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Aquaculture Trends and Crystal Balls


When the World Aquaculture Society requested me to prepare a keynote speech for its annual meeting in Sydney, Australia, this year, I was both pleased and apprehensive. The selected topic for the speech - whether aquaculture could bridge the gap between projected demand and supply of fishery products in the future, was a thorny one. During my many years at FAO, I had witnessed several attempts to deal with this topic and the results had always left me much less than satisfied. The challenge was how to improve on past attempts. With aquaculture products assuming more importance in international trade and food security at the national level, the analysis of development trends and projections of future growth of the sector are becoming more important, particularly to FAO, which monitors and reports on the sector.
Initially, most approaches were based on the analysis of rather poor aquaculture production statistics and/ or estimates of production. The information base improved as FAO began (1984) to collect statistics on aquaculture production and prices on a regular basis, and studies of trends began to include analysis of the evolution of aquaculture production over time (evolution curves). The analysis of annual growth rates (APRs) was added later to help extend present production trends and to generate possible future scenarios. This approach was incorporated in the more recent FAO Fisheries Circulars on the status of aquaculture.
Despite these improvements, aquaculture trends continued to be reviewed in isolation; i.e. without taking into account externalities which influence the sector.
If we are to produce more refined and useful projections on the capacity of the sector to grow and sell its product, it is preferable to first derive a global picture from an aggregate of regional or, better still, national, assessments. Second, the regional or national data must be examined in the context of a multi-parameter analysis. Third, information permitting, the analysis must be carried out in a broader context, incorporating external factors that can impact the sector.

Examples of key parameters for the analysis, other than aquaculture production and price statistics, include: (a) demographic projections by region or country (this information is readily available); (b) possibilities for reducing by catch and post-harvest losses; (c) the potential for capture fisheries to increase its contribution to fish supplies (this information can be derived from assessments made by FAO over a number of years; probably the best compendium available on the subject); (d) the potential for increasing the use of natural resources; e.g. land and water, for aquaculture (this is difficult to deal with due to the limited availability of information collected in a systematic manner); (e) possibilities for intensification of production (this is a very current topic, with sustainability connotations, and is still under investigation. There is need for both an assessment of the existing ranges of production intensities for the main species-culture systems and a definition of the criteria of sustainability which in the medium term should become a guiding element for those involved in development); (f) the potential impact of technological innovations (g) influence of external factors such as general evolution of national economies, changes in purchasing power of consumers, changes in national consumption habits, national development policies, evolution of fisheries trade, etc. (Economic projections present a problem. Even institutions like the World Bank acknowledge the lack of proper models for accurately projecting economic development at the regional level. The examination of past trends is not sufficient to forecast the future due to the increasing globalization of economies and domino effects linked to crises.)
The image of the future prospects of aquaculture which is generated by the addition of these elements should be more accurate and realistic than what can be derived from the mere analysis of statistics of production. However, the lack of models, in particular for economic issues such as evolution of national economies or purchasing power of consumers in individual countries, limits the validity of medium and long term projections considerably. Once more, we are faced with a need to blend science and common sense.

Mario Pedini
Senior Development visor (Aquaculture)
Fishery Resources Division



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