Aquaculture (less commonly spelled aquiculture[2]), also known as aquafarming, is the farming of fish, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic plants, algae, and other organisms. Aquaculture involves cultivating freshwater and saltwater populations under controlled conditions, and can be contrasted with commercial fishing, which is the harvesting of wild fish.[3] Mariculture refers to aquaculture practiced in marine environments and in underwater habitats.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), aquaculture "is understood to mean the farming of aquatic organisms including fish, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic plants. Farming implies some form of intervention in the rearing process to enhance production, such as regular stocking, feeding, protection from predators, etc. Farming also implies individual or corporate ownership of the stock being cultivated."[4] The reported output from global aquaculture operations in 2014 supplied over one half of the fish and shellfish that is directly consumed by humans;[5][6] however, there are issues about the reliability of the reported figures.[7] Further, in current aquaculture practice, products from several pounds of wild fish are used to produce one pound of a piscivorous fish like salmon.[8]

Particular kinds of aquaculture include fish farming, shrimp farming, oyster farming, mariculture, algaculture (such as seaweed farming), and the cultivation of ornamental fish. Particular methods include aquaponics and integrated multi-trophic aquaculture, both of which integrate fish farming and aquatic plant farming.

Aquaculture installations in southern Chile
Global total fish harvest
Global harvest of aquatic organisms in million tonnes, 1950–2010, as reported by the FAO[1]


Delta Pride Catfish farm harvest
Workers harvest catfish from the Delta Pride Catfish farms in Mississippi

The indigenous Gunditjmara people in Victoria, Australia, may have raised eels as early as 6000 BC. Evidence indicates they developed about 100 km2 (39 sq mi) of volcanic floodplains in the vicinity of Lake Condah into a complex of channels and dams, and used woven traps to capture eels, and preserve them to eat all year round.[9][10]

Aquaculture was operating in China circa 2000 BC.[11] When the waters subsided after river floods, some fish, mainly carp, were trapped in lakes. Early aquaculturists fed their brood using nymphs and silkworm feces, and ate them. A fortunate genetic mutation of carp led to the emergence of goldfish during the Tang dynasty. However, ancient Egyptians might have farmed fish (especially Gilt-head bream) from Lake Bardawil about 3,500 years ago, and they even traded them with Canaan.[12]

Gim cultivation is the oldest aquaculture in Korea.[13] Early cultivation methods used bamboo or oak sticks,[13] which were replaced by newer methods that utilized nets in the 19th century.[13][14] Floating rafts have been used for mass production since the 1920s.[13]

Japanese cultivated seaweed by providing bamboo poles and, later, nets and oyster shells to serve as anchoring surfaces for spores.

Romans bred fish in ponds and farmed oysters in coastal lagoons before 100 CE.[15]

In central Europe, early Christian monasteries adopted Roman aquacultural practices.[16] Aquaculture spread in Europe during the Middle Ages since away from the seacoasts and the big rivers, fish had to be salted so they did not rot.[17] Improvements in transportation during the 19th century made fresh fish easily available and inexpensive, even in inland areas, making aquaculture less popular. The 15th-century fishponds of the Trebon Basin in the Czech Republic are maintained as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[18]

Hawaiians constructed oceanic fish ponds. A remarkable example is the "Menehune" fishpond dating from at least 1,000 years ago, at Alekoko. Legend says that it was constructed by the mythical Menehune dwarf people.[19]

In the first half of the 18th century, German Stephan Ludwig Jacobi experimented with external fertilization of brown trouts and salmon. He wrote an article "Von der künstlichen Erzeugung der Forellen und Lachse". By the latter decades of the 18th century, oyster farming had begun in estuaries along the Atlantic Coast of North America.[20]

The word aquaculture appeared in an 1855 newspaper article in reference to the harvesting of ice.[21] It also appeared in descriptions of the terrestrial agricultural practise of subirrigation in the late 19th century[22] before becoming associated primarily with the cultivation of aquatic plant and animal species.

In 1859, Stephen Ainsworth of West Bloomfield, New York, began experiments with brook trout. By 1864, Seth Green had established a commercial fish-hatching operation at Caledonia Springs, near Rochester, New York. By 1866, with the involvement of Dr. W. W. Fletcher of Concord, Massachusetts, artificial fish hatcheries were under way in both Canada and the United States.[23] When the Dildo Island fish hatchery opened in Newfoundland in 1889, it was the largest and most advanced in the world. The word aquaculture was used in descriptions of the hatcheries experiments with cod and lobster in 1890.[24]

By the 1920s, the American Fish Culture Company of Carolina, Rhode Island, founded in the 1870s was one of the leading producers of trout. During the 1940s, they had perfected the method of manipulating the day and night cycle of fish so that they could be artificially spawned year around.[25]

Californians harvested wild kelp and attempted to manage supply around 1900, later labeling it a wartime resource.[26]

21st-century practice

Harvest stagnation in wild fisheries and overexploitation of popular marine species, combined with a growing demand for high-quality protein, encouraged aquaculturists to domesticate other marine species.[27][28] At the outset of modern aquaculture, many were optimistic that a "Blue Revolution" could take place in aquaculture, just as the Green Revolution of the 20th century had revolutionized agriculture.[29] Although land animals had long been domesticated, most seafood species were still caught from the wild. Concerned about the impact of growing demand for seafood on the world's oceans, prominent ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau wrote in 1973: "With earth's burgeoning human populations to feed, we must turn to the sea with new understanding and new technology."[30]

About 430 (97%) of the species cultured as of 2007 were domesticated during the 20th and 21st centuries, of which an estimated 106 came in the decade to 2007. Given the long-term importance of agriculture, to date, only 0.08% of known land plant species and 0.0002% of known land animal species have been domesticated, compared with 0.17% of known marine plant species and 0.13% of known marine animal species. Domestication typically involves about a decade of scientific research.[31] Domesticating aquatic species involves fewer risks to humans than do land animals, which took a large toll in human lives. Most major human diseases originated in domesticated animals,[32] including diseases such as smallpox and diphtheria, that like most infectious diseases, move to humans from animals. No human pathogens of comparable virulence have yet emerged from marine species.

