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Global Reporting on Aquaculture Trends

and Related Initiatives of the Fisheries Department



FAO is a provider of global assessments and analyses of food and agriculture to the world community. The challenge is to respond to the increasing and more diversified demands for these services, while adapting to Members' changing needs and capacities.

The Fisheries Department (FI) reviews global aquaculture status and trends, and reports on these through periodic publications – The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture and the Review of the State of World Aquaculture (FAO Fisheries Circular 886). These reports are intended to identify and analyze current and emerging issues that can and do have effects at the regional and national levels, and to draw them to the attention of the international community in order to raise awareness and stimulate action. FAO's information clients (its Members, the international community and the public at large) require such information in support of decision-making and policy development.

Whereas The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, which is submitted to the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) every two years, has a fixed format, the contents of Circular 886 are still in flux. Efforts have been underway since 1997 to increase transparency and participation in its preparation. The quality of aquaculture statistics is being commented on and information sources are cited. Information from both FAO and non-FAO sources is used and, in some instances, professionals from outside FAO with specialized expertise in selected subject matter covered in the review have been invited to participate in preparing certain segments of the document. External participation has increased and is much more extensive and evident in all sections of Revision 2 (FAO 2003). Regional reviews of status, trends and outlook were prepared by regional organizations, national centers of excellence, or individual experts in collaboration with the Inland Water Resources and Aquaculture Service, FAO Fisheries Department (FIRI) staff. The reviews were discussed and amended by a working group consisting of those involved in their preparation.

FAO is the only source of comprehensive global aquaculture statistics, and most reviews of the state of world aquaculture, past trends and future prospects rely on FAO statistics. The statistical database on aquaculture, maintained by the Fisheries Information, Data and Statistics Unit (FIDI), is the key vehicle for monitoring and strategic analysis of global, regional and national developments in aquaculture. The database is disseminated annually in hard copy as the FAO Yearbook of Fishery Statistics: Aquaculture Production, and electronically as FISHSTAT PLUS for years from 1950 onwards. It is also available on request in CD form. The database has served as an important means of describing the characteristics and dynamics of one of the most complex and rapidly evolving international food production sectors.

FI and other FAO departments also maintain other data and information resources that are largely available on line and provide additional support to status and trends reporting (Table 1)


Table 1. Some available databases with relevance to aquaculture.


Information System for the Promotion of Aquaculture in the Mediterranean


Aquatic Animal Pathogen and Quarantine Information System


Database on Introductions of Aquatic Species


National Aquaculture Sector Profiles ( under development)


Known applications of GIS in aquaculture, case studies, etc. (under development, to complement Geonetwork)


Species identification sheets and world catalogues


Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts


Information system on water and agriculture


Animal Feed Resources Information System


Land resource potential and constraints statistics at country and regional level


Collection of national laws and regulations, as well as treaties, on food, agriculture and renewable natural resources


Allows integrated use of spatial information available at FAO (under development)

Available Information and Information Needs

Published FAO statistics are currently limited to production quantities and values by species and environment, plus information on production facilities. There is considerable variation in the quality of the data submitted to FAO by Member States, and some of the submitted data is not published because of problems of quality and completeness. FAO recognizes that many of the problems with statistical and non-statistical information on aquaculture are a reflection of the recent development of the sector as a recorded activity, its diversity and the complexity of developing approaches, as well as the limited resources of some countries, particularly least-developed countries. Aquaculture was recognized only recently (March 2001) as an independent economic activity by the United Nations Statistical Commission (and defined as such in the International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities).

In spite of many years of efforts and experiences, compilation of accurate, reliable, relevant, timely and usable aquaculture and fishery data and information remains one of the main challenges of the sector (FAO 2000). The mechanisms for collecting data and the coverage and quality of data on production from aquaculture provided by countries to FAO are constantly under review, with the aim of improving their quality and relevance to future national and global needs. Though considerable progress has been made, the database is still under development, lagging behind statistical systems for fisheries and agriculture.

Nevertheless, FIDI has made considerable progress in establishing the statistical database on aquaculture in the past 20 years. This has included:

  • Dis-aggregation of FAO's total fishery production statistics into capture fishery and aquaculture components for the period 1950-2001, and extension of the time series of aquaculture production statistics back to 1950;
  • Introduction of AQUASTAT NS, a new questionnaire, equivalent to the NSI form for capture fisheries statistics, to allow countries to update the time series for total aquaculture production tonnage and value for the previous seven years;
  • Introduction (1997) of questionnaires for collection of separate statistics for capture fisheries and aquaculture;
  • Upgrading of FAO Fisheries Circular No. 815: Aquaculture production statistics, to a yearbook in the year 2000 (FAO Yearbook. Fishery Statistics. Aquaculture Production) (this has improved dissemination of the statistics and increased its visibility since, as a yearbook, it is distributed to Member Governments according to country quota, whereas the Circular was not);
  • Dissemination of the entire aquaculture database electronically as FISHSTAT PLUS (Aquaculture). As with other FIDI databases, it is downloadable from the Internet;
  • Development and publication of Guidelines for the collection of structural aquaculture statistics (FAO 1997) to encourage countries to incorporate aquaculture into the World Census of Agriculture 2000;
  • Recognition of aquaculture (March 2001) as an independent economic activity by the United Nations Statistical Commission (and defined as such in the International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities); and
  • Continuing efforts, through working parties/groups and workshops to promote harmonized terms, definitions, classifications and methodologies within available resources.

