Objectives and targets
Aquaculture has undeniably established its crucial role in global food security and nutrition, reducing the supply-demand gap for aquatic food.3 The sector’s positive impact on livelihoods and employment is expected to grow through enhanced productivity and modernization, intensification, and increased economic and geographic access to farmed aquatic products.3 By 2030, aquatic food production is forecast to increase by a further 15 percent (OECD and FAO, 2021a) and it is widely acknowledged that this growth will come mainly from aquaculture. Such growth must not come at the cost of aquatic ecosystem health, increased pollution, animal welfare, biodiversity or social equality. This requires new, sustainable and equitable aquaculture development strategies.
The development of aquaculture must therefore become a top priority, particularly in those regions where the growth potential of the sector remains largely untapped. Blue Transformation3 – launched by FAO following the 2021 COFI Declaration for Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture (FAO, 2021b) – is a priority programme area of FAO under its Strategic Framework 2022–2031. Likewise, the Shanghai Declaration emphasizes the key role of aquaculture, reflecting the outcomes of the Global Conference on Aquaculture (GCA, 2021) organized by FAO, the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific and the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. These timely declarations recognize the need to intensify efforts to make full use of opportunities while addressing outstanding development challenges facing aquaculture to deliver sustainably and to its full potential.
Blue Transformation aims to: (i) increase development and adoption of sustainable aquaculture systems; (ii) ensure that aquaculture is integrated into national, regional and global development strategies and food policies; (iii) ensure that aquaculture production meets the growing demand for aquatic food and enhances inclusive livelihoods; and (iv) improve capacities at all levels to develop and adopt innovative technology and management practices for a more efficient and resilient aquaculture industry.
This section critically examines some of the fundamental challenges that need to be addressed to deliver on the commitments of Blue Transformation in aquaculture (Box 8) production systems, governance frameworks, innovations and capacity-building needs.
BOX 8TRANSFORMATION OF ASIAN AQUACULTURE
The South, Southeast and East Asian regions collectively produced 88 percent of global aquaculture in 2021, excluding algae, with small-scale enterprises contributing over 80 percent of this volume, requiring its timely consideration within the global food systems policy development and transformation.
In recent decades, there have been significant advances in Asian aquaculture research, technology, biosecurity, spatial planning, digitalization, education and training. The growth of Asian aquaculture is the result of government policy to support infrastructure development, strong business linkages, and constructive collaboration of stakeholders and partners. However, there are also lessons to be learned from examples of unregulated development, unsustainable intensification and weak regulatory policies in the region, and challenges lie ahead. Asian aquaculture must rise to the challenges of feeding growing populations against a backdrop of natural resource constraints and biodiversity loss. It must also adapt to the pressures of climate change and enhance system resilience. Demographic changes mean that aquaculture will need to address an ageing rural workforce and urban drift by attracting and engaging a new generation of skilled and technology-smart youth.
Balancing societal outcomes and ecological sustainability will be a key challenge for the transformation of aquaculture in Asia. Many innovations currently target only high-value species, but to ensure equity and that no one is left behind, innovations must also target low-trophic and lower-priced aquatic species. Aquaculture specialists have tended to concentrate on technologies, but value chain and socio-economic dimensions – such as insurance or social protection for the most vulnerable – require additional focus in Asia. The transformation of aquaculture in Asia can be clustered into nine priority themes (see table).
FAO has established a Regional Technical Platform on Aquaculture in Asia to showcase some of the innovations that can contribute to the upscaling of the transformation of aquaculture in Asia and thus contribute to Blue Transformation globally.1
Priority areas for the Transformation of Asian aquaculture
Better production systems
Expansion of sustainable aquaculture will require further technical innovations, policy support and incentives along the entire value chain. These include access to water, optimization of carrying capacity, identification and allocation of aquaculture zones, streamlining of licencing procedures in association with good environmental practices and monitoring, availability of trained and skilled labour, production of quality seed and feeds, regulation on the use of chemicals and antibiotics, and stringent biosecurity protocols. Following are examples of selected policy and technical efforts currently undertaken by FAO to ensure Blue Transformation and better aquaculture production systems.
Guidelines for Sustainable Aquaculture
Following a request by the Ninth session of the Sub-Committee on Aquaculture of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI:AQ), FAO has been working since 2017, through global and regional consultative processes, on the identification of successful initiatives in support of sustainable aquaculture and their compilation into Guidelines for Sustainable Aquaculture (GSA). This process has taken into consideration policy and scientific developments, technological innovations and the lessons learned in different regions, countries and contexts. Existing national and international guidelines have been reviewed to identify gaps and ensure that information is up to date, while recognizing the specific constraints, needs and expectations of individual states. The aim of the GSA is to help countries improve implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (the Code) and in particular Article 9 (Aquaculture Development), while engaging and enabling the sector to effectively participate in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and build collectively the future of sustainable aquaculture.
Furthermore, to meet the request of COFI Members to provide practical guidance to support sustainable aquaculture development, building on the wealth of information and expert reports generated for the preparation of the GSA, the COFI:AQ Secretariat prepared the document Transforming Aquaculture for Greater Contribution to Achieve the SDGs: Key Interconnected Actions to Guide Decision Makers and Practitioners. This is a practical guide intended for use by policymakers and aquaculture practitioners working throughout the aquaculture value chain in pre-farming, grow-out and post-harvest activities. It is intended as a live document to be adapted by countries to meet their specific needs and priorities. It should be updated regularly to reflect scientific developments, technological innovations and lessons learned. The GSA and the practical guide are expected to be submitted to the Eleventh session of COFI:AQ for FAO Members’ review and further guidance.