Biological control methods to manage parasites are already being used, such as cleaner fish (e.g. lumpsuckers and wrasse) to control sea lice populations in salmon farming.[33] Models are being used to help with spatial planning and siting of fish farms in order to minimize impact.[34]

The decline in wild fish stocks has increased the demand for farmed fish.[35] However, finding alternative sources of protein and oil for fish feed is necessary so the aquaculture industry can grow sustainably; otherwise, it represents a great risk for the over-exploitation of forage fish.[36]

Another recent issue following the banning in 2008 of organotins by the International Maritime Organization is the need to find environmentally friendly, but still effective, compounds with antifouling effects.

Many new natural compounds are discovered every year, but producing them on a large enough scale for commercial purposes is almost impossible.

It is highly probable that future developments in this field will rely on microorganisms, but greater funding and further research is needed to overcome the lack of knowledge in this field.[37]

Species groups

Global aquaculture production
Main species groups
Global other aquaculture production
Minor species groups

Aquatic plants

Yangzhuanghe - CIMG3404
Cultivating emergent aquatic plants in floating containers

Microalgae, also referred to as phytoplankton, microphytes, or planktonic algae, constitute the majority of cultivated algae. Macroalgae commonly known as seaweed also have many commercial and industrial uses, but due to their size and specific requirements, they are not easily cultivated on a large scale and are most often taken in the wild.


The farming of fish is the most common form of aquaculture. It involves raising fish commercially in tanks, fish ponds, or ocean enclosures, usually for food. A facility that releases juvenile fish into the wild for recreational fishing or to supplement a species' natural numbers is generally referred to as a fish hatchery. Worldwide, the most important fish species used in fish farming are, in order, carp, salmon, tilapia, and catfish.[1]

In the Mediterranean, young bluefin tuna are netted at sea and towed slowly towards the shore. They are then interned in offshore pens (sometimes made from floating HDPE pipe)[38] where they are further grown for the market.[39] In 2009, researchers in Australia managed for the first time to coax southern bluefin tuna to breed in landlocked tanks. Southern bluefin tuna are also caught in the wild and fattened in grow-out sea cages in southern Spencer Gulf, South Australia.

A similar process is used in the salmon-farming section of this industry; juveniles are taken from hatcheries and a variety of methods are used to aid them in their maturation. For example, as stated above, some of the most important fish species in the industry, salmon, can be grown using a cage system. This is done by having netted cages, preferably in open water that has a strong flow, and feeding the salmon a special food mixture that aids their growth. This process allows for year-round growth of the fish, thus a higher harvest during the correct seasons.[40][41] An additional method, known sometimes as sea ranching, has also been used within the industry. Sea ranching involves raising fish in a hatchery for a brief time and then releasing them into marine waters for further development, whereupon the fish are recaptured when they have matured.[42]


Commercial shrimp farming began in the 1970s, and production grew steeply thereafter. Global production reached more than 1.6 million tonnes in 2003, worth about US$9 billion. About 75% of farmed shrimp is produced in Asia, in particular in China and Thailand. The other 25% is produced mainly in Latin America, where Brazil is the largest producer. Thailand is the largest exporter.

Shrimp farming has changed from its traditional, small-scale form in Southeast Asia into a global industry. Technological advances have led to ever higher densities per unit area, and broodstock is shipped worldwide. Virtually all farmed shrimp are penaeids (i.e., shrimp of the family Penaeidae), and just two species of shrimp, the Pacific white shrimp and the giant tiger prawn, account for about 80% of all farmed shrimp. These industrial monocultures are very susceptible to disease, which has decimated shrimp populations across entire regions. Increasing ecological problems, repeated disease outbreaks, and pressure and criticism from both nongovernmental organizations and consumer countries led to changes in the industry in the late 1990s and generally stronger regulations. In 1999, governments, industry representatives, and environmental organizations initiated a program aimed at developing and promoting more sustainable farming practices through the Seafood Watch program.[43]

Freshwater prawn farming shares many characteristics with, including many problems with, marine shrimp farming. Unique problems are introduced by the developmental lifecycle of the main species, the giant river prawn.[44]

The global annual production of freshwater prawns (excluding crayfish and crabs) in 2007 was about 460,000 tonnes, exceeding 1.86 billion dollars.[45] Additionally, China produced about 370,000 tonnes of Chinese river crab.[46]


Abalone farm
Aquatir 0502013 11
Sturgeon farm

Aquacultured shellfish include various oyster, mussel, and clam species. These bivalves are filter and/or deposit feeders, which rely on ambient primary production rather than inputs of fish or other feed. As such, shellfish aquaculture is generally perceived as benign or even beneficial.[47]

Depending on the species and local conditions, bivalve molluscs are either grown on the beach, on longlines, or suspended from rafts and harvested by hand or by dredging. In May 2017 a Belgian consortium installed the first of two trial mussel farms on a wind farm in the North Sea.[48]

Abalone farming began in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Japan and China.[49] Since the mid-1990s, this industry has become increasingly successful.[50] Overfishing and poaching have reduced wild populations to the extent that farmed abalone now supplies most abalone meat. Sustainably farmed molluscs can be certified by Seafood Watch and other organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). WWF initiated the "Aquaculture Dialogues" in 2004 to develop measurable and performance-based standards for responsibly farmed seafood. In 2009, WWF co-founded the Aquaculture Stewardship Council with the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative to manage the global standards and certification programs.[51]

After trials in 2012,[52] a commercial "sea ranch" was set up in Flinders Bay, Western Australia, to raise abalone. The ranch is based on an artificial reef made up of 5000 (As of April 2016) separate concrete units called abitats (abalone habitats). The 900 kg abitats can host 400 abalone each. The reef is seeded with young abalone from an onshore hatchery. The abalone feed on seaweed that has grown naturally on the habitats, with the ecosystem enrichment of the bay also resulting in growing numbers of dhufish, pink snapper, wrasse, and Samson fish, among other species.

