Can aquaculture meet the additional demand for fishery products?

This article is based on the author’s keynote speech at the annual meeting of the World Aquaculture Society (WAS), Sydney, Australia, May 1999.

Mario Pedini

Fishery Resources Division



The future of the aquaculture sector is of interest to both planners and the industry. This interest has been heightened by the growing importance of aquaculture in global fish supplies and the fact that capture fisheries probably will not be able to meet the growing demand for fish as the world population expands. Past attempts to forecast the future of aquaculture were carried out in a global context. For the annual meeting of the World Aquaculture Society (WAS), I tried to arrive at the global picture by evaluating and summing up the regional pictures. Information and time permitting, a sharper image could have been derived by analysis of individual countries, or at least the major producers, as this would have allowed a better understanding of the main factors which influence the future of the sector.

One of the main shortcomings of past attempts to forecast aquaculture production was that the sector was considered in relative isolation. The fact that aquaculture is simply another source of protein, competing in domestic and international markets with other forms of protein, was seldom taken into consideration. In addition, past evaluations were carried out by examining past growth rates and then extrapolating using those same values. That approach does not take into account the fact that the expansion of the production base requires an enabling environment, including encouraging market conditions, investment, increased natural resources, etc.

Further, global figures for population growth were used to estimate demand, but these figures mask the differences in population growth among regions. Data on population growth projections are available in sufficient detail and permit relatively accurate projections of population growth and structure in the medium term

The question which was posed by the WAS for the keynote address was: with a rapidly growing population and almost stagnant capture fisheries, can aquaculture meet the challenge to provide food for the masses in the future?

To answer the question properly, the following factors need to be considered:

population growth trends by region;
the potential for increasing production from capture fisheries in the different fishing areas and the possibilities to access these resources;
the feasibility of using more natural resources, such as land and water, for aquaculture production;
the potential for additional production from aquaculture including culture-based fisheries,
the role of external factors which influence the sector, such as economic development trends, including purchasing power of the population;
government development policies; and
the impact of potential technological advances.

The accuracy of the analysis was constrained by a number of facts:

the accuracy of the statistical data over time, in particular for capture fisheries and aquaculture production;
the lack of information on availability of natural resources for aquaculture production, and economic valuation of their alternative uses;
the absence of reliable models to forecast medium and long term scenarios for macro-economic development;
very limited information on internal and export market capacity in major producing countries; and
the blend of physical, economic and social factors, which differs among countries and further complicates the difficulty of creating typologies even at the regional level.


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In view of these constraints, this analysis was based on the main factors for which data were more readily available. Firstly, projected population growth and animal and fish protein consumption of the regions were briefly examined. Then, the supply situation and trends of capture fisheries were reviewed, including possibilities for expansion of production and access to fishing areas. Finally, growth rates of aquaculture observed during the last decade were briefly reviewed. The concluding section tried to put these three components of the analysis together on a regional basis and to visualize their interaction, taking into consideration the forecast of regional economic development.

Population growth trends and protein consumption patterns

World population in 1998 was estimated at 5,928.8 million with an annual growth rate of 1.4 percent. It is expected to grow to 6,831.7 million by 2010 and to 8,039.1 million by 2025, with substantial differences in growth rates between countries and regions. Protein consumption patterns and the ratios of fish consumption to total protein consumption also differ significantly. Table 1 shows overall demand in Asia and Africa, by year 2010, calculated on the basis of two scenarios: (A) a constant per caput supply based on 1996 level and (B) a 10 percent increase over 1996 levels.

In Africa, maintaining the present low supply levels implies an increase of supply, by 2010, of 37.4 percent over the 1996 level. Improving per caput supplies (scenario B) would require an increase of 51.1 percent in overall supply. There is a high preference for fish, with a fish/animal protein consumption ratio (1996) of 19-19.5 percent, second only to Asia.

The Asian situation implies an increase in overall supply for scenario A (maintaining 1996 per caput supplies to 2010) of 18 percent, and 30.7 percent for scenario B. In this region, fish supply increased from 10.6 kg/caput in 1984 to 17.9 kg/caput in 1997, while

the fish /animal protein ratio remained constant at about 26-27.5 percent — the highest in the world.

The European situation is characterized by stagnant population growth and a slight but progressive increase in the consumption of fish products. Accordingly, an increase in supply of about one million tonnes (t) will be required only for a 10 percent increase (over 1996) in per caput consumption. In the case of North and Central America, scenario A entails an increase in supply of 16.7 percent (1.25 million tonnes), and B about 28.4 percent (2.13 million tonnes). Although this region has a high protein per caput supply, it has a relatively low fish/animal protein consumption ratio, an indication of preference for meat products.

