Global Demand for Fish Rising--Fish Farming is the Fastest Growing Field of Agriculture

Fish is a major source of food for people throughout the world and the main source of protein for 1 billion people. For more than 150 million people, fish furnishes not only vital nutrition, but also is a source of employment and income. Almost 95 percent of those who rely on fish for their livelihood live in developing countries. Aquaculture, the farming of fish, shellfish, seaweeds, and the like, represents the fastest growing sector in world food production.

Demand for fish is on the rise. From 1960 to 1996, world fish production for human consumption increased from 27 million to 91 million metric tons. Analysts predict that the demand for fish will continue to rise with population growth, increasing incomes, and improved diets. Unfortunately, about 70 percent of the world's major fish species and 11 of the 15 major fishing areas are in decline and need urgent management. The decline in the world's fish stock results from overfishing, indiscriminate fishing methods, and degradation of coastal and inland ecosystems.

One hope for meeting the rising demand for fish systems is aquaculture. Since 1984, the output of aquaculture has increased annually by 10 percent, whereas captured fish output has only increased 1.6 percent each year. Today, about one-fourth of the fish eaten by humans comes from aquaculture systems.

Aquaculture offers developing countries a means to earn foreign exchange through high-value species, such as pearls, prawns, and salmon, and a way for poor communities to maintain a healthy diet and earn an income. Yet, if aquaculture projects are not done in an environmentally sensitive way, they can cause water pollution, wetland loss, and mangrove swamp destruction. During the last 20 years, aquaculture has become a vital field and agriculture research has been key to this development. Researchers seek to improve the production and management of all fisheries resources in a way that benefits users and promotes a healthy Earth. Some examples include

  • Breeding new fish species. Researchers have produced an improved strain of tilapia, a hardy freshwater fish. This new strain of tilapia was developed using a wide variey of natural Nile tilapia strains. It grows 60 percent faster than other farmed strains and yields three fish crops per year, instead of the usual two. Because of the new strain, fish farmers can expect higher productivity, higher profit, and higher yield potential.

  • Integrating crop and livestock farming with aquaculture. Through assistance from agricultural research organizations, farmers in Malawi and other African countries are introducing small ponds into their home gardens for irrigation and to grow fish. They are also using the mud from the bottom of the fishponds as rich, organic fertilizer for their farming.

  • Improving the livelihood of the rural poor. In Bangladesh, scientists are turning unused ponds into viable fish farms and improving fish raising in the existing ones. The project has led to a new way for the rural poor to earn an income. This has been particularly beneficial to women, who tend to be responsible for the ponds. Using new systems developed through research, fish production in existing ponds has increased eightfold.


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UPDATED: 18 June 2004