Brad Adams, from the company, has emphasised the similarity to wild abalone and the difference from shore-based aquaculture. "We're not aquaculture, we're ranching, because once they're in the water they look after themselves."[53][54]

Other groups

Other groups include aquatic reptiles, amphibians, and miscellaneous invertebrates, such as echinoderms and jellyfish. They are separately graphed at the top right of this section, since they do not contribute enough volume to show clearly on the main graph.

Commercially harvested echinoderms include sea cucumbers and sea urchins. In China, sea cucumbers are farmed in artificial ponds as large as 1,000 acres (400 ha).[55]

Around the world

Global aquaculture production by country
Main aquaculture countries, 1950–2010
Global aquaculture production by country 2010
Main aquaculture countries in 2010

In 2012, the total world production of fisheries was 158 million tonnes, of which aquaculture contributed 66.6 million tonnes, about 42%.[56] The growth rate of worldwide aquaculture has been sustained and rapid, averaging about 8% per year for over 30 years, while the take from wild fisheries] has been essentially flat for the last decade. The aquaculture market reached $86 billion[57] in 2009.[58]

Aquaculture is an especially important economic activity in China. Between 1980 and 1997, the Chinese Bureau of Fisheries reports, aquaculture harvests grew at an annual rate of 16.7%, jumping from 1.9 million tonnes to nearly 23 million tonnes. In 2005, China accounted for 70% of world production.[59][60] Aquaculture is also currently one of the fastest-growing areas of food production in the U.S.[61]

About 90% of all U.S. shrimp consumption is farmed and imported.[62] In recent years, salmon aquaculture has become a major export in southern Chile, especially in Puerto Montt, Chile's fastest-growing city.

A United Nations report titled The State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture released in May 2014 maintained fisheries and aquaculture support the livelihoods of some 60 million people in Asia and Africa.[63]

National laws, regulations, and management

Laws governing aquaculture practices vary greatly by country[64] and are often not closely regulated or easily traceable. In the United States, land-based and nearshore aquaculture is regulated at the federal and state levels;[65] however, no national laws govern offshore aquaculture in U.S. exclusive economic zone waters. In June 2011, the Department of Commerce and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released national aquaculture policies[66] to address this issue and "to meet the growing demand for healthy seafood, to create jobs in coastal communities, and restore vital ecosystems." In 2011, Congresswoman Lois Capps introduced the National Sustainable Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2011[67] "to establish a regulatory system and research program for sustainable offshore aquaculture in the United States exclusive economic zone"; however, the bill was not enacted into law.


China overwhelmingly dominates the world in reported aquaculture output,[68] reporting a total output which is double that of the rest of the world put together. However, there are some historical issues with the accuracy of China's returns.

In 2001, the fisheries scientists Reg Watson and Daniel Pauly expressed concerns in a letter to Nature, that China was over reporting its catch from wild fisheries in the 1990s.[7][69] They said that made it appear that the global catch since 1988 was increasing annually by 300,000 tonnes, whereas it was really shrinking annually by 350,000 tonnes. Watson and Pauly suggested this may be have been related to Chinese policies where state entities that monitored the economy were also tasked with increasing output. Also, until more recently, the promotion of Chinese officials was based on production increases from their own areas.[70][71]

China disputed this claim. The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Yang Jian, director general of the Agriculture Ministry's Bureau of Fisheries, as saying that China's figures were "basically correct".[72] However, the FAO accepted there were issues with the reliability of China's statistical returns, and for a period treated data from China, including the aquaculture data, apart from the rest of the world.[73][74]

Aquacultural methods


Fish farming in High Island, Hong Kong
Mariculture off High Island, Hong Kong
Common carp
Carp are one of the dominant fishes in aquaculture[75]
Fresh tilapia
The adaptable tilapia is another commonly farmed fish

Mariculture refers to the cultivation of marine organisms in seawater, usually in sheltered coastal or offshore waters. The farming of marine fish is an example of mariculture, and so also is the farming of marine crustaceans (such as shrimp), molluscs (such as oysters), and seaweed. Atlantic salmon and mollusk farms is for example prominent in the U.S.[76]

Mariculture may consist of raising the organisms on or in artificial enclosures such as in floating netted enclosures for salmon and on racks for oysters. In the case of enclosed salmon, they are fed by the operators; oysters on racks filter feed on naturally available food. Abalone have been farmed on an artificial reef consuming seaweed which grows naturally on the reef units.[54]


Integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA) is a practice in which the byproducts (wastes) from one species are recycled to become inputs (fertilizers, food) for another. Fed aquaculture (for example, fish, shrimp) is combined with inorganic extractive and organic extractive (for example, shellfish) aquaculture to create balanced systems for environmental sustainability (biomitigation), economic stability (product diversification and risk reduction) and social acceptability (better management practices).[77]

"Multi-trophic" refers to the incorporation of species from different trophic or nutritional levels in the same system.[78] This is one potential distinction from the age-old practice of aquatic polyculture, which could simply be the co-culture of different fish species from the same trophic level. In this case, these organisms may all share the same biological and chemical processes, with few synergistic benefits, which could potentially lead to significant shifts in the ecosystem. Some traditional polyculture systems may, in fact, incorporate a greater diversity of species, occupying several niches, as extensive cultures (low intensity, low management) within the same 2006"/> A working IMTA system can result in greater total production based on mutual benefits to the co-cultured species and improved ecosystem health, even if the production of individual species is lower than in a monoculture over a short term period.[79]

Sometimes the term "integrated aquaculture" is used to describe the integration of monocultures through water transfer.[79] For all intents and purposes, however, the terms "IMTA" and "integrated aquaculture" differ only in their degree of descriptiveness. Aquaponics, fractionated aquaculture, integrated agriculture-aquaculture systems, integrated peri-urban-aquaculture systems, and integrated fisheries-aquaculture systems are other variations of the IMTA concept.

