Trends in Global Aquaculture Production:1984-1996

Krishen Rana and Anton Immink
Fishery Information, Data and Statistics Service (FIDI)


As we move into the next millennium finfish and other aquatic products will be in greater short supply as domestic and international demand for both high and low valued species increases due to rising populations, living standards and disposable incomes. With globally dwindling yields from many traditional marine and inland capture fisheries, shortfalls in supply of aquatic products will largely need to be met from culture through increased utilisation and output of current and hitherto uncultured species. The issues and challenges we therefore face in aquaculture particularly, are how to: (i) promote aquaculture as a legitimate, long term farming activity and (ii) sustain and increase the current utilisation of species and production base. As well as increased technical assistance, achievements in both the private as well the public sector will largely depend on positive national policies that promote the sector and also integrate, and give high priority to, the collection of necessary and relevant information on which to make informed decisions.

The potential of aquaculture to meet the challenges of food security and to generate employment and foreign exchange is clearly demonstrated by the rapid expansion of this sector, which has grown at an average annual rate of almost 10% since 1984 compared with 3% for livestock meat and 1.6% for capture fisheries production.

What have the major production achievements from aquaculture been in the last few years?
In this commentary, the recent production of the major cultured species and the key features of recent developments in aquaculture production are reviewed to provide an overall perspective, based largely on data provided by countries to FAO.

Recent Changes to FAO Aquaculture Database and Reporting of Statistics.

Before considering recent production trends in aquaculture, it may be of value to point out recent changes to the FAO aquaculture database. From 1998, the FAO Fisheries Yearbook of Catches will contain only inland and marine capture fisheries data and the Fisheries Circular no. 815 (Aquaculture Production Statistics), which will continue to use the same species classification, will contain aquaculture production and value statistics. The electronic provision of these databases will now be through a new Windows-based programme called ‘Fishstat +’. This new programme contains separate datasets for each part of the database, but they can all be run through one programme. The main global datasets available at present are: aquaculture production 1984 – 1996, by quantity; aquaculture production 1984 – 1996, by value; capture fisheries 1984 – 1996, by quantity; total fisheries production 1950 – 1996, by quantity; and trade and production 1976 – 1997.

The global aquaculture production statistics reported for 1984 – 1996 are noticeably higher than those between 1984 – 1995. This was due to underreporting of Chinese aquaculture production statistics. It has recently come to light that China has been reporting production statistics of three molluscs species; the blood cockle, Japanese carpet shell, Pacific cupped oyster and unclassified marine molluscs to FAO as shelled or shucked weight. Consequently, to date, the contribution of:

have been understated. This year FAO, in consultation with the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, has adjusted the Chinese and global aquaculture production time series statistics and reflects these adjustments in its databases, and subsequent analysis.

The general reporting and classification of species in the various culture environments has also been reviewed in recent years and one major consequence of this is the apparent increase in aquaculture production in brackish water environments. Although there was some increase in production, mainly of penaeid shrimps, the bulk of the increase reflected in the 1984 – 1996 statistics for total production from brackish environments was due to the transfer of P. vannamei production from the marine to brackish water environments.

The Contribution of Aquaculture to Total Aquatic Production

Aquatic production (including plants) has steadily increased since 1984 and in 1996 total world production of finfish and shellfish from capture fisheries and aquaculture reached 120.3 million tonnes. The addition of plants raises the total production reported in 1996 by a further 8.8 million tonnes (t) to 129.1 million t, an increase of around 26 million t since 1990 (Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1 
Contribution of Aquaculture to Global Aquatic Production A significant proportion of this increased production was of cultured origin. For cultured finfish and shellfish the annual contribution to total finfish and shellfish production rose from 13% in 1990 to 22% in 1996 (Figure 1). The corresponding annual contribution of total aquaculture including plants to total aquatic production was higher and increased from to 16% to 26% for the same period. For food fish (fish destined for human consumption), over a quarter of total world supply was derived from aquaculture.

Global and Continental Production of Aquaculture

Figure 2
Figure 2 Global Trends in Total Aquaculture Production Aquaculture represents one of the fastest growing food producing sectors, providing a product that is an acceptable supplement and substitute to wild fish and plants. By 1996, the total production of cultured finfish, shellfish and aquatic plants reached 34.12 million t which was valued at US$46.5 thousand million (billion). This represents an increase of around 11.0% and 6.2% over 1995 quantity and value, respectively (Figure 2). In keeping with recent trends, the increase over 1995 was higher for finfish and shellfish than for all aquatic organisms, an average of 13.6% and 7.4% for quantity and value, respectively. Much of the reported increase originated from the Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries (LIFDCs), in particular China. Greater allocation of natural resources for aquaculture, particularly pond and sea area in China, development and implementation of national aquaculture frameworks and holistic management to further diversify production of species and technology used continues to support further increases.

