Aquaculture, the production of aquatic animals and plants, is the fastest growing food-producing sector globally. Between 2001 and 2018, aquaculture production increased at an average annual rate of 5.3%. World aquaculture production reached nearly 115 million tonnes (live weight) in 2018, with a farmgate value of approximately 264 billion USD. Total production consisted of 82 million tonnes of aquatic animals and 32 million tonnes of algae, valued at 250 billion USD and 13 billion USD, respectively. The production of aquatic animals was predominantly finfish (54 million tonnes worth nearly 140 million USD). Molluscs, mainly bivalves, accounted for nearly 18 million tonnes (35 billion USD) of total production, while crustaceans amounted to 9.4 million tonnes (69 billion USD; FAO, 2020). The contribution of world aquaculture to global fish production reached 46% in 2028, a highly significant increase from just 26% in 2000.

Aquaculture is an incredibly diverse industry characterized by the production of many species in many different types of environments (i.e. production systems). Aquaculture currently encompasses the production of 622 aquatic species and species groups grown in freshwater, seawater, and brackish water (FAO, 2020). In 2016, aquaculture output was characterized by the culture of 362 finfishes, 104 molluscs, 62 crustaceans, 6 frogs and reptiles, 9 aquatic invertebrates, and 37 aquatic plants (FAO, 2016). Despite the number of species cultured, few species account for the majority of production; the production of finfish is dominated by 27 species and species groups of which 20 species of greatest importance accounted for almost 84% of total finfish production (FAO, 2020). The production of finfish and crustaceans is presented in Table 1.

Regionally, aquaculture is dominated by Asia which has produced 89% of the global total output in volume over the last 20 years. Interestingly, since 1991, China has produced more aquatic food than the rest of the world combined (FAO, 2020). Still, in 2014, 25 countries recorded aquaculture production in excess of 200,000 tonnes. In 2017, China produced 64 million tonnes or 57.5% of total global production. Other major producing countries include Indonesia (16 million tonnes), India (6.2 million tonnes), Viet Nam (3.8 million tonnes), Bangladesh (2.3 million tonnes), the Republic of Korea (2.3 million tonnes), and the Philippines (2.2 million tonnes). Egypt, Norway, and Chile were also major contributors to world aquaculture with production values of 1.4, 1.3, and 1.2 million tonnes, respectively (Tacon, 2019). In 2018, 20.5 million people were employed in the aquaculture sector. A regional breakdown of aquaculture production is provided in Table 2.

Aquaculture is a highly dynamic industry. Increasingly, large retailers and supermarket chains are becoming key players in setting product requirements. Concurrently, seafood processing is becoming more intensive, geographically concentrated, vertically integrated and linked with global supply chains in order to respond to evolving quality and safety requirements in importing countries. A specificity of the seafood industry (fisheries and aquaculture) is that a large part of the production is traded globally, resulting in difficulties related to product traceability, quality and safety. The aspects of food safety and quality are regulated by strong international and legal frameworks. Moreover, more recent widespread use of private certification bodies and eco-labels guarantee the retailer and consumer good traceability and/or better use of human and natural resources.

Table 1. Production in million metric tonnes of some important commercial aquaculture species including country of production. Adapted from FAO (2020) and various industry publications and resources.

Common name, scientific name Production (MMT) Countries
Grass carp, Ctenopharyngodon idella 5.7 5.7
Tilapia species, Oreochromis niloticus and O. spp. 5.55 China, Egypt, Indonesia, Ecuador, Brazil
Common carp, Cyprinus carpio 4.2 China, Indonesia, Germany
Pacific white legged shrimp, Litopenaeus vannamei 4.96 Ecuador, Indonesia, India, China, Viet Nam, Thailand
Indian Major Carp – Catla, Catla catla 3.04 India, Bangladesh
Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar 2.44 Norway, Chile, UK, Canada
Crucian carp, Carassius spp. 2.77 China
Pangasid catfishes - Pangasianodon hypophthalmus (Tra) & Pangasius bocourti (Basa) 2.36 (Tra) Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia
Indian Major Carp – Rohu, Labeo rohita 2.02 India, Bangladesh
Rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss 0.85 Chile, Norway, Turkey, USA, Denmark, Spain, France
Table 2. Top ten aquaculture producing countries by volume and value in 2017. Adapted from Tacon (2019).

Country Live weight (tonnes) Value (billion USD)
China 64358480 148.96
Indonesia 15896100 12.91
India 6182000 12.29
Vietnam 3831241 9.71
Bangladesh 2333352 5.9
Korea 2306280 2.43
Philippines 2237787 2.0
Egypt 1451841 1.38
Norway 1308633 7.86
Chile 1219747 10.41