Netting materials

Various materials, including nylon, polyester, polypropylene, polyethylene, plastic-coated welded wire, rubber, patented rope products (Spectra, Thorn-D, Dyneema), galvanized steel and copper are used for netting in aquaculture fish enclosures around the world.[80][81][82][83][84] All of these materials are selected for a variety of reasons, including design feasibility, material strength, cost, and corrosion resistance.

Recently, copper alloys have become important netting materials in aquaculture because they are antimicrobial (i.e., they destroy bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae, and other microbes) and they therefore prevent biofouling (i.e., the undesirable accumulation, adhesion, and growth of microorganisms, plants, algae, tubeworms, barnacles, mollusks, and other organisms). By inhibiting microbial growth, copper alloy aquaculture cages avoid costly net changes that are necessary with other materials. The resistance of organism growth on copper alloy nets also provides a cleaner and healthier environment for farmed fish to grow and thrive.


If performed without consideration for potential local environmental impacts, aquaculture in inland waters can result in more environmental damaging than wild fisheries, though with less waste produced per kg on a global scale.[85] Local concerns with aquaculture in inland waters may include waste handling, side-effects of antibiotics, competition between farmed and wild animals, and the potential introduction of invasive plant and animal species, or foreign pathogens, particularly if unprocessed fish are used to feed more marketable carnivorous fish. If non-local live feeds are used, aquaculture may introduce exotic plants or animals with disastrous effects. Improvements in methods resulting from advances in research and the availability of commercial feeds has reduced some of these concerns since their greater prevalence in the 1990s and 2000s .[86][87]

Fish waste is organic and composed of nutrients necessary in all components of aquatic food webs. In-ocean aquaculture often produces much higher than normal fish waste concentrations. The waste collects on the ocean bottom, damaging or eliminating bottom-dwelling life.[88] Waste can also decrease dissolved oxygen levels in the water column, putting further pressure on wild animals.[89] An alternative model to food being added to the ecosystem, is the installation of artificial reef structures to increase the habitat niches available, without the need to add any more than ambient feed and nutrient. This has been used in the "ranching" of abalone in Western Australia.[54]

Fish oils

Tilapia from aquaculture has been shown to contain more fat and a much higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 oils.

Impacts on wild fish

Some carnivorous and omnivorous farmed fish species are fed wild forage fish. Although carnivorous farmed fish represented only 13 percent of aquaculture production by weight in 2000, they represented 34 percent of aquaculture production by value.[90]

Farming of carnivorous species like salmon and shrimp leads to a high demand for forage fish to match the nutrition they get in the wild. Fish do not actually produce omega-3 fatty acids, but instead accumulate them from either consuming microalgae that produce these fatty acids, as is the case with forage fish like herring and sardines, or, as is the case with fatty predatory fish, like salmon, by eating prey fish that have accumulated omega-3 fatty acids from microalgae. To satisfy this requirement, more than 50 percent of the world fish oil production is fed to farmed salmon.[91]

Farmed salmon consume more wild fish than they generate as a final product, although the efficiency of production is improving. To produce one pound of farmed salmon, products from several pounds of wild fish are fed to them - this can be described as the "fish-in-fish-out" (FIFO) ratio. In 1995, salmon had a FIFO ratio of 7.5 (meaning 7.5 pounds of wild fish feed were required to produce 1 pound of salmon); by 2006 the ratio had fallen to 4.9.[92] Additionally, a growing share of fish oil and fishmeal come from residues (byproducts of fish processing), rather than dedicated whole fish. In 2012, 34 percent of fish oil and 28 percent of fishmeal came from residues.[93] However, fishmeal and oil from residues instead of whole fish have a different composition with more ash and less protein, which may limit its potential use for aquaculture.

As the salmon farming industry expands, it requires more wild forage fish for feed, at a time when seventy five percent of the worlds monitored fisheries are already near to or have exceeded their maximum sustainable yield.[8] The industrial scale extraction of wild forage fish for salmon farming then impacts the survivability of the wild predator fish who rely on them for food. An important step in reducing the impact of aquaculture on wild fish is shifting carnivorous species to plant-based feeds. Salmon feeds, for example, have gone from containing only fishmeal and oil to containing 40 percent plant protein.[94] The USDA has also experimented with using grain-based feeds for farmed trout.[95] When properly formulated (and often mixed with fishmeal or oil), plant-based feeds can provide proper nutrition and similar growth rates in carnivorous farmed fish.[96]

Another impact aquaculture production can have on wild fish is the risk of fish escaping from coastal pens, where they can interbreed with their wild counterparts, diluting wild genetic stocks.[97] Escaped fish can become invasive, out-competing native species.[98][99][100]

Coastal ecosystems

Aquaculture is becoming a significant threat to coastal ecosystems. About 20 percent of mangrove forests have been destroyed since 1980, partly due to shrimp farming.[101] An extended cost–benefit analysis of the total economic value of shrimp aquaculture built on mangrove ecosystems found that the external costs were much higher than the external benefits.[102] Over four decades, 269,000 hectares (660,000 acres) of Indonesian mangroves have been converted to shrimp farms. Most of these farms are abandoned within a decade because of the toxin build-up and nutrient loss.[103][104]

Pollution from sea cage aquaculture

Salmon farms are typically sited in pristine coastal ecosystems which they then pollute. A farm with 200,000 salmon discharges more fecal waste than a city of 60,000 people. This waste is discharged directly into the surrounding aquatic environment, untreated, often containing antibiotics and pesticides."[8] There is also an accumulation of heavy metals on the benthos (seafloor) near the salmon farms, particularly copper and zinc.[105]

In 2016, mass fish kill events impacted salmon farmers along Chile's coast and the wider ecology.[106] Increases in aquaculture production and its associated effluent were considered to be possible contributing factors to fish and molluscan mortality.[107]

Sea cage aquaculture is responsible for nutrient enrichment of the waters in which they are established. This results from fish wastes and uneaten feed inputs. Elements of most concern are nitrogen and phosphorus which can promote algal growth, including harmful algal blooms which can be toxic to fish. Flushing times, current speeds, distance from the shore and water depth are important considerations when locating sea cages in order to minimize the impacts of nutrient enrichment on coastal ecosystems.

