the supply of animal protein in rural communities, are very often largely dependent for their success on the overcoming of such constraints as lack of information, land use rights, availability of juveniles, etc. Institutional support - whether it is from government or an alternative institution, such as a producers association - is often necessary to remove such constraints.

Marine ranching is a less common and more recent variation of conventional culture-based fisheries but, similarly to the latter, offers considerable potential, albeit for the production of high priced species. Institutional support for marine ranching would include international cooperation on legal frameworks, and investment and harvest strategies. The effective development of both types of culture-based fisheries is dependent to a considerable extent on sound sectoral planning.

At the farm level, considerable synergy with agriculture - in terms of efficiency in the use of resources (land, water, fertilizers, labour, etc.), crop diversification, risk reduction and improved income - is possible under certain conditions by the integration of certain forms of aquaculture with crop and livestock production. Combined aquaculture-agriculture systems, and the incorporation of aquaculture extension into existing agricultural services, would improve access by fish farmers to inputs, credit, markets and technical services.

In countries where restructuring has weakened the capability of public institutions to provide technical and other support to the sector, there may be a requirement to promote alternative support and management mechanisms at the local level, particularly to ensure the provision of extension services, credit and access to inputs and markets.

Much of the information needed for the proper regulation and management of aquaculture in the tropics and sub-tropics is lacking and has to be generated through research; in most tropical countries, the allocation of resources to research needs to be increased and available support used more effectively if aquaculture is to be properly managed.

In the past, applied research in support of development has not always been correctly focused and has often been of marginal relevance to the resolution of development constraints. In many countries, better management would result from a strengtheningof national capabilities in research planning, and execution and monitoring, together with mechanisms for the effective transmission of research results to the users.

In many countries it is necessary to improve the relevance of applied research to aquaculture development through, for example, the participation by the users of research results in the identification of constraints and research priorities, increased users participation in research implementation, and improved extension methods and services which lead to the improved dissemination and adoption of research results.

In countries without a tradition of aquaculture and where it has not been widely introduced, research is required on its potential. This would include not only the assessment of the physical potentials but also the institutional needs, the socio-economic settings and the markets.

Many countries do not have the financial and human resources to meet these needs, even after a redirection of these resources to meet the critical problems and opportunities within the fisheries sector. For these countries, generally the most critical areas for further assistance are in research and capacity building, in areas which are required to formulate and implement the required policies.

Policy measures Examples of possible policy measures to deal with the issues outlined above may include:


A number of key policy issues and policy measures which need to be addressed have been identified. These do not form a comprehensive compendium of all policy issues confronting, nor measures available to countries; many aquaculture issues and related measures have not been referred to. Nevertheless, the issues described and the types of policy measures proposed provide the basis upon which countries may determine the actions which they consider most critical in ensuring that the aquaculture sector maintains, and if possible, improves its contribution to food security and economic welfare.

In seeking to match human, institutional and financial resources with these policy measures, the following needs are paramount:

Many countries do not have the financial and human resources to meet these needs, even after a redirection of these resources to meet the critical problems and opportunities within the sector. For these countries, generally the most critical areas for further assistance are in research and capacity building, in areas which are needed to formulate and implement the required policies.

The preparedness of governments to make politically difficult decisions requires a high level of political commitment. This applies particularly with regard to the allocation of natural resources, and to the mobilization of scarce human and financial resources for the provision of the institutional capacities required for the proper management of aquaculture.

¹. Excepted and modified from Safeguarding future fish supplies: key policy issues and measures , KC/FI/95/1, Kyoto Conference on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security, Kyoto, Japan, 4-9 December 1995.

². FAO, 1988. Aspects of FAOs policies, programmes, budget and activities aimed at contributing to sustainable development. Document to the ninety-fourth Session of the FAO Council, Rome, 15-25 November 1988. Rome, FAO,CL94/6.

³. Derived from Ecologically Sustainable Development Working Groups: Final report - Fisheries. November, 1991. Commonwealth of Australia. 202p.