Overall production status and trend
Global aquaculture production retained its growth trend in 2020 amid the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 pandemic (see the section COVID-19, a crisis like no other, and Box 2), albeit with differences among regions and among producing countries within each region. The total aquaculture production comprised 87.5 million tonnes of aquatic animals mostly for use as human food, 35.1 million tonnes of algae10 for both food and non-food uses, 700 tonnes of shells and pearls for ornamental use, reaching a total of 122.6 million tonnes in live weight in 2020 (Figure 13). This represents an increase of 6.7 million tonnes from 115.9 million tonnes in 2018. The estimated total farm gate value was USD 281.5 billion in 2020, an increase of USD 18.5 billion from 2018 and USD 6.7 billion from 2019.
FIGURE 13WORLD AQUACULTURE PRODUCTION, 1991–2020
World aquaculture production of animal species grew by 2.7 percent in 2020 compared with 2019, an all-time low rate of annual growth in over 40 years. However, the net increase of 2.3 million tonnes in the same period was comparable to some years in the last decade. Finfish farming remained steady with minimal fluctuation around 66 percent and accounting for the largest share of world aquaculture for decades. In 2020, farmed finfish reached 57.5 million tonnes (USD 146.1 billion), including 49.1 million tonnes (USD 109.8 billion) from inland aquaculture and 8.3 million tonnes (USD 36.2 billion) from mariculture in the sea and coastal aquaculture on the shore. Production of other farmed aquatic animal species reached 17.7 million tonnes of molluscs (USD 29.8 billion) mostly bivalves, 11.2 million tonnes of crustaceans (USD 81.5 billion), 525 000 tonnes of aquatic invertebrates (USD 2.5 billion) and 537 000 tonnes of semi-aquatic species including turtles and frogs (USD 5 billion).
Global cultivation of algae, dominated by marine macroalgae known as seaweeds, grew by half a million tonnes in 2020, up by 1.4 percent from 34.6 million tonnes in 2019. Some major producing countries including China and Japan experienced growth in 2020, while seaweed harvests decreased in Southeast Asia and the Republic of Korea.
At the regional level, African aquaculture (excluding algae) suffered from a slight contraction in its annual output (down 1.2 percent in 2020 compared with 2019), mainly the result of the drop in production in Egypt, Africa’s major producer. In Nigeria, the largest producer in sub-Saharan Africa, the declining trend since 2016 worsened in 2020 with a sharp decrease of 9.6 percent. Aquaculture in the rest of Africa enjoyed a double-digit growth of 14.5 percent reaching 396 700 tonnes in 2020 from 346 400 tonnes in 2019. All other regions experienced continued growth in 2020. Chile, China and Norway – the top producers in the Americas, Asia and Europe, respectively – all experienced growth in 2020, offsetting the decreased output that occurred in some countries in their respective regions.
In the period 1990–2020, total world aquaculture expanded by 609 percent in annual output with an average growth rate of 6.7 percent per year. The average annual growth rate had decreased gradually from 9.5 percent during the period 1990–2000 to 4.6 percent during 2010–2020. The growth rate reduced further to 3.3 percent per year in the most recent years (2015–2020). Next to the falling trend in growth rate in relative terms, it is important to note the net increase in world production in absolute terms over three decades. Additional details of world aquaculture growth are presented in Table 6.
TABLE 6WORLD AQUACULTURE PRODUCTION AND GROWTH
Aquaculture development has exhibited different fluctuating patterns in growth among regions. In the largest producing region, Asia, growth in the period 1990–2020 has been relatively steady in the major aquaculture countries, although with decreasing growth rates. Other regions have had relatively fluctuating growth in the same period, experiencing negative growth in some years (Figure 14).