The extent of the effects of pollution from sea-cage aquaculture varies depending on where the cages are located, which species are kept, how densely cages are stocked and what the fish are fed. Important species-specific variables include the species' food conversion ratio (FCR) and nitrogen retention. Studies prior to 2001 determined that the amount of nitrogen introduced as feed which is lost to the water column and seafloor as waste varies from 52 to 95%.

Genetic modification

A type of salmon called the AquAdvantage salmon has been genetically modified for faster growth, although it has not been approved for commercial use, due to controversy.[108] The altered salmon incorporates a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon that allows it to reach full size in 16–28 months, instead of the normal 36 months for Atlantic salmon, and while consuming 25 percent less feed.[109] The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviewed the AquAdvantage salmon in a draft environmental assessment and determined that it "would not have a significant impact (FONSI) on the U.S. environment."[110]

Ecological benefits

While some forms of aquaculture can be devastating to ecosystems, such as shrimp farming in mangroves, other forms can be very beneficial. Shellfish aquaculture adds substantial filter feeding capacity to an environment which can significantly improve water quality. A single oyster can filter 15 gallons of water a day, removing microscopic algal cells. By removing these cells, shellfish are removing nitrogen and other nutrients from the system and either retaining it or releasing it as waste which sinks to the bottom. By harvesting these shellfish the nitrogen they retained is completely removed from the system.[111] Raising and harvesting kelp and other macroalgae directly remove nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Repackaging these nutrients can relieve eutrophic, or nutrient-rich, conditions known for their low dissolved oxygen which can decimate species diversity and abundance of marine life. Removing algal cells from the water also increase light penetration, allowing plants such as eelgrass to reestablish themselves and further increase oxygen levels.

Aquaculture in an area can provide for crucial ecological functions for the inhabitants. Shellfish beds or cages can provide habitat structure. This structure can be used as shelter by invertebrates, small fish or crustaceans to potentially increase their abundance and maintain biodiversity. Increased shelter raises stocks of prey fish and small crustaceans by increasing recruitment opportunities in turn providing more prey for higher trophic levels. One study estimated that 10 square meters of oyster reef could enhance an ecosystem's biomass by 2.57 kg[112] The shellfish acting as herbivores will also be preyed on. This moves energy directly from primary producers to higher trophic levels potentially skipping out on multiple energetically-costly trophic jumps which would increase biomass in the ecosystem.

Animal welfare

As with the farming of terrestrial animals, social attitudes influence the need for humane practices and regulations in farmed marine animals. Under the guidelines advised by the Farm Animal Welfare Council good animal welfare means both fitness and a sense of well being in the animal's physical and mental state. This can be defined by the Five Freedoms:

  • Freedom from hunger & thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, disease, or injury
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour
  • Freedom from fear and distress

However, the controversial issue in aquaculture is whether fish and farmed marine invertebrates are actually sentient, or have the perception and awareness to experience suffering. Although no evidence of this has been found in marine invertebrates,[113] recent studies conclude that fish do have the necessary receptors (nociceptors) to sense noxious stimuli and so are likely to experience states of pain, fear and stress.[113][114] Consequently, welfare in aquaculture is directed at vertebrates; finfish in particular.[115]

Common welfare concerns

Welfare in aquaculture can be impacted by a number of issues such as stocking densities, behavioural interactions, disease and parasitism. A major problem in determining the cause of impaired welfare is that these issues are often all interrelated and influence each other at different times.[116]

Optimal stocking density is often defined by the carrying capacity of the stocked environment and the amount of individual space needed by the fish, which is very species specific. Although behavioural interactions such as shoaling may mean that high stocking densities are beneficial to some species,[113][117] in many cultured species high stocking densities may be of concern. Crowding can constrain normal swimming behaviour, as well as increase aggressive and competitive behaviours such as cannibalism,[118] feed competition,[119] territoriality and dominance/subordination hierarchies.[120] This potentially increases the risk of tissue damage due to abrasion from fish-to-fish contact or fish-to-cage contact.[113] Fish can suffer reductions in food intake and food conversion efficiency.[120] In addition, high stocking densities can result in water flow being insufficient, creating inadequate oxygen supply and waste product removal.[117] Dissolved oxygen is essential for fish respiration and concentrations below critical levels can induce stress and even lead to asphyxiation.[120] Ammonia, a nitrogen excretion product, is highly toxic to fish at accumulated levels, particularly when oxygen concentrations are low.[121]

Many of these interactions and effects cause stress in the fish, which can be a major factor in facilitating fish disease.[115] For many parasites, infestation depends on the host's degree of mobility, the density of the host population and vulnerability of the host's defence system.[122] Sea lice are the primary parasitic problem for finfish in aquaculture, high numbers causing widespread skin erosion and haemorrhaging, gill congestion, and increased mucus production.[123] There are also a number of prominent viral and bacterial pathogens that can have severe effects on internal organs and nervous systems.[124]

Improving welfare

The key to improving welfare of marine cultured organisms is to reduce stress to a minimum, as prolonged or repeated stress can cause a range of adverse effects. Attempts to minimise stress can occur throughout the culture process. During grow out it is important to keep stocking densities at appropriate levels specific to each species, as well as separating size classes and grading to reduce aggressive behavioural interactions. Keeping nets and cages clean can assist positive water flow to reduce the risk of water degradation.

