Aquaculture is the fastest growing food production system in the world and now supplies the majority of seafood consumed globally. Farmed seafood plays an important role in the global food system providing essential nutrition to billions of people. Aquaculture is also an increasingly important economic driver in many communities and countries. In 2016, global aquaculture production of food fish was 80 million tons, valued at USD 231.8 billion, and 19.3 million people were employed in the aquaculture sector.
The contribution of aquaculture is expected to grow steadily to meet the increasing demand for seafood, which will be driven by an increasing global population and growing middle class. By 2030, as wild capture fisheries plateaus, aquaculture is expected to supply 62 percent of global food fish production as wild capture fisheries plateau.
Due partly to its rapid growth, both historic and projected, the global aquaculture industries globally face many challenges. Poorly managed farms and aquaculture development can have a range of negative impacts, including habitat conversion and ecosystem disturbance, water pollution and disease outbreaks, community disruption and poor working conditions. There are also environmental and social concerns around some fisheries that supply fish meal and fish oil for aquaculture feed.
The market has responded by supporting certification approaches that promote many of the best practices that individual farms need to implement. Three major international standards (GlobalG.A.P. Aquaculture Standard, Global Aquaculture Alliance Best Aquaculture Practices, and Aquaculture Stewardship Council standards) dominate the global market, and soon all three are expected to be Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI) recognized.
While promoting best practices at the farm and plant level, these standards do not address structural issues in aquaculture planning and management or the cumulative risks and impacts of aquaculture seen in many major producing countries. They also do not actively engage the poorest performers or smaller-scale producers.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Bank have outlined a more robust and comprehensive approach to aquaculture management: The Ecosystem Approach to Aquaculture (EAA). Three principles are recommended to guide the planning process:
- Aquaculture should be developed in the context of ecosystem functions and services (including biodiversity) with no degradation of these beyond their resilience.
- Aquaculture should improve human-well being, with equity (e.g. access rights, and fair share of incomes) for all relevant stakeholders.
- Aquaculture should be developed in the context of other sectors, policies, and goals, as appropriate.
SFP similarly advocates a comprehensive approach to aquaculture management, encouraging best practices at the farm level, production-zone level, and national-policy level. SFP’s Framework for Sustainably Managed Aquaculture is rooted in the Ecosystem Approach to Aquaculture and guided by five principles:
- National and regional regulatory frameworks based on zonal management
- Organized producers using and enforcing a code of good practice
- Resource management systems adequate to protect habitat and water quality
- Robust monitoring and reporting to demonstrate effective mitigation of shared disease risk
- Ensuring transparency and responsible sourcing of marine ingredients used in feed.
These principles form the core of the FishSource Aquaculture scoring methodology, which assesses management and governance at the provincial/state level (along with national policy) and is designed to identify risks and opportunities for the supply chain through regional profiles of aquaculture production. We encourage all buyers of aquaculture products to begin asking a simple question: Which province or state does my farmed product come from?
Suppliers and buyers can play a critical role in mobilizing improvements, and should seek to work together across sectors and supply chains to drive change at the required scale. It is far more efficient and effective for seafood buyers and suppliers to work jointly on improvement efforts than to deploy their own programs, particularly given the complex nature of many aquaculture supply chains. Supply chain roundtables offer a recognized platform for this type of collaboration, including policy engagement at the national and regional scales, and development of Aquaculture Improvement Projects (AIPs). Leading certification standards have a vital role to play in expanding industry’s approach to and focus on sustainable aquaculture, and in developing standards around sustainable aquaculture. A new resource, www.aipdirectory.org, was launched in 2020 as an independent, online platform to showcase active aquaculture improvement projects (AIPs). It was developed by Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) as an open platform for information sharing for anyone active or interested in AIPs.