The additional requirements for South America would amount to 20 percent (0.65 million tonnes) and 32 percent (1.05 million tonnes) in scenario A and B respectively. There is apparent preference for meat products although the per caput fish supply seems to have increased substantially. Oceania is a region with a small population but with high dependence on fish in the diet. This would put additional requirements at 17.2 percent (95 000 t) for scenario A and 29 percent (160 000 t) for scenario B. The situation of the former USSR countries is anomalous in that annual consumption of fish products decreased from a high 28 kg/caput in 1984 to 11.8 kg in 1996 due to the economic transition and changes in the operation of their fishing fleets. Since population growth is expected to be modest, only a small additional demand of 17 000 t will be needed for scenario A, compared to over 360 000 t for scenario B.

Global requirements for increased fish production in 2010 based on the sum of regional requirements (at 1996 per caput supply) are estimated at 15.5 million tonnes, with 75 percent of the demand from Asia and 12 percent from Africa. These seem to be the two regions where efforts need to be concentrated


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to increase fish supply, if present levels are to be maintained. A 10 percent increase above 1996 per caput supply would require 26 million tonnes, of which 72 percent would be required in Asia and 9.6 percent in Africa.

Contribution from capture fisheries

To what extent can capture fisheries help meet this additional demand? Global production for all uses from capture fisheries reached 94.5 million tonnes in 1997 (Table 2) with an increase of only 200 000 t over 1996 (29.5 million tonnes were for non-food uses). This increase was mainly due to inland capture fisheries. These figures confirm the levelling of production from marine capture fisheries globally, noted in earlier years. As can be seen from the APRs (average annual percent growth rate) in Table 2, the last four years registered a considerable decrease in the growth rate of landings at the global level, falling below the rate of population growth of 1,38 percent.

Fishing areas with some potential for expansion include:the Northwestern Pacific, Western Central Pacific and the Eastern and Western Indian Ocean (FAO Fisheries Department, 1998) 3. However, these are also the areas where there are more stocks with uncertain status of exploitation. It is difficult therefore to assess the potential additional supplies from those areas. Furthermore, any additional supply is not available to all countries. In the case of the Northwest Pacific , four countries (P.R. China, Japan, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Korea) land 96 percent of the total catch. In the case of the Western and Eastern Indian Ocean, five countries (India, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia and Malaysia) land 62 percent of the total catch, although there are several countries fishing in these two areas with substantial landings.

Areas showing a declining trend after reaching maximum production over a decade ago include the NW Atlantic, SE Atlantic, and Eastern Central Atlantic. Areas in which catches seem to have

Atlantic, and Eastern Central Atlantic . Areas in which catches seem to have stabilized or are declining are: NE Atlantic, SW Atlantic, Eastern Central Pacific, NE Pacific, and Mediterranean and Black Sea (FAO Fisheries Department, 1998) 3.

It appears therefore that any additional contribution from capture fisheries will derive from increased landings in the four fishing areas mentioned above (i.e. in addition to the 42 million tonnes landed presently from these areas). It is more than likely that this additional catch will benefit mainly Asian countries.

There are also three other potential, but so far problematic, sources of supply from marine capture fisheries, which have been much debated but without viable solutions as yet: the reduction of discards and by-catch, estimated at 20 million tonnes, the utilization for human consumption of the catch currently being reduced to fish meal and fish oils (about 29.5 million tonnes in 1997), and non conventional resources, e.g. mesopelagics, krill, and oceanic squid, which may total 60 million tonnes.

Aquaculture production trends

The other source of supply of fishery products is aquaculture. Production statistics and average annual growth rates for the various continents are given in Table 3a and 3b respectively. In 1997, production increase was 2.13 million tonnes (6.2 percent) over 1996, and Asia contributed 91 percent of the total. Annual growth rates in Asia started to decline in the second half of the 1990s, while fast growth was recorded in North and South America. South America has maintained a growth rate over 20 percent in the period 1994-97 thanks mainly to Chile. Africa and Oceania showed almost no growth in 1997, and the republics of the former USSR showed what hopefully might be a change in trend (from an earlier decline of 13 percent in the early 1990s): a 5.5 percent increase in production over 1996.


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A few of the 179 countries practising aquaculture account for the majority of the production. Out of the total 36.05 million tonnes produced, 15 countries contributed about 94 percent of the total in 1997, and the top ten accounted for 89 percent (Table 4). Production has been driven by the fast growth rate in P.R. China, which has been, for all the periods considered, higher than the average global growth rate. The P.R. China produced two thirds of the total world production. Projections, based on regression analysis, indicate that the production expected for year 2000 in P.R. China could reach about 35 million tonnes, provided that development conditions are maintained.