Genetic improvement in breeding programmes
Genetic improvement of farmed species represents a powerful means to increase aquaculture’s production efficiency and decrease its environmental footprint (Houston et al., 2020), for example by reducing feed, land and water requirements per unit of production. Aquaculture species, across multiple taxa, tend to share two key features: high levels of intraspecific genetic diversity and high fecundity. These features permit high selection intensities to be applied generating major genetic gains for commercially important traits (FAO, 2019a). However, aquaculture, being a relatively young food industry, lags far behind other food production sectors (livestock and crops) where the regular integration of genetics into breeding programmes and seed supply systems has led to the development and production of thousands of improved breeds and varieties. The wider adoption of genetic tools in aquaculture seed supply systems is hindered by various factors, for example: poor understanding of the properties, risks and benefits of both traditional and new generation (molecular) technologies; limited overall capacity for their application due to lack of infrastructure, investment and/or human resources; deficiency of scientifically informed, well-managed and long-term selective breeding programmes; and lack of broader private sector engagement. Addressing these challenges should be paramount in the development of national and regional seed supply strategies and policies. Accelerating the development and uptake of genetic improvement of aquaculture farmed types with a focus on selective breeding is one of the four priority areas in a global plan of action for aquatic genetic resources for food and agriculture (AqGR) developed by FAO (Box 9).
BOX 9A GLOBAL PLAN OF ACTION FOR AQUATIC GENETIC RESOURCES FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
In 2019, the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) requested FAO to prepare a Global Plan of Action (GPA) for the conservation, sustainable use and development of aquatic genetic resources for food and agriculture (AqGR) in response to the needs and challenges identified in the first ever global assessment of the status of AqGR.1 The GPA is a framework that aims to optimize the contribution of AqGR to food security and alleviation of poverty at the local, national and international scale, through rational and sustainable management of this key resource. The GPA should be voluntary and collaborative, implemented in line with the needs and priorities of FAO Members.
The GPA was prepared in consultation with FAO Members, the CGRFA and the Committee on Fisheries, and their relevant subsidiary bodies. The final GPA was presented to and endorsed by the Eighteenth Regular Session of the CGRFA in September 2021 and subsequently adopted by the FAO Council in December 2021.
Aquatic and terrestrial genetic resources have different priorities. Based on the specific characteristics of AqGR identified by the global assessment, the GPA identifies four priority areas (see figure).
THE FOUR PRIORITY AREAS OF THE GLOBAL PLAN OF ACTION FOR AqGR
Each priority area has a long-term goal and several strategic priorities; each strategic priority comprises a goal and several specific actions to be undertaken. Overall, the GPA identifies 21 strategic priorities and nearly 100 associated actions.
While the main responsibility for implementing the GPA rests with the countries, FAO will play a critical role in providing technical support in its implementation and will coordinate the monitoring of progress towards its goals. Monitoring should be primarily based on quantifiable indicators, many generated through AquaGRIS, FAO’s global information system on AqGR.2 Broad implementation of country-relevant actions in the GPA, underpinned by the latest information available through AquaGRIS, can be truly transformative for the long-term management of farmed species. The development and adoption of these instruments and associated guidelines and tools is timely to promote key interventions for ensuring the conservation of AqGR as well as a more sustainable use and accelerated development of these crucial resources.
- 1 FAO. 2019. The State of the World’s Aquatic Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture assessments. Rome. www.fao.org/3/CA5256EN/CA5256EN.pdf
- 2 FAO. 2021. AquaGRIS – a global information system for aquatic genetic resources. In: FAO. Rome. Cited 30 March 2022. www.fao.org/fishery/aquagris/home
Biosecurity and disease control
The intensification of aquaculture and the globalization of trade in aquatic products have led to the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases representing a significant economic and environmental challenge to society. Given the sector’s reliance on imported (as well as locally produced) seed and the failure of health certification, border inspection and other risk-based controls to protect aquatic populations, a paradigm shift has been necessary to manage aquatic health and biosecurity. The Progressive Management Pathway for Improving Aquaculture Biosecurity (PMP/AB), endorsed and welcomed by the Tenth session of the COFI Sub-Committee on Aquaculture (FAO, 2019b), is risk-based, collaborative and progressive and builds on management capacity using bottom-up and top-down approaches (Box 10). It is evidence-based and supported by transparent and ongoing review, adaptable to respond to the diversity of aquaculture systems, species, production scope and objectives, and to environmental and anthropogenic changes that impact aquaculture production (FAO, 2020c).
BOX 10PROGRESSIVE MANAGEMENT PATHWAY FOR IMPROVING AQUACULTURE BIOSECURITY
The Progressive Management Pathway for Improving Aquaculture Biosecurity (PMP/AB) is a ground-breaking initiative that FAO and partners started in 2018. It was developed as an extension of the progressive control pathway (PCP) approach, which has been internationally adopted to assist countries to develop systematic frameworks for planning and monitoring risk reduction strategies for diminution, elimination and eradication of major livestock and zoonotic diseases. This stepwise approach enables realistic disease control objectives to be defined and achieved.
The PMP/AB aims to enhance aquaculture biosecurity capacity by building on existing frameworks, capacity and appropriate tools using risk-based approaches and public–private partnerships. In the context of the PMP/AB, biosecurity refers to “the cost-effective management of risks posed by pathogenic agents to aquaculture through a strategic approach at enterprise, national and international levels with shared public-private responsibilities.”1 The PMP/AB has four stages (see figure) and each stage has an objective, key outcomes and indicators.
THE FOUR STAGES OF THE PMP
Countries, at whatever stage of industry development (advanced or just starting), will have the opportunity and flexibility to initiate the PMP/AB. For example, one or more of the following scenarios may apply:
- Scenario 1: Country with no national aquaculture biosecurity strategy in place, but an aquaculture sector exists or is in the early stages of development.