Figure 3
Figure 3 Comparison of the Contribution (%) of Continents to Global Aquaculture Production in 
The global geographical distribution of aquacultural output continues to be highly skewed towards Asia (Figure 3). For all continents, except for Asia the proportional contribution of value to global production was higher than that of quantity reported. Asia accounted for 91% of the world’s reported tonnage and 83.5 % of its value (Figure 3). Europe was the second largest contributor with 4.7% of world production, but the higher value of cultured species, in particular the salmonids, resulted in Europe accounting for 7.8% of global value. The contributions of Africa, the former USSR area and Oceania to quantity and value were similar in 1996 and ranged between 0.3 to 0.6% (Figure 3).

National Importance of Aquaculture to Total Aquatic Production in Principal Countries

Figure 4
Figure 4 Contribution (%) of Aquaculture to National Aquatic Production The average global contribution of aquaculture masks the relative importance of aquaculture to national aquatic production. The contribution of aquaculture to total aquatic production varied and ranged from 14% to 62% for the top 14 producing (Figure 4). In 1996, Chinese aquaculture accounted for 62% of total national aquatic production, nearly twice that of either Italy, Philippines, India, France or Bangladesh (Figure 4). A considerably lower contribution to national aquatic production was reported for similar activities by Thailand (14%) and Indonesia (17%) (Figure 4) - inset), United Kingdom (11%), Norway (10%) and USA (7.0%) in 1996.

Main Producers

Figure 5
Figure 5 
Comparison of Aquaculture Production from Major Countries, by Quantity (a) and Value (b) in 1996 Global production of aquaculture continues to be dominated by China, which in 1996 accounted for over 67.8% of world output (Figure 5). Because of the relatively low value of carps and seaweeds , that dominate Chinese culture, itscontribution to the value of world aquaculture was lower than its contribution to quantity at 45.4% (Figure 5). The global ranking of countries to quantity and value varied depending on the predominance of the culture of high value species (Figure 5). Although Japan accounted for 4% of total world quantity , the culture of predominately high value marine finfish species such as the amberjack and shellfish such as the yesso scallop and oyster, more than doubled its world share in terms of value and made it the second largest global contributor. Similarly, the higher valued penaeid shrimps in Indonesia and Thailand and salmonids in Norway approximately doubled their proportional value contribution to global production when compared with their reported tonnage (Figure 5).

Aquaculture Production in LIFDCs

Although a few developed countries such as Japan and USA feature amongst top producers (Figure 5), aquaculture production is predominately an activity in the Low Income-Food Deficit Countries (LIFDCs; (Figure 6), which in turn are greatly influenced by developments in China.

Figure 6
Figure 6 Annual Global Changes in Total Aquaculture Production By 1996, 27.9 million tonnes, or around 82% of world total finfish, shellfish and aquatic plant production through aquaculture originated from LIFDCs and represented an increase of 3.4 million tonnes over 1995. The contribution of LIFDCs to world production has increased sharply since 1990 (Figure 6). The average expansion rate of the aquaculture sector within LIFDCs (16.7%) between 1990 and 1996 was nearly six times faster than that for non-LIFDCs (2.9%). The high average growth rate within the LIFDCs, however, is highly influenced by Chinese production and this distorts development trends in other LIFDCs.

Figure 7
Figure 7 
Country Contributions (%) to Finfish, Shellfish and Aquatic Plant Production within LIFDCs
When China is excluded, the expansion rate of the sector almost halves, from 16.7% to 7.3% between 1990 to 1996. In addition, most of the aquaculture production within the LIFDCs (the country-composition of which may change slightly every year) is produced by a few countries (Figure 7). In 1996 around 98.8 % of all aquaculture production within LIFDCs originated from just six countries, with China accounting for around 83% (Figure 7).

Aquaculture Production in the Former USSR Region

Figure 8
Figure 8 Share of Total Aquaculture Production in Former Soviet Union Area The aquaculture production statistics reported for the former USSR region were revised in 1998 and consequently the time series reported for the period 1988–1996 is different from that reported in 1997 for 1988–1995. Conditions related to the transition to a free economy continue to adversely affect aquaculture development and the reporting of statistics. Since 1990 total aquaculture production has continued to decline in all countries, with output falling at an average rate of 21%/yr between 1990 – 1996. In 1996, 104 000 tonnes, valued at US$ 270 million , were reported for the region (Figure 8) and accounted for 0.3 and 0.5% of world output in terms of tonnage and value, respectively. The rate of decline varied between the former USSR countries by a factor of four. Between 1990-1996 Armenia reported a 13% decline in aquacultural output compared with 47% from Tajikistan. Aquaculture production within the former USSR area continues to be dominated by the Russian Federation (53 000 tonnes) and Ukraine (33 000) which between them accounted for 83% of total production in 1996. Although there is continued interest in sturgeon and mussel culture, in the Russian Federation much of the present production is based on freshwater carp aquaculture. The culture of silver carp and in particular common carp (68% of total carps) was the main aquacultural activity accounting for 89% of total aquaculture production in 1996.

Reported Use of Culture Environments for Aquaculture Production

Although lower in value, output from freshwater environments, in terms of quantity, expanded at an average rate of 12%/yr between 1990 and 1996, whilst its contribution to total world aquaculture production decreased from 47 to 44%, respectively.