FIGURE 14ANNUAL GROWTH RATE OF AQUATIC ANIMAL AQUACULTURE PRODUCTION BY CONTINENT, 1990–2020
Source of aquaculture data for analysis
As in past editions, the analysis of status and trends in aquaculture development relies on, though is not limited to, FAO’s global aquaculture production data of 1950–2020 released in March 2022, including data adjustment for some back years for some countries as per routine standard statistical practices. The retroactive adjustments concern certain data-poor countries, but do not modify the conclusions on a global and regional scale reported in The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020.
For example, in 2020, FAO’s aquaculture data on farmed animal species covered 207 countries and territories, including national data reported or retrieved from official sources for 122 of them (59 percent). However, total production data of these countries reached over 85.4 million tonnes, representing 97.6 percent of world production in 2020. At the species or species group level, to distinguish between inland and coastal aquaculture and to take into account the type of water used, FAO corrected omissions in statistical details in official data that were questionable or available in highly aggregated form in line with internationally established standards of classification and identification.
Out of 61 producing countries and territories reporting algae cultivation, FAO collected official production data from 36 of them; their combined production was 34.7 million tonnes, or 98 percent of world production in 2020.
Production distribution and major producers
Asia has overwhelmingly dominated world aquaculture for decades, producing 91.6 percent of global aquatic animals and algae in 2020. However, there are huge differences in the level of aquaculture development between countries within Asia. Countries such as Mongolia, Timor-Leste and some countries in Central and West Asia are in need of accelerated aquaculture development to exploit their aquaculture potential.
The uneven distribution in aquaculture production and the disparity in aquaculture development status across regions and among countries in the same region have not shown significant improvement for decades. Many developing countries, in particular low-income countries, face great challenges to achieve their national aspirations of aquaculture development in support of national food production to feed and create jobs for their growing populations.
Data in Table 7 illustrate the global distribution of aquaculture production by region, reflecting the lingering situation of dominance by a small number of major producers at the global, regional and subregional levels. Since 1991, China (mainland) has produced more farmed aquatic animals and algae than the rest of the world. Its share in world aquaculture production was 56.7 percent for aquatic animals and 59.5 percent for algal farming in 2020 – similar to recent years.
TABLE 7WORLD AQUACULTURE PRODUCTION BY REGION AND SELECTED MAJOR PRODUCERS
Production of the main groups of farmed species differs significantly across regions and countries. Some middle-income countries dominate inland aquaculture production of finfish species. Some such as Norway and Chile (endowed with large areas of fjords protected from rough sea), plus China from the middle-income group, dominate world mariculture of finfish species with sea cages. Atlantic salmon is representative of sea cage culture of coldwater species, while finfish produced by sea cage farmers in China are mostly warmwater species and their composition is more diverse. Figure 15 presents the distribution patterns among leading producers or subregions for comparison of selected main species groups.
FIGURE 15PRODUCTION DISTRIBUTION OF SELECTED MAIN SPECIES GROUPS AND TYPE OF AQUACULTURE, 2005–2020
Marine shrimps dominate the production of crustaceans from coastal aquaculture in brackish-water ponds. They are an important source of foreign exchange earnings for a number of developing countries in Asia and Latin America.
In terms of quantity, marine mollusc production in China by far outweighs that of all other producers combined. However, in some major producing countries, cultivation of marine bivalves accounts for a high percentage of total aquaculture production of aquatic animals. These countries include New Zealand (86.9 percent), France (75.4 percent), Spain (74.8 percent), the Republic of Korea (69.7 percent), Italy (61.6 percent) and Japan (51.8 percent), against a world average of 18.4 percent.
Aquaculture contribution to total fisheries and aquaculture production11
Most major aquaculture producing countries are highly populated developing countries where aquaculture contributes more than half of total fisheries and aquaculture production, benefiting half of the global population. These countries, such as Egypt in Africa, and Bangladesh and Viet Nam in Asia, set successful examples for aquaculture development in other countries with similar conditions and where potential exists for aquaculture development.