- Scenario 2: Country with a national aquaculture biosecurity strategy in place with some level of implementation.
- Scenario 3: Country with an advanced national biosecurity strategy in place with full implementation.
- Scenario 4: Countries sharing waterbodies or transboundary watersheds where a regional or subregional aquaculture biosecurity strategy exists or is in development.
The PMP/AB can guide countries towards achieving sustainable biosecurity in aquaculture and health management systems through risk-based, progressive and collaborative processes at the regional, national, local sector and enterprise levels. It promotes strong stakeholder engagement, helps improve aquatic health and production, and supports prevention or reduction of the spread and impact of listed diseases.
The PMP/AB is intended to be flexible, adaptable and inclusive to account for the diverse and complex nature of the aquaculture sector. The approach can be applied by a country – to manage risks in any aquaculture sector, no matter the species, environment, production system, management strategy or operation size – or by a farm to achieve a certain aquaculture biosecurity grade for a specific species.
The adoption of “critical control point thinking” and a “risk mindset” along the value chain is important to identify the hazards and understand and manage the risk at every stage of production from seed source and grow-out operations to market. A ten-point biosecurity best practice provides a broad biosecurity landscape: know your species, know your system, know your pathogens, know your contamination pathway, source healthy seed, maintain good husbandry, use antimicrobials prudently, respect food safety requirements, respect the environment and have a biosecurity plan.
Stakeholder engagement (including with small-scale producers) supports the principle of collaboration. Fisheries and veterinary authorities (including aquaculture health and veterinary experts) must communicate and jointly manage the health of aquatic species. Risk management4 ownership is thus widely shared with active engagement and long-term commitment. The four stages of the PMP/AB enable each country and/or aquaculture sector to assess risk and priorities for their industry; countries can decide how far and how fast it is appropriate to progress.
One of the key messages of the Global Conference on Aquaculture 2020 is the old adage: “prevention is better than cure.” Focusing on prevention – including of antimicrobial resistance – is a sign of a maturing industry. Use of clean seed with good husbandry practices and biosecurity strategies in a less stressful and healthier aquatic environment are basic actions. Biosecurity measures implemented proactively and preventatively are much less expensive than reactionary responses to outbreaks and they should be integrated in aquaculture development by all producing countries. Effective biosecurity, best husbandry practices, good genetics and quality nutrition are important for producing healthy, nutritious and resilient farmed organisms (FAO, 2020d).
Good governance for aquaculture expansion
Blue Transformation in aquaculture must be underpinned by adequate governance frameworks. The importance of governance is underlined in Article 9.1.1 of the Code, which requires States to “establish, maintain and develop an appropriate legal and administrative framework to facilitate the development of responsible aquaculture.”
Good aquaculture governance is necessary to enhance the sector’s contribution to the achievement of related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by producing more nutritious aquatic food; generating employment and livelihoods, providing increased revenues to public treasury in the form of taxes and foreign exchange earnings; increasing its share of national economies (directly through GDPs and indirectly through its impacts on other economic sectors); and supporting better environmental stewardship through reducing the pressure on wild fishery stocks and promoting responsible use and protection of natural resources such as land, water, coastal habitats and aquatic living resources.
In recent decades, several countries have implemented good aquaculture governance through predictable, transparent, equitable and easily enforceable legal and institutional frameworks covering aquaculture along the entire value chain. Economic incentives that encourage best practices, assisting farmers to elaborate, support and enforce self-regulating management practices, and fostering sustainability-conducive production systems, have promoted good aquaculture governance (Hishamunda, Ridler and Martone, 2014; FAO, 2017c). Furthermore, access to lucrative international and domestic markets has also motivated an increasing number of farmers to comply with market access requirements and standards, including implementation of aquaculture certification schemes (Curtis et al., forthcoming).
Despite improvement in several countries, aquaculture governance remains problematic in others. Lack of or limited accountability by the public and private sectors, inadequate law enforcement (where regulations exist), poor planning (causing conflicts over farming sites and leading to disease outbreaks and ecosystem deterioration), and failure to address the negative environmental and public welfare impacts of some aquaculture systems result in a tarnished image and public mistrust of the industry. This is exacerbated by the lack of aquaculture-specific governance frameworks. Aquaculture governance instruments are often piecemeal constructs adapted from different departments such as fisheries, agriculture, water, forestry, environment, trade or marine affairs. Governance through fragmented policies and regulations and multiple institutions leads to inefficiency, little or no enforceability and thus ineffective governance mechanisms. Moreover, the rapid growth of the sector challenges countries’ institutional and legal frameworks to keep abreast of development or in some jurisdictions, limited attention is paid to aquaculture governance owing to the sector’s modest importance in economies and social lives. Furthermore, the high costs borne by farmers conforming to regulations and requirements, including consumer standards, have become a governance issue leading to non-compliance in some instances, particularly among small-scale producers.
Policymakers must consider how to develop strong legal and institutional frameworks that recognize aquaculture as a distinct economic sector. Compliance is fundamental, and rules and regulations must therefore be implementable and affordable for farmers and other players. Likewise, licensing systems need to be efficient and transparent, and aquaculture must be factored into resource use and development plans. Moreover, the safety and quality of aquaculture products must meet national, regional and global standards. Finally, it is essential to improve aquaculture management, fostering expansion and sustainable growth, while preventing harmful impacts (Curtis et al., forthcoming) and enhancing aquaculture’s contribution to achieving the SDG targets. These considerations are particularly important given that the last decade’s improvement in governance standards – resulting in enhanced productivity and product quality – has been accompanied by a decline in the aquaculture production growth rate.5
The significant contribution of small- and medium-scale producers to sustainable growth of aquaculture production must increase further if the sector is to enhance its relative contribution to achieving the SDGs; small- and medium-scale producers should be encouraged and enabled to intensify and expand production.
