“We need to produce more food, and improve access to food, and aquaculture offers a way to do this effectively.” - Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Aquaculture is growing rapidly everywhere except in Canada

“We need to produce more food, and improve access to food, and aquaculture offers a way to do this effectively.” – Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

By Fabian Dawson

Aquaculture is experiencing rapid global growth and has overtaken capture fisheries as a main producer of aquatic foods states a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

This achievement offers a promising path towards tackling global hunger while safeguarding our oceans, said Manuel Barange, head of the FAO in conjunction with the release of the 2024 edition of the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) report.

The main finding of the report is that the production of aquatic animal products has reached a global record of 185 million tons in 2022. This is over four percent more than 2020, which was reported in the previous SOFIA report.

The biggest message, however, is that aquaculture now accounts for 51% of that production. For the first time ever, aquaculture has overtaken capture fisheries as a main producer of aquatic foods and products.

“This is a great result because it means that we can continue to increase the production of aquatic foods without increasing the impact on the marine environment, as less than 40 percent of aquaculture is produced in marine waters,” he said.

“We need to produce more food, and improve access to food, and aquaculture offers a way to do this effectively.”

The report said capture fisheries production has remained globally stable for 30 years. Instead, aquaculture is growing at 5% per year since the turn of the century. This makes aquaculture a great tool for fighting hunger and poverty, all while using natural resources sustainably, the FAO stated.

The SOFIA report projected that aquatic animal production is expected to increase by 10 percent by 2032 to reach 205 million tonnes.

The aquaculture growth indicates its capacity to further contribute to meeting the rising global demand for aquatic foods, but future expansion and intensification must prioritise sustainability and benefit regions and communities most in need, stated the report.

At present, a small number of countries dominate aquaculture. Ten of them – China, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Republic of Korea, Norway, Egypt, and Chile – produced over 89.8 percent of the total.

Of total aquatic animal production, 89 percent was used for direct human consumption, underscoring the critical role of fisheries and aquaculture in maintaining global food security. The rest was destined for indirect, or non-food uses, mainly fishmeal and fish oil production. 

Supporting further consumption from sustainable sources is crucial to foster healthy diets and improve nutrition worldwide, said the FAO.

Aquatic foods provide high-quality proteins – 15 percent of animal proteins and 6 percent of total proteins worldwide – and key nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins. In 2021, they contributed at least 20 percent of the per capita protein supply from all animal sources to 3.2 billion people.

The UN food agency said it hopes to see 35% growth in the sector by 2030 as part of the FAO’s “Blue Transformation” road map, which seeks to change the world’s aquatic food systems by the start of the next decade.

In its country profile on Canada, FAO has stated there is potential for significant increases in Canadian aquaculture production to hike domestic supplies and create export opportunities.

While aquaculture is growing around the world, the sector, especially salmon farming, is under intense attacks by activists in Canada, who have been spending tens of thousands of dollars to spread   falsehoods about the nation’s seafood farmers.

To appease the activists in exchange for their votes, the Liberal Government has already shut down 40% of salmon farms in British Columbia since 2020, wiping out hundreds of jobs that are the lifeblood of rural, coastal and Indigenous communities.

The Federal government is now considering renewing salmon farming licences which expire this month pending the formulation of a Transition Plan for the sector in BC.

The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) said while farm-raised salmon remains the most popular seafood choice of Canadians, it is increasingly being replaced by salmon flown in from other countries at higher prices and a larger carbon footprint.

Farm-raised salmon production in Canada fell from a peak of 148,000 metric tonnes (mt) in 2016 to 90,000 mt in 2023, said CAIA, as it called on the Federal Government to enable salmon farmers to regain lost production.

While the opportunity to sustainably produce more salmon in Canada is unparalleled in the world the Liberal government has been unduly influenced by aquaculture detractors and activists rather than relying on science and traditional indigenous knowledge to grow the industry, the Alliance said.

“The oceans have vast opportunity for sustainable aquaculture production. In Canada, we are only using approximately 1% of our viable area for aquaculture production,” Tim Kennedy, President and CEO of CAIA told SeaWestNews, in an earlier interview.

“This is a growing recognition that only so much more food can come from the land in a growing world. They also recognize that there are pressures on the ocean and that wild capture production cannot keep up with the pace of demand to feed a hungry world.

“In a world that needs high quality and healthy protein, increasing sustainable aquaculture production is the answer,” he said.

“Canada should be a leader – but we need governments to understand that we are a solution and that we can grow jobs in coastal communities, produce high-quality and low-carbon footprint seafood for the world, and achieve Indigenous reconciliation.

And we need them, like the FAO, to stand up and say: “We can and must do this. Aquaculture is the future.”

The activist-driven government closures of fish farms in British Columbia have also left Canadians facing soaring salmon prices and a whopping increase in carbon emissions, said researchers from Agri-Food Analytics Lab of Dalhousie University.

Canada is now buying more salmon from different parts of the world, with import quantities rapidly rising since 2021, states the study, predicting that local salmon prices will increase over CAD 30 per kilogram by 2026.

(Image shows Manuel Barange, head of the FAO)