On a world scale, the contribution of aquaculture to total fisheries and aquaculture production (excluding algae) has climbed steadily, reaching 49.2 percent in 2020 on a par with capture, compared with just 13.4 percent in 1990. This contribution varies greatly among and within regions (Figure 16). Asia produces more from aquaculture (61.9 percent) than from capture, and when the top producer is excluded in each region, Asia still has a high aquaculture share of 44.7 percent. In contrast, if Egypt is excluded, Africa’s contribution to world aquaculture production was a mere 6.6 percent in 2020, the lowest among regional and subregional groups represented in the figure.
FIGURE 16CONTRIBUTION OF AQUACULTURE TO TOTAL FISHERIES AND AQUACULTURE PRODUCTION (EXCLUDING ALGAE) BY REGION, 2000–2020
Using the World Bank’s income level classification, the period 1990–2020 witnessed rapid development in aquaculture in 51 of the lower-middle-income countries and 53 of the upper-middle-income countries reporting aquaculture production. In 2020, aquaculture contributed 61.7 percent to total production in upper-middle-income countries (2.76 billion population), up from 19.8 percent in 1990. The share of aquaculture in lower-middle-income countries (3.13 billion population) increased from 14.7 percent to 46.2 percent in the same period (Figure 17, Figure 18).
FIGURE 17FISHERIES AND AQUACULTURE GROWTH COMPARISON BY COUNTRY GROUP BY INCOME LEVEL (EXCLUDING ALGAE), 1990–2020
FIGURE 18SHARE OF AQUACULTURE IN TOTAL FISHERIES AND AQUACULTURE PRODUCTION BY MAJOR SPECIES GROUP, 2020
In the 67 high-income countries reporting aquaculture data (1.32 billion population), although aquaculture production more than doubled reaching 6.8 million tonnes in 2020 from 3.1 million tonnes in 1990, its contribution to total fisheries and aquaculture production was just 23 percent in 2020 (up from 7.6 percent in 1990). However, its contribution would be even lower without the 40.1 percent decrease in capture production in the same period (from 38.1 million tonnes to 22.8 million tonnes).
In the 26 low-income countries reporting aquaculture data (0.86 billion population), mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, aquaculture development has made limited progress in terms of its contribution to total fisheries production. In 2020, aquaculture accounted for just 8 percent of total production, a slight increase compared with 3.7 percent in 1990.
Because there are places in the world where natural or modified saline waters are used for aquaculture, The State of World Aquaculture and Fisheries 2022 maintains the term “inland aquaculture”, although another term, “freshwater aquaculture”, is widely used when saline water is not a concern. Also, brackish-water aquaculture in constructed ponds on seashores in coastal areas – classified nationally or locally in some places as “inland aquaculture” – is treated in this report as coastal aquaculture.
In 2020, global inland aquaculture production was 54.4 million tonnes, accounting for 44.4 percent of the world total aquaculture production of animal species and algae, and inland farming of aquatic animal species represented 62.2 percent of total aquaculture production. Farming of finfish species dwarfs all other species groups in inland aquaculture at the regional and global levels (Table 8). However, the development status and composition pattern of non-finfish groups differ greatly from region to region.
TABLE 8INLAND AQUACULTURE AND MARINE AND COASTAL AQUACULTURE PRODUCTION BY REGION AND BY MAIN SPECIES GROUP, 2020
World inland aquaculture employs very diverse culture methods and facilities. The operation and practices vary greatly in terms of input intensity, level of technological and management sophistication and degree of integration with other farm activities. Globally, raising finfish and other species in constructed earthen ponds is by far the most widespread culture method.
Cage culture and, to a lesser extent, pen culture are also widely used in inland aquaculture, but their relative importance varies greatly among countries. Worldwide data on inland cage and pen culture are unavailable. Based on available data, Table 9 presents cage culture and pen culture production, in comparison with national total inland aquaculture production of finfish in selected countries.