Aquaculture intensification and expansion require substantial funding and investment (see the section Aquaculture investments for Blue Transformation). Governance should address the constraints to funding and investment by creating an enabling environment and promoting incentives attractive for investors and lending institutions. Aquaculture expansion also requires additional natural resources, mainly land and water, which may result in or exacerbate environmental and social conflicts arising from competing uses. Zoning and integrated coastal planning are effective tools for collaboration among competing users, helping to avoid or lessen conflicts while allowing the sector to grow. In countries with limited land, freshwater and coastal resources for inland and marine aquaculture expansion, growth depends on the acquisition of technological innovations such as onshore, recirculating and offshore farming systems. Diversification is also vital to lessen risks of crop failure and enhance farm sustainability. Moreover, aquaculture producers should take advantage of developments in digitalization, information and communications technology (ICT) and robotics (see the section Digitalization in aquaculture: governance and technologies).
Aquaculture investments for Blue Transformation
Adequate and sustainable investment is necessary to support and facilitate aquaculture development, intensification and expansion. Only with adequate investment in the aquaculture value chain can the sector’s potential be unlocked (Aquatic Network, 2021), especially in less aquaculture-developed regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and Southern Asia. Where the aquaculture sector is mature (e.g. Eastern and South-Eastern Asia), substantial investment is mostly needed to make aquaculture more eco-friendly and increase its resilience against climate, biological and financial risks.
Private investment is key for improving farm production and productivity, and post-harvest practices, but it requires easily accessible financial services, including bank loans, which remain limited and complex in several developing countries. Recurring problems include lack of collateral, excessively high interest rates, the perception (among bankers) that aquaculture carries a particularly high risk of failure, lack of knowledge (among borrowers) of the modalities of applying for loans and limited information (among lenders) on successful aquaculture enterprises. Governments need to address these and other constraints for investors to optimize profits and banks to minimize the risks of lending. Some countries successfully adopted “no-collateral” strategies (e.g. group lending and village banks), public–private partnerships, alternative collaterals (e.g. titled land, often indicating the need for legal reforms) and government loan guarantees. Indeed, government loan guarantees as well as incentivized interest rates, reduce the problem of high interest rates and lower the risk of lending for financial institutions.
Strategic, shock-resilient, climate-smart, sustainable and financially viable investments in aquaculture expansion for Blue Transformation will require effective and supportive governance mechanisms at all levels. A key component of these mechanisms is an efficient policy and regulatory framework to create an enabling environment for investments in an environmentally and socially sustainable aquaculture that ensures economic profitability and fair distribution of benefits (see the section Good governance for aquaculture expansion). Seaweed farming exemplifies the importance of such a framework. The industry has been receiving increasing attention as restorative aquaculture (The Nature Conservancy, 2021) that provides substantial ecosystem services and socio-economic benefits (Cai et al). Yet, investments in such nature-positive aquaculture have been hindered by often cumbersome bureaucratic licensing processes of aquaculture operations and poor recognition of the real ecosystem service value provided by seaweed farming activities.
For Blue Transformation of aquatic food systems, finance and insurance services are needed at local, national, regional and global scales. Innovative market-based mechanisms, such as carbon credits, nitrogen credits, blue bonds and green finance, are crucial to help reward blue investment for environmental benefits and ecosystem services provided by seaweed farming and other restorative aquaculture (Jones, 2021). With the aim of providing governmental, non-governmental, private and public stakeholders with information, resources and concrete pathways for obtaining financial services, FAO developed a set of Blue Finance Guidance Notes (FAO, 2020d), covering subjects such as insurance for small-scale fisheries and aquaculture, blue bonds, blended finance, impact investment and microfinance for small-scale fisheries.
While private investment is a key driver for global aquaculture development (Brummett, Cai and Marttin, 2017), public investment can help resource-poor farmers jump-start their aquaculture ambition (IFAD, 2018) and is crucial to address market failures such as inadequate private investment in public goods (e.g. infrastructure, improvement of genetic resources, biosecurity, technological innovation and market development). However, the lack of market mechanisms to guide public investments hinders their efficiency and effectiveness. Despite major investments worldwide in aquaculture infrastructure and services to support the growth objectives of the sector, the demands and needs of the stakeholders involved are often not met. Some infrastructures, particularly in markets and hatcheries, have ceased to function over time, remained idle or never operated at all, unable to meet the specific needs of sustainable aquaculture development.
Wealth creation from sustainable aquaculture ventures needs a full spectrum of resources and management. In addition to crucial biological and environmental aspects, sector development requires an economic and social enabling environment with access to basic infrastructures and services. Indeed, aquaculture in remote areas – without access to markets, roads and public transportation, lacking communication network, electricity, potable water, sanitation and healthcare – cannot succeed. At the same time, it is important to avoid conflict over resources, as communities/jurisdictions with more access to infrastructures may also become prone to various interest groups, especially those with better access to capital, potentially resulting in issues regarding distribution of costs and benefits. Planning and upscaling of investment for wealth creation should therefore include consultation of all stakeholders and a clear vision of who is investing and where, with full respect for the interests of the local communities (Menezes, Eide and Raakjær, 2011) (Box 11).
BOX 11OFFSHORE AQUACULTURE
With increasing competition for coastal sea space, there is growing interest in the potential for expansion of offshore aquaculture1 in deeper waters, further from the shore, with generally stronger currents.2 Expansion offshore of commercial aquaculture has already begun for high-value marine fish and salmonids in established aquaculture nations such as Norway, Türkiye and China, as well as in less advanced aquaculture nations such as Panama and the United States of America. Offshore farming systems offer potential to achieve better economies of scale. Properly sited operations have much lower impacts on water quality, the substrate and associated benthic organisms living on or within bottom sediments and entail lower operational risks associated with farming activities. This requires, however, careful assessment.