However, despite this progress, more needs to be done to improve quality and meet rapidly emerging information needs.

In recent years, the demand for reliable data and information has increased considerably, driven by the need for sustainable development and for monitoring the impact of development policies, and by public demand for transparency and accountability. The rapid growth of the aquaculture sector in many countries and its increasing interaction with other sectors, particularly capture fisheries and agriculture (in terms of resources, markets and biodiversity), has also increased concern about the implications of its expansion and the risk of unsustainable development, and has underlined the need for increasing the scope of information required for decision-making. The increasing concern about environmental impact and general sustainability has wider resource implications that stimulate growing interest in assessments to measure the resource demands and environmental cost of aquaculture, and to compare these with the potential benefits it may generate.

Management perspectives are also changing. It is increasingly accepted that a wider range of issues has to be taken into account in decision-making. Thus, information on resource utilization, the environment and socio-economics plays an important part in the multifaceted research required for modern management.

The FAO Kyoto Conference on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security, in its Declaration and Plan of Action (1996), stressed the need to develop standardized methods for the study of social, cultural and economic characteristics of fisheries and aquaculture and their associated activities and, in particular, practical indicators to assess the importance of such characteristics and their interaction and compatibility with management objectives. These recommendations have been reiterated by subsequent FAO and other meetings.

The lack of information and statistics on rural, small-scale aquaculture and inland fisheries has masked the important role of these sectors in rural livelihoods and nutrition and undermined the importance of the sector in the mind of policy-makers. The challenge will be to develop the institutional mechanisms and tools with which this information can be collected in a cost-effective manner.

Clearly, there is an emerging need for a better, more complex array of numerical data of reliable quality that can better measure and describe trends of the sector to ensure informed policy and governance. The multidisciplinary, intra-sectoral and inter-sectoral nature of the required information calls for integration of information and information capacities across sectors.

The increased scope of required data will probably strain national statistical systems that already suffer from inadequate resources. Therefore, besides integration of institutional and financial resources at the national level, there is also a need for partnerships between national, regional and international organizations to meet demands for data at the regional and international levels. Also, as the quality of FAO's information is closely correlated to the capacity of Member Countries to provide reliable and complete data, there is a need to support and/or improve national capacities for data collection and analysis and to provide tools and procedures for cost-effective data collection, processing and dissemination.


Meeting Changing Information Needs - FAO Fisheries Department Information Strategy: Supporting Informed Decisions and Actions (FAO 2000)

Noting the changing information needs of its clients, the Fisheries Department (FI) has responded by formulating a strategy to help address them, and has initiated concrete actions to implement elements of this strategy.

The strategy aims at:

  • Developing a clear policy framework, by providing a set of principles, guidelines and procedures that will foster development and implementation of a coherent and need-driven information programme;
  • Enhancing efficiency in the compilation of data and information, through improved methods and tools, maintaining dynamic relations with national programmes, and filling in data and information gaps;
  • Improving the usefulness of data and information compiled, by integrating and harmonizing dispersed data and information compiled by the Department;
  • Facilitating cooperation and coordination among related programmes and organizations to maximize mutual benefits and reduce duplication of effort;
  • Ensuring that FI’s information products reach target clients, by utilizing communication mechanisms and methods appropriate for the target audiences, compiling policy-oriented information products, and improving distribution and dissemination of fishery data and information; and
  • Strengthening national capacity in the compilation, analysis and utilization of accurate, reliable and timely data and information for the management and development of the aquaculture and fishery sectors.

Concrete action has been taken or is underway to implement the following elements of the strategy:

Integrating Available Data and Information on Fisheries and Aquaculture

The Fisheries Global Information System (FIGIS)

The FIGIS project will integrate and harmonize dispersed data and information compiled by the Department. It will provide useful, compiled and analysed information at the global scale, available to all and subject to rigorous authentication. The intention is that it will become the internationally accepted standard on all the world’s fisheries and aquaculture.

At the same time, an overarching inter-sectoral effort is under way by the FAO to integrate in-house data and information resources on agriculture, fisheries and forestry.

World Fisheries and Aquaculture Atlas CD-ROM

This is another integrating, multi-media tool. The atlas presents a comprehensive and global view of capture fisheries and aquaculture. It touches on all aspects of fisheries - from technology and trade to research and resources - and addresses a broad range of policy issues, such as ecosystem management, safety at sea and biotechnology. The first edition of the atlas was launched in 2001. It will be published in CD-ROM format at least every two years for distribution at the biennial meeting of the FAO COFI.