Not surprisingly disease and parasitism can have a major effect on fish welfare and it is important for farmers not only to manage infected stock but also to apply disease prevention measures. However, prevention methods, such as vaccination, can also induce stress because of the extra handling and injection.[117] Other methods include adding antibiotics to feed, adding chemicals into water for treatment baths and biological control, such as using cleaner wrasse to remove lice from farmed salmon.[117]

Many steps are involved in transport, including capture, food deprivation to reduce faecal contamination of transport water, transfer to transport vehicle via nets or pumps, plus transport and transfer to the delivery location. During transport water needs to be maintained to a high quality, with regulated temperature, sufficient oxygen and minimal waste products.[115][117] In some cases anaesthetics may be used in small doses to calm fish before transport.[117]

Aquaculture is sometimes part of an environmental rehabilitation program or as an aid in conserving endangered species.[125]


Global wild fisheries are in decline, with valuable habitat such as estuaries in critical condition.[126] The aquaculture or farming of piscivorous fish, like salmon, does not help the problem because they need to eat products from other fish, such as fish meal and fish oil. Studies have shown that salmon farming has major negative impacts on wild salmon, as well as the forage fish that need to be caught to feed them.[127][128] Fish that are higher on the food chain are less efficient sources of food energy.

Apart from fish and shrimp, some aquaculture undertakings, such as seaweed and filter-feeding bivalve mollusks like oysters, clams, mussels and scallops, are relatively benign and even environmentally restorative.[28] Filter-feeders filter pollutants as well as nutrients from the water, improving water quality.[129] Seaweeds extract nutrients such as inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus directly from the water,[77] and filter-feeding mollusks can extract nutrients as they feed on particulates, such as phytoplankton and detritus.[130]

Some profitable aquaculture cooperatives promote sustainable practices.[131] New methods lessen the risk of biological and chemical pollution through minimizing fish stress, fallowing netpens, and applying Integrated Pest Management. Vaccines are being used more and more to reduce antibiotic use for disease control.[132]

Onshore recirculating aquaculture systems, facilities using polyculture techniques, and properly sited facilities (for example, offshore areas with strong currents) are examples of ways to manage negative environmental effects.

Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) recycle water by circulating it through filters to remove fish waste and food and then recirculating it back into the tanks. This saves water and the waste gathered can be used in compost or, in some cases, could even be treated and used on land. While RAS was developed with freshwater fish in mind, scientist associated with the Agricultural Research Service have found a way to rear saltwater fish using RAS in low-salinity waters.[133] Although saltwater fish are raised in off-shore cages or caught with nets in water that typically has a salinity of 35 parts per thousand (ppt), scientists were able to produce healthy pompano, a saltwater fish, in tanks with a salinity of only 5 ppt. Commercializing low-salinity RAS are predicted to have positive environmental and economical effects. Unwanted nutrients from the fish food would not be added to the ocean and the risk of transmitting diseases between wild and farm-raised fish would greatly be reduced. The price of expensive saltwater fish, such as the pompano and combia used in the experiments, would be reduced. However, before any of this can be done researchers must study every aspect of the fish's lifecycle, including the amount of ammonia and nitrate the fish will tolerate in the water, what to feed the fish during each stage of its lifecycle, the stocking rate that will produce the healthiest fish, etc.[133]

Some 16 countries now use geothermal energy for aquaculture, including China, Israel, and the United States.[134] In California, for example, 15 fish farms produce tilapia, bass, and catfish with warm water from underground. This warmer water enables fish to grow all year round and mature more quickly. Collectively these California farms produce 4.5 million kilograms of fish each year.[134]

See also

Aquaculture by Country:


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Further reading

External links

Aquaculture in China

China, with one-fifth of the world's population, accounts for two-thirds of the world's reported aquaculture production.Aquaculture is the farming of fish and other aquatic life in enclosures, such as ponds, lakes and tanks, or cages in rivers and coastal waters. China's 2005 reported harvest was 32.4 million tonnes, more than 10 times that of the second-ranked nation, India, which reported 2.8 million tonnes.China's 2005 reported catch of wild fish, caught in rivers, lakes, and the sea, was 17.1 million tonnes. This means that aquaculture accounts for nearly two-thirds of China's reported total output.

The principal aquaculture-producing regions are close to urban markets in the middle and lower Yangtze valley and the Zhu Jiang delta.

Aquaculture of catfish

Catfish are easy to farm in warm climates, leading to inexpensive and safe food at local grocers. Catfish raised in inland tanks or channels are considered safe for the environment, since their waste and disease should be contained and not spread to the wild.

Aquaculture of coral

Coral aquaculture, also known as coral farming or coral gardening, is the cultivation of corals for commercial purposes or coral reef restoration. Aquaculture is showing promise as a tool for restoring coral reefs, which are dying off around the world. The process protects young corals while they are most at risk of dying. Small corals are propagated in nurseries then replanted on the reef.Coral farmers live near the reefs they farm and work for reef conservation or for income. Coral is also farmed by scientists for research, by businesses for the live and ornamental coral trade, and by private aquarium hobbyists.

Coral reef farming is the extracting of part of a coral colony or free-floating larva from a reef and growing them in a nursery until adulthood. It is commonly referred to as the "gardening method" and has been compared to silviculture as a management practice that mimics natural ecosystems.Adult corals can be transplanted onto a reef, usually a damaged area. Coral is farmed for conservation reasons in the Philippines, Solomon Islands, Palau, Fiji, Marshall Islands and Japan. Land-based coral farming occurs in public aquariums in North America and Europe.

Aquaculture of salmonids

The aquaculture of salmonids is the farming and harvesting of salmonids under controlled conditions for both commercial and recreational purposes. Salmonids (particularly salmon and rainbow trout), along with carp, and tilapia are the three most important fish species in aquaculture. The most commonly commercially farmed salmonid is the Atlantic salmon. In the U.S. Chinook salmon and rainbow trout are the most commonly farmed salmonids for recreational and subsistence fishing through the National Fish Hatchery System. In Europe, brown trout are the most commonly reared fish for recreational restocking. Commonly farmed nonsalmonid fish groups include tilapia, catfish, sea bass, and bream.