Participation in offshore aquaculture remains limited due to the high capital investment needed for equipment and sufficient feed to meet the requirements of the large quantities grown offshore. Properly structured financing is thus necessary to support growth of the industry. Furthermore, the increasing role of technology in offshore cages reduces the labour requirements per tonne of production compared with coastal or nearshore aquaculture. This in turn decreases the employment opportunities for unskilled or semi-skilled workers. However, offshore culture of non-fed aquaculture species in nutrient-rich waters, such as seaweeds and bivalves, could be more inclusive of medium- and small-scale operators, because no outlay is required for feed and farming structures are less expensive.
Industry and regulatory agencies should ensure that environmental and social impacts from offshore fish farming are properly monitored3 and managed. Further analysis is needed, not only to appreciate the effects of increasing scale of operations in deeper water sites, but to improve predictive modelling of impacts. It is also imperative to fully understand the benefits of cultivating non-fed species, through nutrient or particulate uptake, absorption of carbon, or increased biodiversity through the provision of adequate offshore farming structures.
Expansion of offshore aquaculture could make a significant contribution to achieving global food production goals, increasing the availability of aquatic products to consumers and lowering production costs and, therefore, possibly market prices. This can then provide broad societal benefits through improved nutrition, decreased pressure on wild fishery stocks and reduced reliance on terrestrial livestock to support growing animal protein needs.
- 1 Aquaculture is considered “offshore” when, inter alia, it is over 2 km from the coast, in water over 50 m deep, and with waves at least 5 m high, variable winds and strong currents, and where there is a requirement for remote operations.
For a full definition: Lovatelli, A., Aguilar-Manjarrez, J. & Soto, D., eds. 2013. Expanding mariculture farther offshore: Technical, environmental, spatial and governance challenges. FAO Technical Workshop, 22–25 March 2010, Orbetello, Italy. Rome, FAO. www.fao.org/3/i3530e/i3530e00.htm
- 2 Gentry, R.R., Froehlich, H.E., Grimm, D., Kareiva, P., Parke, M., Rust, M., Gaines, S.D. & Halpern, B.S. 2017. Mapping the global potential for marine aquaculture. Nature Ecology and Evolution, 1: 1317–1324. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-017-0257-9 Kim, J.K., Stekoll, M. & Yarish, C. 2019. Opportunities, challenges and future directions of open-water seaweed aquaculture in the United States. Phycologia, 58(5): 446–461. https://doi.org/10.1080/00318884.2019.1625611
- 3 Welch, A.W., Knapp, A.N., El Tourky, S., Daughtery, Z., Hitchcock, G. & Benett, D. 2019. The nutrient footprint of a submerged-cage offshore aquaculture facility located in the tropical Caribbean. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society, 50: 299–316. https://doi.org/10.1111/jwas.12593
Building resilience of aquaculture and fisheries infrastructure against climate and other natural and human-made shocks has gained importance for Blue Transformation and, whether new facilities or upgraded existing ones, infrastructure needs to withstand storms, tidal waves, surges and floods. Aquaculture and fisheries infrastructure investments (seed production facilities, farm ponds, access routes, markets, etc.) must be strong and sustainable in the long term; therefore, to support the decision-making process, the World Bank and FAO developed the Fisheries Infrastructure Assessment Tool (FIAT). Applicable to investments (public or private) for enhancing and/or rehabilitating existing infrastructure as well as to new investments to support aquatic food value chains, FIAT is currently being tested in several countries.
Aquaculture innovative practices
Innovative aquafeeds and feeding
The expansion of aquaculture over recent decades, and any further growth as part of global Blue Transformation actions, need to be underpinned by innovations in nutrition of aquatic animals and the development of extruded feeds. Fed aquaculture has continued to contribute a large and increasing share of the sector’s output, highlighting feed’s crucial role in the industry (see the section Aquaculture production). Feed cost consistently ranks top among the farming inputs of many fed fish species and crustaceans. Furthermore, life cycle assessment (LCA) studies have indicated that aquafeeds are often the dominating contributor to undesirable environmental impacts associated with commercial aquaculture activities. High-value aquaculture species (e.g. salmon, seabass and shrimp) require high-protein diets, which traditionally have relied on fishmeal and fish oil extracted from wild pelagic fish resources, which are also important for food security.
By 2050, aquaculture is projected to expand and intensify further, almost doubling its current production. To sustain such production levels, large volumes of feed will be needed in terms of affordable protein, essential amino acid, additives, omega-3 fatty acids, key minerals, vitamins and energy sources. This will require the sourcing of additional raw materials that are currently either not available or otherwise used.
Considerable research has focused on the replacement of fishmeal and fish oil with cheaper and potentially less environmentally burdensome ingredients, such as plant by-products, algae (micro- and macro-),6 insects, fish and land animal by-products, and single-cell proteins (including from bacteria and yeast). Furthermore, progress has been made in the usage of fisheries and aquaculture by-products to produce fishmeal as well as in the use of agricultural protein sources to replace fishmeal and fish oil extracted from wild pelagic resources. While these novel alternative ingredients introduce their own challenges to feed supply chains, the future sustainability of the fed aquaculture sector nevertheless remains intimately dependent on the sourcing of new and nutritionally balanced feed components that lessen these impacts.
To be considered economically and environmentally viable, alternative protein sources need to meet several criteria: (i) nutritionally adequate (i.e. digestible, and not significantly impairing the physiological functions, growth and health status of the farmed species); (ii) palatable to the farmed organism; (iii) obtained from sustainable production scalable to commercial levels; (iv) physically stable; (v) easily handled and stored; and, more crucially, (vi) nutritious and with lower environmental and life cycle impacts.
