C. F. Hickling the English aquaculture author, citing S. Y. Lin a noted Chinese aquaculturist, considered the earliest beginnings of aquaculture as during the period 2000–1000 B.C. This indicated that aquaculture has a long history dating as far as 4000 years ago. However, during the period, and especially before the advent of printing, no records were available except the narratives handed down from one generation to another especially those found in the seat of power during those periods. Admittedly, China was the cradle of the beginning of aquaculture utilizing mainly the common carp (Cyprinus carpio). It is said that aquaculture as a husbandry developed in China resulting from the fact that population started to have a settled condition and has been kept as an unbroken tradition. No detailed description of aquaculture practices was however available during that early period.
This year is considered of very great significance in the annals of the history of aquaculture. Many authors round the year as 500 B.C. although most agree that the exact year is 475 B.C. and some even use 473 B.C. as the period when Fan Lai (also spelled Li or Lee by some authors) wrote his book, “The Classic of Fish Culture”. This book consisted the earliest monograph of, fish culture. Although the narrative also dealt on fantasies and metaphysical aspects, it is the first to record and describe the structure of ponds, the method of propagation of the common carp and the growth of fry. Excerpts of an English translation and Chinese facsimile of this book are appended (Appendix 1 and 2).
This period can be considered the Golden Age of common carp culture which has continued to develop in China as well as in neighboring countries where the Chinese people migrated or have some form of foreign relations. Not only is actual progress attained in the techniques of culture but also scattered records of the culture systems were made during this period. At about this time in the Indian sub-continent, specifically during the period 321 to 300 B.C., the use of reservoirs to hold fish was first described.
The reign of the Tang Dynasty is particularly significant in the history of world aquaculture. The Tang emperor in China had the family name of Li which happened to be the common name of the widely-cultivated common carp. Because of this coincidence, an imperial decree was issued prohibiting the culture as well as other activities connected with this fish. This decree, however, instead of putting a constraint to the development of aquaculture turned to be a blessing in disguise. The Chinese people who were then at the time very much engrossed in fish culture as a source of food and livelihood, looked for other species of fish for pond culture. This resulted in the discovery of the silver carp, the big-head carp, the grass carp and the mud carp, all very suitable pond culture species. It was also found that when raised in polyculture in the same pond, these species complement each other by eating different types of food and staying in different environmental strata within the pond. This led not only in the discovery of new species for culture but also in maximizing the productivity of freshwater pond culture,
The initiative to collect fry of cultivable species seasonally along the rivers was started during the Tang Dynasty as a result of the prohibition decree on the common carp, Systematic fry collection and dispersal in natural waters was highly developed during following period under the Sung Dynasty, At about this time in India, the published work Namasollasa presented a compilation describing the fattening of fish in reservoirs. In China, in 1243, Chow Mit published his Kwei Sin Chek Shik which described fry transport in bamboo baskets.
It was during the Ming period that works describing the complete aquaculture process were detailed. Methods for culturing fry to adult, the structure of ponds, rearing density, polyculture, stocking/catching rotation, application of food and fertilizer and disease control were dealt with in aquaculture works during this period. In the year 1400 brackishwater aquaculture was recorded as having been started in Indonesia. This was suggested in the penal laws of the country (Kutara Menawa) which provided for the prohibition of stealing fish from ponds. In China, in 1639, the Complete Book of Agriculture which included pond fish culture was released.
During this period, further detailed description of fish culture methods were emphasized. This included fry production, season of occurrence of fry, differentiation and separation of fry and transport.
In the French Indochinese countries, the waves of Chinese migration had influenced the development of aquaculture. Due to the indigenous species in this area which became of value to the native population, cage culture of siluroids and related species developed independently and became a distinct aquaculture practice in this area. This practice has continued up to the present time (e.g. cage culture along Mekong River in Kampuchea).
The practice of building water reservoirs of varying sizes as source of water and for religious purposes, started at very early period in this area. At the beginning, they were not used for fish culture. Subsequently, however, they were initially used to hold fish and later on to culture them.
The early development of brackishwater aquaculture is attributed to this country at the beginning of the 15th century. This initiative was spread to neighboring areas including the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and southern parts of China (Taiwan).
Aquaculture in Europe also started during early period. Palaces of the early rulers, as well as temples and monasteries of the religious, were provided with water areas. Later on, these were used for temporary holding of fish and subsequently, they were used as environment for the culture of fish. Common carp and trout were recorded as the major species.
There were attempts to develop aquaculture during the 19th century specially aimed at the development of sport fishing. A book, A Manual of Fish Culture, was published by the United States Commis sion of Fish and Fisheries in 1897. This dealt mainly on established hatcheries for the production of seeds to stock game waters but also includes some food species of finfish, oysters, clams, etc.
There were earlier attempts mainly from Europe to spread aquaculture in African countries. Due to the nomadic nature of most African communities at the time, the establishment of aquaculture became difficult. However, the presence of extensive flood plains provided environment for growth and reproduction of indigenous species during the rainy season and concentrating them in depressions or marshes during the dry season. This stimulated the early beginnings of aquaculture in that continent. At the present time, many initiatives for aquaculture development are being started in several countries in Africa. The tilapia, common carp and catfish are the selected species for culture.
a) Latin America. There is no local tradition of aquaculture in this region but widespread development are being initiated at the present time which are gaining interest and support,
b) Australia and New Zealand. Aquaculture development in these countries has been very recent and is just gaining momentum. Trout and other cold water species and mollusc culture, mussels and oysters, are developed.
c) Pacific Island countries. Varied types of development, especially seafarming activities, are just being initiated in the various Pacific Island countries,
d) Middle East and Israel. Although there are existing rivers which can be focal points of development for aquaculture in this region, early historical records did not mention any early aquaculture activities. Religious tradition in this area, however, indicated heavy utilization of fish for food. Present development show that much progress in aquaculture has occurred in the area especially in Israel. Here carp and tilapia culture have attained advanced state, and the other countries in the region have initiated aquaculture development programs.
e) Japan and Korea. There is no doubt that aquaculture developed in these two countries during very early period. Perhaps China had some influences in this development such as in the use of goldfish and carp for culture. But at same period in their history especially in Japan, the “closed door policy” was enforced in that country. At that time aquaculture continued to flourish especially in the culture of a very wide variety of species. This is probably the reason why in that country most any aquatic species of high economic value are subjected to culture - finfishes, crustaceans, molluscs, other vertabrates and many kinds of marine invertebrates that could be the subject of trade. Development of efficient and high culture technology is also a characteristic of Japanese and Korean aquaculture.
This period witnessed worldwide expansion of aquaculture. Easy means of communications and widespread exchange of information through national and international agencies have stimulated the acceleration of the expansion in aquaculture.
The urgent need for seeds to fill the expanded aquaculture industry resulted in technology breakthroughs in inducing the spawning of cultivable species, the seeds or fry of which were only formerly obtained from wild waters. In this period the cultivated Asiatic carps and the Indian major carps were induced to spawn under controlled conditions. Likewise the penaeid shrimp species and the giant freshwater prawns used in culture were also hatched under control in hatcheries.
In this period more species were brought into culture. The industry continued to expand both in area and in quantity of production,
A new trend to select species that are most profitable to culture was adopted by operators in the industry. Therefore, high value species especially those with high export demand were emphasized. Penaeid shrimps, high value finfishes (seabass/groupers), seaweeds and related species became important aquaculture items.
As demand and high market value for selected species persisted, high technology methods and intensification of operations became the norm of the industry. There is competition for major markets and maintenance of product quality standards also became a major concern.