In 2007, the aquaculture of salmonids was worth US$10.7 billion globally. Salmonid aquaculture production grew over ten-fold during the 25 years from 1982 to 2007. In 2012, the leading producers of salmonids were Norway, Chile, Scotland and Canada.Much controversy exists about the ecological and health impacts of intensive salmonids aquaculture. Of particular concern are the impacts on wild salmon and other marine life. Some of this controversy is part of a major commercial competitive fight for market share and price between Alaska commercial salmonid fishermen and the rapidly evolving salmonid aquaculture industry.

Aquaculture of tilapia

Tilapia has become the third most important fish in aquaculture after carp and salmon; worldwide production exceeded 1,500,000 metric tons in 2002 and increases annually. Because of their high protein content, large size, rapid growth (6 to 7 months to grow to harvest size), and palatability, a number of tilapiine cichlids—specifically, various species of Oreochromis, Sarotherodon, and Tilapia—are the focus of major aquaculture efforts.

Tilapia fisheries originated in Africa. The accidental and deliberate introductions of tilapia into Asian freshwater lakes have inspired outdoor aquaculture projects in various countries with tropical climates, most notably Honduras, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Tilapia farm projects in these countries have the highest potential to be "green" or environmentally friendly. In temperate zone localities, tilapia farmers typically need a costly energy source to maintain a tropical temperature range in their tanks. One relatively sustainable solution involves warming the tank water using waste heat from factories and power stations.

Tilapiines are among the easiest and most profitable fish to farm due to their omnivorous diet, mode of reproduction (the fry do not pass through a planktonic phase), tolerance of high stocking density, and rapid growth. In some regions the fish can be raised in rice fields at planting time and grow to edible size (12–15 cm, 5–6 in) when the rice is ready for harvest. Unlike salmon, which rely on high-protein feeds based on fish or meat, commercially important tilapiine species eat a vegetable or cereal-based diet.

Tilapia raised in inland tanks or channels are considered safe for the environment, since their waste and disease is contained and not spread to the wild. However, tilapiines have acquired notoriety as being among the most serious invasive species in many subtropical and tropical parts of the world. For example, Oreochromis aureus, O. mossambicus, Sarotherodon melanotheron melanotheron, Tilapia mariae, and T. zilli have all become established in the southern United States, particularly in Florida and Texas.Commercially grown tilapia are almost exclusively male. Being prolific breeders, female tilapia in the ponds or tanks will result in large populations of small fish. Whole tilapia can be processed into skinless, boneless (PBO) fillets: the yield is from 30% to 37%, depending on fillet size and final trim.


Aquaponics () refers to any system that combines conventional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. In normal aquaculture, excretions from the animals being raised can accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity. In an aquaponic system, water from an aquaculture system is fed to a hydroponic system where the by-products are broken down by nitrifying bacteria initially into nitrites and subsequently into nitrates that are utilized by the plants as nutrients. Then, the water is recirculated back to the aquaculture system.

As existing hydroponic and aquaculture farming techniques form the basis for all aquaponic systems, the size, complexity, and types of foods grown in an aquaponic system can vary as much as any system found in either distinct farming discipline.


Carp are various species of oily freshwater fish from the family Cyprinidae, a very large group of fish native to Europe and Asia.

Fish farming

Fish farming or pisciculture involves raising fish commercially in tanks or enclosures such as fish ponds, usually for food. It is the principal form of aquaculture, while other methods may fall under mariculture. A facility that releases juvenile fish into the wild for recreational fishing or to supplement a species' natural numbers is generally referred to as a fish hatchery. Worldwide, the most important fish species produced in fish farming are carp, tilapia, salmon, and catfish.Demand is increasing for fish and fish protein, which has resulted in widespread overfishing in wild fisheries. China provides 62% of the world's farmed fish. As of 2016, more than 50% of seafood was produced by aquaculture.Farming carnivorous fish, such as salmon, does not always reduce pressure on wild fisheries. Carnivorous farmed fish are usually fed fishmeal and fish oil extracted from wild forage fish. The 2008 global returns for fish farming recorded by the FAO totaled 33.8 million tonnes worth about $US 60 billion.

Fish pond

A fish pond, or fishpond, is a controlled pond, artificial lake, or reservoir that is stocked with fish and is used in aquaculture for fish farming, or is used for recreational fishing or for ornamental purposes. In the medieval European era it was typical for monasteries and castles (small, partly self-sufficient communities) to have a fish pond.


Generally, a fishery is an entity engaged in raising or harvesting fish which is determined by some authority to be a fishery. According to the FAO, a fishery is typically defined in terms of the "people involved, species or type of fish, area of water or seabed, method of fishing, class of boats, purpose of the activities or a combination of the foregoing features". The definition often includes a combination of fish and fishers in a region, the latter fishing for similar species with similar gear types.A fishery may involve the capture of wild fish or raising fish through fish farming or aquaculture. Directly or indirectly, the livelihood of over 500 million people in developing countries depends on fisheries and aquaculture. Overfishing, including the taking of fish beyond sustainable levels, is reducing fish stocks and employment in many world regions. A report by Prince Charles' International Sustainability Unit, the New York-based Environmental Defence Fund and 50in10 published in July 2014 estimated global fisheries were adding $270 billion a year to global GDP, but by full implementation of sustainable fishing, that figure could rise by as much as $50 billion.