Expansion of the fed aquaculture sector requires the development of additional, cost-effective ingredients to meet the rising demand for feed and rely less on traditionally sourced marine ingredients. As demand grows, competition for feed ingredients intensifies, as does awareness of the sustainability of feed production. Indeed, producers of feed ingredients are increasingly required to demonstrate sustainability and traceability, including through certification schemes such as those of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Marin Trust.
Given the limited availability of freshwater, declining amounts of arable land and lack of essential nutrients such as phosphates, and considering the intense competition for most currently used plant protein resources (for both human consumption and terrestrial animal feed), land crop products are not the only answer. On the contrary, it is vital to develop alternative, non-traditional protein and oil sources, such as seaweed, algae and microalgae, single-cell proteins, microbial biomass and insects, and to recycle food waste, to meet future aquaculture feed demand (Glencross et al., 2021) and aid the sustainable growth of aquaculture (Cottrell et al., 2020).
In terms of good feeding practices, precision feeding and adoption of formulated feeds based on the life stages of the farmed aquatic animals and their nutritional attributes will further help lower feed costs and reduce wastage, thus ensuring energy and resource efficiency in transformed aquaculture systems. Furthermore, in order to meet future global food demand for aquatic food, the sector should also work towards improving feed for species such as carps and tilapia, which account for the largest proportion of aquafeeds.
Digitalization in aquaculture: governance and technologies
With the expansion of digital technologies – platforms, software and infrastructure – digital applications are increasingly deployed in aquaculture (albeit at a slower pace in many developing countries), particularly to improve business planning and siting, farm stock management, environmental monitoring, risk prevention, biosecurity and intelligent automation of routine farm activities.
Digital technologies can be used to tackle many of the production challenges faced by the sector and to set up early warning systems to alert producers about critical intrinsic and extrinsic events affecting a production facility. On-farm precision technologies lead to lower feed usage and waste, better water quality and reduced labour costs, thereby enhancing the environmental and economic sustainability of farms. Off-farm access to aquaculture technologies using ICT (e.g. mobile phones and other electronic devices), e-commerce platforms and digital payment systems shorten supply chains and reduce transaction costs throughout the value chain.
Aquaculture spatial planning and siting has improved thanks to digital technology. For example, the availability of satellite images and accessibility to oceanographic, hydrological and meteorological data (e.g. water temperature, precipitation patterns, salinity levels, storm frequencies) through remote sensing over long periods of time, combined with the use of digital imaging drones, have not only improved planning quality and speed, but have enabled a more comprehensive application of the ecosystem approach to aquaculture (EAA).7 Geographic information system (GIS) applications have facilitated the identification and allocation of opportunity aquaculture areas, particularly in shared waterbodies.
The deployment of digital technology (e.g. sensors, robots and cameras) in aquaculture production operations provides real-time and distant monitoring of farmed organism and culture facilities, significantly improving labour efficiency, feeding precision, aeration, water quality and pathogen monitoring. These technological advances enable an increasingly rapid response to adverse farming conditions, reducing production costs thanks to efficient use of input resources and to reduced losses due to mismanagement or human error.
However, technical and financial support is essential to kick-start or advance the above technologies, while conducive governance frameworks are crucial. For example, an electronic platform for interactive discussion, planning, information generation and transfer data sharing and certification can facilitate product and information flows throughout the supply chain and prevent conflicts between users arising from information asymmetry; however, governance to develop and manage such a platform is of paramount importance. Moreover, harmonization of national and international rules and standards is necessary to increase transparency, improve cybersecurity and reduce the digital divide.
Integrated multitrophic aquaculture
In integrated multitrophic aquaculture (IMTA) systems, nutrients from uneaten feed and excreted waste of fed species become food for extractive species, hence reducing nutrient release into the environment while enhancing overall productivity. There is growing interest in IMTA as part of Blue Transformation programmes, which however requires significant architecture of facilities and equipment to combine multiple species into an integrated system (e.g. seaweed farming and bivalve mollusc culture combined with finfish cage farming) and entails additional management to produce and market the multiple crops. IMTA as a system for bioremediation at sea offers a potential solution to address the concerns of marine fed aquaculture releasing organic and inorganic wastes into the environment.
Integrated agriculture-aquaculture (IAA) production systems, where two or more aquaculture and agricultural activities take place concurrently or sequentially, have existed for centuries in East Asia and since the 1960s in Latin America and Africa, albeit on a smaller scale. IAA includes livestock–fish (e.g. pig rearing and fish), bird–fish (duck rearing and fish) and rice–fish/shrimp production systems. These systems are usually extensive or semi-intensive; agricultural waste is introduced into a fish stocking system – either by adding manure or by housing livestock in enclosures directly above the pond – to boost water fertilization and improve secondary growth of phytoplankton and zooplankton as food for the fish. In integrated irrigation-aquaculture (IIA) systems, on the other hand, the plant tends to be the primary crop and fish the secondary crop providing nutrient-rich effluent benefiting plant growth. Likewise, in aquaponics – a more recent form of IAA – the plant element is the main commercial crop. These systems bring important environmental advantage: optimal use of water resources as well as of dissolved nutrients that would otherwise be lost in the effluents of an aquaculture system.
All integrated production systems remain an area of great interest globally, particularly in small- and medium-scale production systems when technically feasible, and provide an economic benefit to the entrepreneur. The need to make effective use of the resources available without negatively affecting the environment is the driving force behind the adoption of such farming systems.