Improving Information on the Status and Trends of Capture Fisheries and Aquaculture

A strategy to improve information on status and trends was developed for capture fisheries in response to recommendations of the Working Party on Status and Trends in Fisheries of FAO’s Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research, to support more effective policy-making and management, and better monitoring of environmental and ecosystem impacts. The strategy was adopted by the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in March 2003.

Plans are underway to develop a similar strategy for aquaculture, as recommended by the first session of the COFI Sub-Committee on Aquaculture (April 2002). An "Expert Consultation on Improving Global Status and Trends Reporting on Aquaculture" will be convened in Rome during October 2003, as a cooperative effort of three units of the Fisheries Department. A "Working Group of Experts on the FAO Questionnaire, FISHSTAT AQ" will meet immediately after the Consultation to review and evaluate the adequacy of the FAO statistics questionnaire for aquaculture, address existing issues and recommend practical and achievable improvements.

It is anticipated that special project proposals will be prepared to raise additional funds to expedite progress in the implementation of the strategies for improving information for status and trends reporting of capture fisheries and aquaculture, particularly the development of tools and capacity building.

Plugging Gaps in Aquaculture Statistics

Structural Statistics of Aquaculture

Besides preparation of the Guidelines for the collection of structural aquaculture statistics (see above), the statistics on production by farming structure made available by selected countries, representing a good geographical coverage by continent, have been consolidated for analysis. Annual data of aquaculture production practices for 1985-2000 for some 50 countries have been entered into electronic format and preliminary analyses have been conducted. FI has also convened an "Expert Consultation on Land and Water Uses in Aquaculture Systems - Towards an Improved Information Basis" in October 2002, to provide advice on possible ways to improve the collection, organization, dissemination and general use of data and information on land and water use in aquaculture, and the use and interpretation of such data and information in assessing resource use efficiencies of aquaculture practices.

Information on Rural Aquaculture and Inland Fisheries

The FAO Regional Office for Asia-Pacific (RAP) carried out a survey of status and information needs of inland capture fisheries of Southeast Asia (Coates 2002), which formed the basis of an "Ad-hoc Consultation on New Approaches for the Improvement of Inland Capture Fisheries Statistics in the Mekong Basin", in collaboration with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) and the Government of Thailand (FAO-RAP, 2003). The Consultation focused on improvements to methods for the collection of inland fisheries and aquaculture statistics. In addition, there has been an initiative by RAP to seek support through a Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) to improve data for the small-scale and rural inland fisheries sectors, including those integrated with aquaculture activities.

Improvement of National Aquaculture Data

In 2002, FAO evaluated its core statistical programme and noted that there were problems with the quality of data in many countries and regions, particularly from least-developed countries with limited resources and capacities, and that this has impact on the quality and value of FAO’s databases of global statistics. Recommendations were made on means to deal with this problem. Specific problems related to aquaculture statistics will be discussed in the forthcoming "Expert Consultation on Improving Status and Trends Reporting on Aquaculture".

Development of a System to Improve the Collection of Aquaculture Data at the National Level

National statistical development is constrained by resources, and there is a need for cost effective methods of quality data collection and processing. FIDI is planning the development of a computer-based aquaculture data collection module similar in concept to an already developed system for capture fisheries (ARTFISH), a system that has been successfully tested in many countries through the Technical Cooperation Programme. The goal of this new system ("ARTFISH-AQ") will be to build data collection and processing capacity in countries that desire such assistance. It is expected that this module will include elements of statistical sample selection procedures, data collection elements and forms, and data entry and processing capabilities.

The Fisheries Department and the Organization in general will continue its efforts to improve the global information base to meet the needs of its clients within the limits of its normative programme. This will allow for steady, though perhaps slow progress. Additional resources will be needed to respond adequately to the daunting challenges at hand.


Coates, D. 2002. Inland capture fishery statistics of Southeast Asia: Current status and information needs. Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission. Bangkok, Thailand. RAP Publication No. 2002/11, 114 pp.

FAO, 1997. Guidelines for the collection of aquaculture statistics. Rana, K.J. Supplement to the programme for World Census of Agriculture 2000. FAO Statistical Development Series No. 5b. Rome, FAO. 56 pp.

FAO, 2000. FAO Fisheries Department Information Strategy: Supporting Informed Decisions and Actions.

FAO. 2003. Review of the state of world aquaculture. FAO Fisheries Circular 886 Rev. 2. Rome, FAO. 95 pp.

FAO-RAP. 2003. FAO/MRC/Government of Thailand/Government of the Netherlands Ad Hoc Expert Consultation on New Approaches for the Improvement of Inland Capture Fisheries Statistics in the Mekong Basin, Udon Thai, Thailand 2-5 September 2002.


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