TABLE 9CONTRIBUTION OF CAGE AND PEN CULTURE TO INLAND FINFISH AQUACULTURE PRODUCTION IN SELECTED COUNTRIES
National and local policy differs among countries in terms of control of access to and use of public open waterbodies for aquaculture, including cage and pen culture. With proper regulation, investing in cage culture in public open waterbodies has proved to be an effective and efficient approach to increase aquaculture production, along with pond culture and other methods.
In the Philippines and Indonesia, cage and pen culture (including enclosures) in rivers, lakes and reservoirs has been undergoing significant development for decades. In recent years, authorities have started campaigns to reduce cage culture in some waterbodies. In China, one of the focuses of the Thirteenth Five-Year Plan (2016–2020) was to “green” natural resource-based economic activities in the country, including aquaculture, especially in inland areas. Implementation of the greening policy entailed locally coordinated clean-up plans together with a mitigation programme to protect the affected communities and individuals, and the vast majority of cages and pens were removed (Figure 19). Some provinces still grant a limited number of licenses based on the carrying capacity assessment of the waterbodies, but the permit process prioritizes environmental and conservation issues over the economic value of the remaining cage culture operations.
FIGURE 19REDUCTION IN SCALE OF CAGE AND PEN AQUACULTURE IN INLAND WATERS IN CHINA (MAINLAND) IN RECENT YEARS
Mariculture and coastal aquaculture
Mariculture, or marine aquaculture, takes place in the sea for the entire cycle or only during the grow-out phase. In the first case, the production cycle takes place entirely in the seas for those species dependent on wild seeds from the sea, for example, sea mussels. Otherwise, mariculture refers only to the grow-out phase of the production cycle when a species is produced from a land-based hatchery and sometimes even in freshwater, as is the case for Atlantic salmon. Coastal aquaculture, typically practised in constructed ponds onshore or in intertidal zones, plays an important role in livelihoods, employment and economic development among coastal communities in many developing countries particularly in Asia and Latin America.
In 2020, global production of marine and coastal aquaculture was 68.1 million tonnes, including 33.1 million tonnes of aquatic animals and 35 million tonnes of algae. The picture of mariculture and coastal aquaculture production of the main species groups, disaggregated by region is presented in Table 8.
It is relatively easy to separate mariculture and coastal aquaculture of crustaceans, molluscs and other marine invertebrates based on the biological characteristics of these species and the culture methods adopted to rear them. However, this is not the case for finfish and those countries that grow different finfish species in both systems, due to the aggregation in production data. Based on information and data from alternative sources, a general picture of mariculture and coastal aquaculture is presented herein for the first time, showing mariculture and coastal aquaculture separately; caution should be exercised in interpreting this preliminary information (Figure 20). In 2020, finfish from coastal aquaculture was 3.1 million tonnes, representing 37.4 percent of the combined production of 8.3 million tonnes from mariculture and coastal aquaculture. Crustaceans were almost entirely from coastal aquaculture. The share of coastal aquaculture was 19.4 percent for other aquatic animals, followed by marine algae (4.2 percent) and molluscs (0.5 percent).
FIGURE 20COMPOSITION OF MARINE AND COASTAL AQUACULTURE PRODUCTION BY MAIN SPECIES GROUP, 2016–2020
Aquaculture production with and without feeding
Fed aquaculture production progressively outpaced that of non-fed species. The share of non-fed aquaculture in total farmed aquatic animal production continued to decline from over 40 percent before 2000 to 27.8 percent in 2020, although absolute production stayed relatively stable. In 2020, non-fed production of animal species was 24.3 million tonnes, comprising 8.2 million tonnes of filter-feeding finfish reared in inland aquaculture (mainly silver carp and bighead carp) and 16.2 million tonnes of aquatic invertebrates, mainly marine bivalves (Figure 21).
FIGURE 21FED AND NON-FED AQUACULTURE PRODUCTION OF ANIMAL SPECIES BY REGION, 2000–2020
In multi-species polyculture systems practised in inland and coastal aquaculture, feeds intended for fed species also directly benefit filter-feeding species, especially when feeds in powder form are used or pellet feeds are low in water stability and dissolve quickly. Therefore, the border between fed and non-fed species under certain conditions becomes less clear-cut.