Bivalve aquaculture can have an important role in aquatic “nutrition-sensitive” food systems – i.e. systems embedded in society, which provide a diverse and nutritionally complete set of foods and contribute to sustainable livelihoods – as bivalve molluscs provide a balance of bio-accessible nutrients for a healthy and active lifestyle, while farming enhances the livelihoods of coastal communities. Furthermore, there is growing recognition of the wider ecosystem benefits of bivalve aquaculture in coastal waters, including its regulating services such as carbon sequestration, nutrient remediation and coastal protection.
The developmental potential of bivalve aquaculture subsectors remains significant, particularly in the marine environment. Bivalve mollusc aquaculture is certainly important in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Oceania. In Africa, on the other hand, bivalve production remains negligible, although interest is steadily increasing where FAO projects have focused on transferring farming technologies (e.g. clam farming in Djibouti, mussel farming in Morocco) and on product diversification and the expansion of local consumption (e.g. oyster farming in Senegal).8 Harvesting wild bivalves has been practised for centuries by marine coastal communities in Africa, particularly by women. Unfortunately, the wild stocks have been overexploited in many locations and aquaculture is considered key to reduce the pressure on wild stocks and secure the livelihoods of women and coastal communities.
As extractive culture species, bivalves are ideal for aquaculture: they do not require artificial feeds and the investment burden and running costs are significantly lower than for operations farming carnivorous finfish species. Nevertheless, the development of molluscan aquaculture at the global level is slow, in part due to the strict sanitary requirements to access international markets, requiring monitoring of harvesting waters and attainment of product safety standards. Moreover, while bivalve farming technology is often accessible and affordable, access to spat is complex and biosecurity requirements are often very stringent particularly if export markets are targeted.
In the past two decades, global finfish production has nearly tripled, while farming of bivalve molluscs has barely doubled; there is, therefore, good potential for expansion through Blue Transformation initiatives. Cupped oysters and Japanese carpet shell dominate bivalve production, followed by scallops and mussels (see the section Aquaculture production). The reliance on wild spat for farming bivalve molluscs is still high for many regions and species globally. In recent decades, hatchery design and technology have seen major advances in terms of conditioning, spawning, larval care and setting, accompanied by higher survival rate of the animals. Phytoplankton production in hatcheries has similarly advanced with computer-aided monitoring and metering of feed to larval shellfish, again enhancing survival and growth. Development of improved setting procedures and equipment have allowed growers to produce seed aimed at their specific needs, while better handling of materials has enabled advances in large-scale setting and planting, especially of oysters. Furthermore, shellfish aquaculture has benefited from selective breeding and the development of disease-resistant and fast-growing strains and varieties with unique shell colours. Further research and technology development on bivalve culture presents a new frontier to support sustainable aquaculture expansion worldwide, with particular attention to the prevention of harmful algal blooms and their impacts on fisheries, aquaculture and food safety.
Capacity development, research and partnerships in aquaculture
The recently prepared draft Guidelines for Sustainable Aquaculture (GSA) also assessed the need for capacity building as a key component for ensuring an enabling environment and supporting implementation of the GSA (Jolly and Menezes, forthcoming). The draft guidelines support the overall aquaculture principles and provisions of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the implementation of the SDGs through Blue Transformations in the subsector. A desk review conducted in 2021 on the enabling environment for aquaculture development, particularly on aspects relevant to capacity development, extension and research, indicates that: (i) human and institutional capacities, critical technical skills (at the farmer and the extension/trainer level) and financial resources need to be significantly improved; (ii) extension education is required to transfer technical information to farming communities and to cover the needs of operators; (iii) low levels of digitalization persist with less than 50 percent of educators having competencies in ICT literacy; (iv) many institutions are unable to support extension services through ICT; (v) smallholder farms still have limited Internet accessibility; and (vi) aquaculture has expanded without sufficient knowledge based on scientific information derived from research. Given these challenges, knowledge and skills of public administrations, research institutions, extension services and labour need to improve significantly in the coming decade.
Training capacity and services, including extension, vary from country to country and include formal and informal education channels. In important aquaculture countries of Asia, Europe and the Americas, aquaculture education is well established at undergraduate and graduate levels. In Africa, some educational institutions offer dedicated aquaculture courses. However, across the globe, recruiters emphasize that both subject-specific knowledge and a range of generic skills are needed for graduates to perform efficiently (Pita et al., 2015) and spearhead Blue Transformation. Challenges include insufficient graduates and/or specializations that fail to meet employers’ requirements (Blue Earth Consultants, 2020; Engle, 2021).
Vocational training remains an important mechanism in human capacity development. Asia has made significant investments in this area to train individuals in specialized skills. The European Commission's Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth focuses on two key elements: student mobility and an agenda for new skills and jobs to attract and retain youth in various sectors, including aquaculture. In sub-Saharan Africa, FAO has collaborated with various institutions, including the Centre of Excellence in Aquaculture and Fisheries Science in Malawi and universities in Kenya, Nigeria and the United Republic of Tanzania, WorldFish, Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) and local governments, to provide vocational capacity-building, extension services and research.
Capacity development needs to be planned and implemented in close association with the development of national multidisciplinary research programmes to improve competitiveness, production efficiency, economic viability and long-term social and environmental sustainability of the sector, and to make advances in genetics, nutrition, health and technology development. It is also important to support the creation of functional applied research (Little, Newton and Beveridge, 2016) consortiums and development systems at the national and regional levels. State-owned and private aquaculture research facilities are encouraged to focus on the adoption and dissemination of international protocols and best farming practices and proper utilization of water and local species resources. Research should focus on applied spatial planning, breeding and genetics, feed production and digital technology applications for higher efficiency in farming operation and management. To help identify problems and design research solutions, scientists should use field and traditional knowledge from farmers and communities, who in exchange would benefit from the results and improved technology through the extension process.
