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Aquatic Genetic Resources - A valuable and unexplored reserve of biodiversity for food and agriculture

Harvesting seaweed


fish on hand


Although the wild harvest of fish, invertebrates (mainly mollusks and crustaceans) and aquatic plants (mainly seaweeds) has provided human populations across the globe with important sources of nutrition from ancient times, aquatic genetic resources have only recently begun to attract the attention of the international community. Today aquaculture and capture fisheries directly employ over 180 million people, supporting the livelihood of 8 percent of the world's population, and each sector provides about 50 percent of the world's aquatic food supply.

Aquatic genetic resources underpin the productivity and sustainability of world aquaculture and capture fisheries, and the essential services provided by aquatic ecosystems in marine, brackish and freshwaters. As capture fisheries reach the limits of their biological productivity, aquaculture currently plays and will continue to play an important role in meeting the needs for fish and fish products of an ever-increasing human population.

The use and exchange of aquatic genetic resources have been crucial elements in helping aquaculture become the fastest growing food producing sector over the past three to four decades although it has been estimated that less than 9% of the current aquatic species being farmed have been the subject of formal genetic improvement programs. Today, aquaculture accounts for nearly half of all fish consumed and the proportionate contribution is expected to increase to meet future needs. Improvements in aquaculture technology, aquatic animal health/aquatic biosecurity, animal husbandry, nutrition, larval rearing, genetics and breeding have led to a great diversity of farmed aquatic animals. More aquatic species are being farmed today than ever before: in 1950, countries reported farming 72 species from 34 families; by 2013 production was reported and estimated for nearly 575 species items associated with over 115 families. 

Did you know?

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World aquaculture production of food fish and aquatic plants (1990–2016)
  • There is a huge diversity of aquatic species in the world's water bodies, including over:
    • 31 602 species of finfish
    • 52 842 species of molluscs
    • 64 402 species of crustaceans
    • 14 742 aquatic plants

A small percentage of this diversity is used for food and agriculture

  • Over 1 800 species accessed in wild fisheries and nearly 598 species in aquaculture
  • World capture fisheries and aquaculture production was 171 million tonnes in 2016 (excluding aquatic plants)
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food production sector, reaching over 80.0 million tonnes in 2016 (excluding aquatic plants)