Fishing in India

Fishing in India is a major industry in its coastal states, employing over 14 million people. In 2016-17, the country exported 11,34,948 metric tonnes of seafood worth US$ 5.78 billion (₹37,870.90 crore), frozen shrimp being the top item of export. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, fish production has increased more than tenfold since 1947 and doubled between 1990 and 2010.India has 8,129 kilometres (5,051 mi) of marine coastline, 3,827 fishing villages and 1,914 traditional fish landing centers. India's fresh water resources consist of 195,210 kilometres (121,300 mi) of rivers and canals, 2.9 million hectares of minor and major reservoirs, 2.4 million hectares of ponds and lakes, and about 0.8 million hectares of flood plain wetlands and water bodies. As of 2010, the marine and freshwater resources offered a combined sustainable catch fishing potential of over 4 million metric tonnes of fish. In addition, India's water and natural resources offer a tenfold growth potential in aquaculture (farm fishing) from 2010 harvest levels of 3.9 million metric tonnes of fish, if India were to adopt fishing knowledge, regulatory reforms and sustainability policies.

Fishing industry

The fishing industry includes any industry or activity concerned with taking, culturing, processing, preserving, storing, transporting, marketing or selling fish or fish products. It is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization as including recreational, subsistence and commercial fishing, and the harvesting, processing, and marketing sectors. The commercial activity is aimed at the delivery of fish and other seafood products for human consumption or as input factors in other industrial processes. Directly or indirectly, the livelihood of over 500 million people in developing countries depends on fisheries and aquaculture.

Intensive animal farming

Intensive animal farming or industrial livestock production, also known as factory farming, is a production approach towards farm animals in order to maximize production output, while minimizing production costs. Intensive farming refers to animal husbandry, the keeping of livestock such as cattle, poultry, and fish at higher stocking densities than is usually the case with other forms of animal agriculture—a practice typical in industrial farming by agribusinesses. The main products of this industry are meat, milk and eggs for human consumption. There are issues regarding whether factory farming is sustainable or ethical.Confinement at high stocking density is one part of a systematic effort to produce the highest output at the lowest cost by relying on economies of scale, modern machinery, biotechnology, and global trade. There are differences in the way factory farming techniques are practiced around the world. There is a continuing debate over the benefits, risks and ethical questions of factory farming. The issues include the efficiency of food production; animal welfare; and the environmental impact (e.g. agricultural pollution) and health risks.


Mariculture is a specialized branch of aquaculture involving the cultivation of marine organisms for food and other products in the open ocean, an enclosed section of the ocean, or in tanks, ponds or raceways which are filled with seawater. An example of the latter is the farming of marine fish, including finfish and shellfish like prawns, or oysters and seaweed in saltwater ponds. Non-food products produced by mariculture include: fish meal, nutrient agar, jewellery (e.g. cultured pearls), and cosmetics.

Oyster farming

Oyster farming is an aquaculture (or mariculture) practice in which oysters are raised for human consumption. Oyster farming was practiced by the ancient Romans as early as the 1st century BC on the Italian peninsula and later in Britain for export to Rome. The French oyster industry has relied on aquacultured oysters since the late 18th century.

Scallop aquaculture

Scallop aquaculture is the commercial activity of cultivating (farming) scallops until they reach a marketable size and can be sold as a consumer product. Wild juvenile scallops, or spat, were collected for growing in Japan as early as 1934. The first attempts to fully cultivate scallops in farm environments were not recorded until the 1950s and 1960s. Traditionally, fishing for wild scallops has been the preferred practice, since farming can be expensive. However worldwide declines in wild scallop populations have resulted in the growth of aquaculture. Globally the scallop aquaculture industry is now well established, with a reported annual production totalling over 1,200,000 metric tonnes from about 12 species. China and Japan account for about 90% of the reported production.

Selective breeding

Selective breeding (also called artificial selection) is the process by which humans use animal breeding and plant breeding to selectively develop particular phenotypic traits (characteristics) by choosing which typically animal or plant males and females will sexually reproduce and have offspring together. Domesticated animals are known as breeds, normally bred by a professional breeder, while domesticated plants are known as varieties, cultigens, or cultivars. Two purebred animals of different breeds produce a crossbreed, and crossbred plants are called hybrids. Flowers, vegetables and fruit-trees may be bred by amateurs and commercial or non-commercial professionals: major crops are usually the provenance of the professionals.

In animal breeding, techniques such as inbreeding, linebreeding, and outcrossing are utilized. In plant breeding, similar methods are used. Charles Darwin discussed how selective breeding had been successful in producing change over time in his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species. Its first chapter discusses selective breeding and domestication of such animals as pigeons, cats, cattle, and dogs. Darwin used artificial selection as a springboard to introduce and support the theory of natural selection.The deliberate exploitation of selective breeding to produce desired results has become very common in agriculture and experimental biology.

Selective breeding can be unintentional, e.g., resulting from the process of human cultivation; and it may also produce unintended – desirable or undesirable – results. For example, in some grains, an increase in seed size may have resulted from certain ploughing practices rather than from the intentional selection of larger seeds. Most likely, there has been an interdependence between natural and artificial factors that have resulted in plant domestication.

Spirulina (dietary supplement)

Spirulina is a biomass of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that can be consumed by humans and other animals. The two species are Arthrospira platensis and A. maxima.

Cultivated worldwide, Arthrospira is used as a dietary supplement or whole food. It is also used as a feed supplement in the aquaculture, aquarium, and poultry industries.


Tilapia ( tih-LAH-pee-ə) is the common name for nearly a hundred species of cichlid fish from the tilapiine cichlid tribe. Tilapia are mainly freshwater fish inhabiting shallow streams, ponds, rivers, and lakes, and less commonly found living in brackish water. Historically, they have been of major importance in artisanal fishing in Africa, and they are of increasing importance in aquaculture and aquaponics. Tilapia can become a problematic invasive species in new warm-water habitats such as Australia, whether deliberately or accidentally introduced, but generally not in temperate climates due to their inability to survive in cold water.

Tilapia is the fourth-most consumed fish in the United States dating back to 2002. The popularity of tilapia came about due to its low price, easy preparation, and mild taste.

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