International aquaculture meeting plans for the future

An international conference to discuss the future of aquaculture, the world's fastest growing source for food, was held in Bangkok, Thailand from 20 to 25 February. The Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium brought together more than 550 participants from 72 countries and more than 80 organizations. The Conference was organized by the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) and FAO, and hosted by the Department of Fisheries of Thailand.

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With an overall growth rate of 11 percent a year since 1984, aquaculture has been the world's fastest growing food production sector for nearly 20 years. FAO statistics put 1997 global aquaculture production at 36 million tonnes with a value of US$50 billion. Figures from 1998 are expected to show that total production reached more than 38 million tonnes. Nearly one-third of all the fish we eat is currently produced by aquaculture.

One of the aims of the Conference was to boost cooperation on aquaculture at both the regional and inter-regional levels. Asia, which accounts for 90 percent of global aquacultural production, is clearly the world's leader. However, aquaculture is on the rise in Africa, Latin America, northern Europe and Oceania, where current growth rates in production are also significant.

The Bangkok Declaration for Aquaculture, developed at the Conference, stressed the importance of cooperation among developing countries in fields such as networking of expert groups, technology transfer and policy development. Participants at the Conference also highlighted the need for those who rely on aquaculture for a living to play a bigger role in policy development and implementation.

Aquaculture boosts food security in developing countries

As an inexpensive source of a highly nutritious animal protein, aquaculture has become an important factor for improving food security, raising nutrition standards and alleviating poverty, particularly in the world's poorest countries. Since 1984, aquaculture production in developing countries has been growing more than five times as fast as in developed countries, and FAO estimates for Africa see a potential for a very significant increase in small-scale aquaculture production by 2010. FAO's Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) has made aquaculture development a priority under its diversification component. (SPFS case study: Zambian farmers to breed fish in their gardens)

Planning for sustainable aquaculture development

In some cases, rapid and unregulated growth in aquaculture production has led to environmental damage, triggered conflicts over scant resources and had a consequent negative impact on public opinion. In response to all these facts, the Conference placed special emphasis on developing strategies for policy and planning that address the social, environmental and regulatory issues surrounding sustainable aquaculture development. Ways to raise public awareness about aquaculture so that its benefits and risks may be more fairly weighed and managed were also considered.

Positive public perception of aquaculture is important if the sector's potential is to be realized, particularly in a region like sub-Saharan Africa, where there is little tradition of aquaculture. FAO's Uwe Barg said that negative perceptions about aquaculture are often associated with environmental impacts caused by salmon and shrimp culture -- small but high-value segments of the global aquaculture market. Barg pointed out that it is inappropriate to generalize from these sectors because most aquaculture involves farming seaweed, and raising shellfish and herbivorous fish species like carp. Carp aquaculture has been practised in Asia for more than two millennia and has caused no significant environmental damage.

A major international trade exhibition, "Aquaculture and Seafood Fair 2000", was held at the same time as the Conference, as a showcase for aquaculture products and related technologies. This was a valuable opportunity for producers, manufacturers and service providers to exchange ideas and information with other farmers, and with scientists, researchers, technologists and policy makers participating in the Conference.

6 March 2000

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