National aquaculture extension programmes should continue promoting proven aquaculture models and production technologies. Aquaculture extension information is dynamic and should evolve and generate changes in farmer behaviour to enhance sustainable production. In most cases, the government is the primary supplier of extension services. Other extension service providers include international governmental organizations (IGOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector (mainly equipment, seed and feed suppliers), farmer-to-farmer extension programmes and self-education (e.g. study tours and farmer field schools) (De, Saha and Radheyshyam, 2013) (Box 12).
BOX 12AQUACULTURE FIELD SCHOOLS IN AFRICA: THE IMPACT ON YOUTH AND WOMEN
The Aquaculture Field School (AFS) approach is an adaptation of the innovative, participatory and interactive learning approach, the so-called Farmer Field School (FFS), developed by FAO in Southeast Asia starting in the late 1980s. It proved to be remarkably successful and quickly expanded to other countries in Asia, Africa, the Near East and Latin America. The demand for FFS programmes is thus increasing, and in several countries, the approach has been institutionalized in national extension systems.
Based on the principle of FFS, the fish farming sector has expanded the methodology to increase the involvement of youth and women in aquaculture. The AFS aims to give a voice to rural women, youth and vulnerable persons and contribute to their social and economic empowerment by improving their skills in fish farming, entrepreneurship and aquaculture business management and increasing their access to aquaculture services and resources such as farm inputs and credit facilities.
FAO provides technical assistance to governments interested in the AFS approach by training master trainers, trainers and facilitators. Each facilitator then trains a group of 25–30 persons to tutor women and youth in leadership capabilities for decision-making in aquaculture. The beneficiary communities select the members of the group who will participate in the AFS.
In various countries in East Africa, an important spillover effect has emerged: many non-AFS members, witnessing the successes of aquaculture, have developed an interest in AFS activities and requested assistance to form new groups. The participatory approach to learning new or improved fish farming activities has paid off in many cases with participants generating financial resources from the sale of their produce; they have thus been able to invest the extra income in house repairs and construction, pay school fees for their children, etc. At the end of the production cycle there is a graduation ceremony during which diplomas are awarded to the participants. The AFS (or FFFS – Fish Farmer Field School) has a key role to play in the further development of the aquaculture sector in rural areas. The success of the approach should lead to upscaling and further promotion of FAO’s work in the sector.
FAO in close collaboration with government institutions continues to implement various AFS-inspired Technical Cooperation Programme projects with encouraging results. For example, in Kenya, 36 groups across the country were targeted and 80 groups eventually formed (with approximately 2 000 direct beneficiaries). A subregional project in Burundi, Rwanda and Ethiopia focuses on producing fish in rice paddy fields; in addition to increased production of rice and fish for better nutrition, there are also social, environmental and financial benefits.
Although still far from sufficient, the use of ICT is increasingly reducing the gap in access to information and improved management skills of smallholder farmers (Trendov, Varas and Zeng, 2019; Qiang et al., 2012). Some digital initiatives across Africa and Asia support the delivery of extension services (Costopoulou, Ntaliani and Karetsos, 2016; Tsan et al., 2019). With the development of digital technology, FAO is establishing a regional technology platform for aquaculture. The online academy (FAO, 2020e) aims at improving accessibility to and inclusion in aquaculture practices, as well as facilitating policy dialogue across the board. Many governments have also established digital platforms (EATIP, 2021) on aquatic biosecurity surveillance, launched mobile apps on farm-level management and product traceability, as well as a cooperative platform for farmers, such as the shrimp farmers’ dashboard (g-nous, 2020).
Partnerships are essential in Blue Transformation capacity-building efforts. In recent decades, IGOs, international financial agencies, civil societies and the various regional aquaculture networks of Asia-Pacific, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, the Americas, and in small island developing States, have made strides to incorporate and adapt aquaculture capacity-building programmes (FAO Committee on Fisheries, 2015; Ahonen and Pirhonen, 2018). More partnerships are needed to encourage technology transfer and exchange among countries (Box 13).
BOX 13INTELLIGENT PARTNERSHIPS: POWERFUL PLANNING AND DELIVERY MECHANISMS IN TIMES OF CRISIS – EXAMPLE OF A PROJECT IN MOZAMBIQUE
Partnerships can be valuable tools for delivering projects and introducing good practices during crises. In June 2020, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, as rural communities in Mozambique faced various challenges, FAO responded to a request from a ground-based national organization, Fundação para o Desenvolvimento da Comunidade (FDC), to improve the traditional subsistence integrated aquaculture–agriculture practices for building resilient livelihoods against climate and health-related shocks. The FAO–FDC partnership promoted improved practices to enhance food production and nutritional security, while empowering women and youth.
Project activities included:
- re-introduction of traditional agricultural farming systems at a small- and medium-scale enterprise level, with fish farming as the core activity;
- application and adoption of integrated fish farming with emphasis on efficient utilization of available resources, recycling waste and saving energy, while maintaining ecological balance; and
- implementation of capacity-building programmes for youth and women.
After just one year, the Integrated Aquaculture Initiative on the Chilembene Historic Site project had provided employment and on-the-job training to many people; conducted research and development activities, including fish value chain assessments in various districts; renovated farm facilities; produced 16 tonnes of fish and sizeable quantities of chickens and rabbits; planted 8.5 ha of maize, beans and sweet potatoes; and was progressing to pig and duck farming.
The project highlights three important lessons:
- Strong partnerships require all partners to commit to pursuing common goals and sharing risks, but the major building block is mutual trust.
- Stakeholder partnerships, such as FAO–FDC, have the power to entice expertise and resources from both sides to build on challenges and turn them into opportunities for national and local economies.
- With commitment and accountability on all sides, difficulties can be surmounted, success can be achieved and development can be accomplished – in any sector. Aquaculture is just one example!