Some emerging countries have shown a steady rapid growth in the last four years (e.g. Bangladesh and Viet Nam in Asia, Chile in South America and Norway in Europe). However, there is also a worrying decrease in the growth rate of the sector in some important countries. In general, if the APRs for 1991-97 and 1994-97 periods (Table 4) are compared, a generalized slowdown of growth is apparent.

Regional Analysis

There are a number of basic and important questions, related to the supply of fish products that could strongly influence future developments. These are:

Can unconventional fishery resources be tapped in an economic way?

Can discards be used economically?

Can the governance of commercial fish stocks be improved in the short term?

Will trade in fisheries products increase from the present estimate of 40 percent of the catch?

To what level can aquaculture increase itsshare in the use of resources without serious conflicts?

Can indicators of sustainability be developed as a warning system for production ceilings in aquaculture?

Finding answers to these questions is very important. The quantities involved in capture fisheries are very large and could easily modify the entire supply picture (e.g. unconventional resources may exceed 60 million tonnes, and discards add another 20 million tonnes). A better governance of stocks could also lead to the recovery of some stocks. However, it is my personal opinion that the political will and human and financial resources required to modify the present situation of governance, in particular in developing countries, could only be achieved in the long term. It is also evident that urgent work remains to be done to permit assessment of the availability of natural resources for aquaculture production and their economic valuation, the potential gains from sustainable intensification of aquaculture production, and the potential impact of technological and other advances on future production.

Cultural factors will also affect the development of aquaculture. The growing concern about the impact of aquaculture on the environment and of other resource users on aquaculture, as well as possible unsustainable use of resources, may limit both future consumer acceptance of aquaculture products and the expansion of the sector. Clear and valid indicators for sustainability of the various aquaculture practices are still to be developed.

In addition, we should not forget that aquaculture is perceived as a competitive user of resources and as an interesting economic option only in a few countries in the world. Being a novel technology in many countries it has to make its place in the economic arena and this is not always easy.


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At the beginning of this article I mentioned the need to consider the general economic climate that influences investment and consumption patterns and therefore also possibilities for aquaculture development. The expansion of aquaculture production or any other economic activity will require funds and a clientele to which the product could be sold. Consumers will also modify their habits depending upon their purchasing power and this is governed by prevailing economic conditions. Macroeconomic climate can act as an accelerator or as a brake for development, in particular for development based on new technologies.

The economic crisis with regional or global repercussions like the one experienced in 1997-98 that affected strongly Asia and the former USSR republics, limited investment in general, including in aquaculture, particularly in countries where aquaculture was not yet an important economic activity. Similar economic difficulties may lead to similar patterns in other regions. Regarding the 1997 crisis, the World Bank 4 was not optimistic and did not provide a clear projection on the evolution of the crisis. The report singled out, as a serious concern, the lack of models to predict evolution of economic conditions, and forecast a slow recovery for the medium term. This lack of a clear forecast of economic growth in developing countries, and on the impact and possible time frame for the solution of the financial crisis, has limited the possibility to recalibrate the projections based on analysis of fish supply.

Since my presentation at the 1999 WAS meeting, the Fisheries Department has continued working on methods to estimate potential fish demand. A recent attempt was published in late 1999 5. In that study, due to the lack of data on price time series (needed to obtain estimates of price elasticities) and on evolution of purchasing power in the individual countries, GDP was used as an indicator for demand projections. This is not entirely satisfactory, but provided a projection.

Another study is ongoing to estimate future fish supply and demand through the insertion of information on fish commodities in the standard FAO food demand model that has been used for all agricultural commodities. This new study will do separate analyses for freshwater fish, marine fish, crustaceans, mollusc, and other aquatic animals.

If we try to combine the available information gathered on the regions on population growth, supply of fisheries products and general economic information, we arrive at the following regional scenarios for the year 2010.


Taking into account population trends, the state of commercial fish stocks and the potential for increased catches from capture fisheries and production from aquaculture, Africa seems to present the most difficult situation. The continent would need an additional 1.8 million tonnes to maintain 1996 per caput supply levels in 2010. Given the poor prospects for increasing the supply from capture fisheries in the medium term, it would be a major challenge to raise aquaculture annual production by 1.84 million tonnes. Furthermore, considering that aquaculture production in 1997 was only 120 000 t, of which more than half was from Egypt, and that annual growth in the 1990s has been below 9 percent, a huge effort in terms of investment and organization of production would be required to meet this target, at a time in which the economic situation of the continent is not positive 4.