The expansion rate, in terms of quantity, for aquaculture production derived from the brackishwater environment was one third that of the freshwater environment, and the contribution to world aquaculture production decreased from 8% to 5% for the same period. The higher value of products, mainly shrimps, however, resulted in production from the brackishwater environment accounting for a greater share of the total world value (16%) in 1996.

Figure 9
Figure 9 Reported Global Total Aquaculture Production from (a) Freshwater
(b) Brackish and (c) Marine Environments In contrast, output from the marine environment expanded at 15%/yr and in 1996 accounted for 51% of total world aquaculture output. Although the proportion of total aquaculture production by weight and value originating from marine waters in 1996 is high (17.5 million metric tonnes) over 90% of mariculture production is still centred around primary users of nutrients (i.e., aquatic plants and filter feeding invertebrates) and only 7% for mainly carnivorous finfish species. Moreover, when aquatic plants are excluded from the marine environment total, around 86% of the contribution to total finfish and shellfish production originates from filter -feeders such as mussels, scallops and cockles. In addition to total aquaculture production from the marine environment generating over US$19.6 billion in 1996, the predominant use of plants and filter-feeders in mariculture may also contribute to minimising the levels of nutrient enrichment of coastal waters resulting from human activities.

Major Reported Culture Groups and Species of Aquatic Organisms

The contribution of major culture groups to aquaculture production in 1996 was similar to that of 1995. Production of finfishes continues to be the dominant global aquaculture activity in 1996, accounting for about 49% by weight and 55% by value (Figure 10).The higher unit-value of shrimps, salmonids, bass and breams resulted in the crustaceans, diadramous and marine fishes accounting for a greater share in total value than their share of production (Figure 10).

Figure 10
Figure 10  Production in Value (a) and 
Tonnage (b) of Major Cultured Groups of Aquatic Organisms in 1996
As in previous years, freshwater finfishes, in particular the Chinese and Indian carps, accounted for the greatest share (42%) of total aquaculture production. On the other hand, aquatic plants, 70% of which come from China, were valued at nearly US$5 billion and contributed almost one quarter of total production in 1996. A key factor in the rapid increase in the production of some of these species is due to the increasing availability of hatchery produced seed.

Recent Developments of Reported Production of Cultured Species and Species Groups

The highest reported global production of any cultured aquatic organism for 1996 was the kelp, Laminaria japonica, totalling just over 4 million tonnes (Table 1). Moreover, two of the top ten species or species groups produced are plants.

Table 1. Reported World Production of the Top Ten Species or Species Groups in 1996

Common name

Species name

Production (tonnes x 106)


Laminaria japonica


Pacific cupped oyster

Crassostrea gigas


Silver carp

Hypophthalmichthys molitrix


Grass carp

Ctenopharyngodon idellus


Common carp

Cyprinus carpio


Unclassified freshwater fishes




Aquatic plants nei


Bighead carp

Hypophthalmichthys nobilis


Yesso scallop

Pecten yessoensis



Marine molluscs nei


All the above species for 1996 and those of the top 10 over the last decade, represent organisms low in the food web or chain, i.e. they are either filter feeders, plants or finfish which are considered herbivores and omnivores (Figure 11).

The ranking of the top species changed over the last year, but this was largely due to adjustment to Chinese statistics that resulted in an increase in the tonnage of the Pacific oyster. Although highest in value, the production of shrimps and prawns, in terms of tonnage do not feature in the top 10 species. The major species of cultured shrimp, Penaeus monodon, was ranked 17th in 1996 and the production of P. vannamei, and P. chinensis, which are predominantly cultured in Ecuador and China, respectively, were ranked 37th and 42nd.

The Reporting of Incompletely Identified Production

Figure 11
Figure 11 Global Trends in Farmed Production of Top Ten 
Species and Species Groups
As can be observed in Table 1 and (Figure 11), there is significant reporting of incompletely identified production to FAO. If information was provided with a greater degree of species definition, it could be used more confidently for analysing developing trends in aquaculture production and the sustainable utilisation of biodiversity. It is important for all users of the data and the countries supplying them to provide as much detailed classification as possible about species cultured to allow for accurate interpretation. Within the database, incompletely identified groups are labelled with ‘nei’ (not elsewhere included). This label is used to aggregate incompletely identified species reported to the taxonomic levels of Order through to Genus. Although the quantities are greater for production reported at the Order level, there is some production reported for most groups down to the Genus level. For example, in 1996 production of marine molluscs nei was 1,196,023 mt, some of which could have been cupped oysters nei. In turn, cupped oysters nei (Crassostrea spp) totalled 21,846 mt, some of which could have been e.g., Crassostrea gigas. If we use the example of either freshwater fishes nei or the aquatic plants nei (Table 1 and (Figure 11), the analysis of trends could be improved if some of the incompletely identified group could be reallocated to individual species or at least to Genus level. We would like to work with all reporters of data to enable the record to contain as much taxonomic detail as possible.