The past two decades have seen the growth of the aquaculture industry from an experimental/pilot stage to a fully grown, important fisheries sub-sector in a number of countries the world over, but particularly in Asia where the bulk of world production comes from.
This does not, and should not come as a surprise, however, considering that aquaculture:
- can provide a cheap source of animal protein for the masses in rural areas, including those countries with no access to the sea;
- can be developed on land which is no longer suitable for farming and/or on land in conjunction with other farming systems;
- can be operated either on a small scale, at low cost, and utilizing family/community labour, or on a large scale, at high cost, and utilizing more machines and less hands and in both instances fulfill the objectives for which it was established;
- can complement capture fisheries in bringing about increased production of fish in open waters like coastal lagoons, man-made lakes, and floodplains;
- can provide a viable socio-economic alternative to capture fisheries, especially in over-fished municipal waters; and
- can serve to enhance the fishery resources in major water bodies whose natural productivities have shown signs of decline from over-exploitation or environmental degradation.
Aquaculture offers a number of options. It can be small- or large-scale. It can be carried out on land-based sites and in fresh, brackish, or saline environments. It can make use of extensive, semi-intensive, or intensive methods for a great variety of culture species with different economic values.
Its products can be sold fresh or processed in either domestic or international markets.
This flexibility notwithstanding, the success of any aquaculture undertaking is possible only if:
- the market for the product is assured;
- the selected species is amenable to culture and fulfills the standard criteria for a good candidate species;
- the site selected is suitable for the species to be cultured;
- the technology for the selected species and type/method of culture is available;
- the production and support facilities are properly designed and built;
- the operation is efficiently managed so that the various production inputs are properly utilized and are made available at the right time;
- adequately trained and skilled labour is available to run and operate the enterprise; and
- adequate funding is in place and/or credit is available for development and operation.
Clearly, the success of aquaculture can only be obtained through proper management based on a knowledge/understanding of the culture environment and the biological processes involved in the culture operation, as well as on the existence/availability of certain vital infrastructure - such as fry, feeds, labour, funds, and a market.
On the national level. Government has to ensure that the fish farmers are provided with the necessary support in their production endeavours, mainly by way of:
(i) adequate market infrastructure facilities and services (e.g., farm-to-market roads, fishing ports, processing plants, ice plants and cold storage facilities);
(ii) effective training and extension services;
(iii) continuing research and development efforts; and
(iv) credit/funding assistance, including the provision of financial incentives like tax credits and the tax-free import of essential equipment/machinery and supplies and materials.
The introduction of improved culture systems, highly productive strains, highly improved feed formulations in intensive farming systems, highly improved techniques in the hatchery production of fry, and the expansion of production areas, have all contributed significantly to the exceptionally fast growth of aquaculture in many countries of the world. This rapid expansion of the industry shall undoubtedly be sustained, if not surpassed, in the years to come as improved techniques are refined, even better feeds are developed, and higher yielding strains are genetically engineered. And as highly aquaculturally developed nations extend assistance to those less developed than they, the global aspiration of fish on every table may yet become a reality.