In terms of additional production, the Asian requirements for 2010 are considerable (11.6 million tonnes and 19 million tonnes for the two scenarios respectively). Scenario A could be met with annual growth rates on the order of 2.5-3 percent, while


scenario B would require a sustained annual growth rate of almost 4 percent. As Asia has had a growth rate in the 1991-1997 period of 12 percent, both targets would seem to be attainable. However, there has been a progressive and worrying reduction of growth rates in recent years, to an annual growth rate of 6 percent in 1996-97. This may be due to a progressive saturation of the P.R. China’s capacity and may anticipate a plateau in production in the medium term. However, an economic recovery in the region may again encourage investment in aquaculture. Accordingly it is very likely that aquaculture will be able to meet demand under both scenarios. It should be remembered, nevertheless, that the four fishing areas with projected potentials for expansion are being exploited mainly by Asian countries, and that a contribution to the incremental fish supply requirements can also come from capture fisheries.


Since the population growth rate is not increasing, the challenge will be to maintain the supply derived from imports, which is already considerable and has been growing steadily in the 1990s (Laureti, in press). A sustained annual growth rate of 3 to 4 percent will be needed to produce the one million tonnes needed to increase per caput supplies by 10 percent by 2010. This is similar to recorded recent growth rates and may be possible. Much depends on whether growing environmental concerns and the closer scrutiny of sustainable forms of production do not slow down expansion of the intensive and highly competitive forms of aquaculture production that are typical of the region.

Former USSR

The former USSR republics have limited population growth in common with Europe. This simplifies the task of the aquaculture industry which should grow by only 17 000 t to meet the challenge of maintaining 1996 supply levels, and 360 000 t if it has to increase supply by 10 percent. This second scenario means essentially recovering the aquaculture production levels that this region had in 1990. After a number of years of sharp decline in production, there are signs of recovery of production that still need to be still confirmed. The future of aquaculture in these republics seems to be more linked to programmes aimed at economic recovery and to institutional changes that remain uncertain, than to the physical possibilities for expansion of production.

North America

The challenge is considerable, given the relatively limited production levels and the difficulty to increase exploitation of marine stocks. Recorded aquaculture growth rates do not support the production of an additional 1.25 million tonnes (an increase of 200 percent in 13 years) needed to maintain the 1996 supply level. More likely, the region will increase its imports and diversify with other forms of animal protein supply since there is not a clear preference for fish protein.

South America

South America would require an additional 650 000 t to maintain the 1996 supply level, or double the 1997 production, and 1 million tonnes in the case of a 10 percent expansion of per caput supply. However, this is a region where the Pacific coast is potentially very rich in fish although historically exposed to large variations in catch due to climatic factors. It is rather difficult to predict the stock situation, especially for pelagics, in the next ten years. Aquaculture production in the region is expanding rapidly, thanks essentially to the efforts of the private sector in a few countries. However, the bulk of the production is oriented to export. Since large countries like Brazil and Mexico are now promoting aquaculture development, both for domestic and export markets, and the sector is growing rapidly in countries like Chile, it can be expected that at least the first target (scenario A) will be met but with production coming from a few countries.


Oceania will require only an increase of 100 000 t to maintain the 1996 supply level, a doubling of the present aquaculture production, and 160 000 t to increase the supply by 10 percent. The region should not have major problems to meet the challenge if a proper environment for growth is provided for the sector. Capture fisheries in New Zealand for the South West Pacific have shown also an increasing trend and could contribute significantly to meet supply targets.

In conclusion, aquaculture seems to have the potential to meet the challenge in most regions. Filling the gap at global level would require a continuous growth rate of 4 percent to maintain 1996 per caput supply levels. However, the global view does not identify the growth needs of individual countries nor highlight the relatively limited amount of trade of aquaculture products. Countries like P.R. China, for example, could surpass the requirements of their domestic market, but it remains to be seen whether scarcity in other countries is going to lead to increased exports or to a modification of production in order to meet the needs of export markets.

1 Population data used in this article are from the United States Bureau of Census.

2 The analysis is related to conventional resources for which sufficiently detailed and long time series exist. The possibilities of exploiting krill, mesopelagic stocks or oceanic squids are not considered.

3 FAO Fisheries Department. 1998. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 1998. Rome, FAO. 112pp.

4 World Bank Annual Report 1998.

5 Ye, Y. Historical consumption and future demand for fish and fishery products: Exploratory calculations for the years 2015/2030. FAO Fisheries Circular. No. 946. Rome, FAO. 1999. 31pp.

6 Laureti, E. (comp.). (In press). Fish and fishery products: world apparent consumption statistics based on food balance sheets (1961-1997). FAO Fisheries Circular. No.821, Rev. 5. Rome, FAO.