Regions such as Africa have not experienced aquaculture development of non-fed species. Although filter-feeding carps were introduced in some African countries in the 1950s and 1960s for aquaculture, they did not take off and faded before the arrival of the new millennium to be replaced by locally favourable tilapias and catfishes. It has proven difficult, if not impossible, to identify and develop native finfish species to play the role of filter-feeding carps in developing low-cost inland polyculture aquaculture with improved efficiency in harnessing natural productivity of the rearing water. However, in coastal areas in Africa, joint efforts (such as setting up internationally owned hatcheries) to accelerate development in marine molluscs farming represent a realistic option for increasing aquatic food12 production.
Farmed aquatic species
Thanks to the vast range of conditions under which aquaculture is practised across the world, a richly diverse pool of aquatic species and their hybrids are raised in different types of aquaculture farming systems using freshwater, brackish water, seawater or inland saline water.
The latest statistics compiled by FAO, based on national reports and estimates for non-reporting countries, cover all aquaculture productions worldwide in a 71-year period (1950–2020) under 652 units technically known as “species items” – an increase from the 622 reported in the 2020 edition of The State of World Aquaculture and Fisheries. They include 494 individual species, 7 finfish hybrids, 94 groups of species identified at genus level and 57 groups of species identified at family or higher levels. The 494 taxonomically recognized species ever farmed in the world include 313 species of finfish (in 186 genera), 88 species of molluscs, 49 species of crustaceans, 31 species of algae, 2 species of cyanobacteria, 6 species of marine invertebrates, 3 species of frogs (amphibians) and 2 species of aquatic turtles (reptiles).
The real number of aquatic species farmed in the world is much greater, and the present record of finfish hybrids is only a fraction of many hybrids of not only finfish, but also molluscs, frogs, aquatic turtles and seaweeds. Limitation in the process of data collection does not enable the FAO statistics to capture all the necessary details. Studies on aquatic genetic resources and biodiversity should consider these limitations when using FAO’s aquaculture data, whose original purpose is to monitor aquaculture development as an economic sector of agriculture.
Despite the great diversity in farmed aquatic species, only a small number of “staple” species dominate aquaculture production, (Table 10). With 5.8 million tonnes produced in 2020, grass carp accounted for 11.8 percent of global inland aquaculture. Together with a further 23 individual species, they contributed 78.7 percent to total finfish production from inland aquaculture. Atlantic salmon and 21 other dominating species, such as milkfish, made up 75.6 percent of all finfish species of mariculture and coastal aquaculture. Atlantic salmon, with its production of 2.7 million tonnes in 2020, accounted for a high 32.6 percent of marine and coastal aquaculture of all finfish species.
TABLE 10WORLD PRODUCTION OF MAJOR AQUACULTURE SPECIES (INCLUDING SPECIES GROUPS)
Some finfish species living in freshwater or marine water are capable of bimodal respiration for oxygen uptake from the air, and the physiological mechanism varies. About 30 different air-breathing fishes and their hybrids are raised in inland aquaculture worldwide. Global production of air-breathing fish seldom exceeded 3 percent in total production of inland finfish farming until the mid-2000s when the share started to rise to reach about 13 percent in recent years. In 2020, the production of air-breathing fishes was 6.2 million tonnes and the share was 12.6 percent, a slight drop from 2019 due mainly to the drop in production in Viet Nam (Figure 22). Species from three families accounted for 83.9 percent of total production of air-breathing finfishes in 2020, including 47 percent from Pangasiidae (e.g. striped catfish, Pangasianodon hypophthalmus), 26.5 percent from Clariidae (e.g. North African catfish, Clarias gariepinus) and 10.5 percent from Channidae (e.g. snakehead, Channa argus).