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The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called for sustainable aquaculture to be strengthened around the world, noting that it supplies over 50% of the global seafood supply.

In a series of articles released this week by the FAO, a range of scientific aquaculture and food sustainability experts outline their opinions and evidence in support of this message.

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In a press statement, the FAO argues for “an updated set of governing principles that ensure that it expands and intensifies, embracing modern technologies, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible, economically viable, and able to meet the needs of present and future generations.”

The eight published articles discuss critical themes for aquaculture, including production methods, social issues and planetary health, nutrition, genetic resources, biosecurity, governance, and inclusive market access.

Asia dominates aquaculture production, but seafood demand is global, says FAO

The FAO highlights that around half of the 126 million tonnes of live weight aquaculture production recorded in 2021 consisted of farmed fish, valued at an estimated USD 296.5 billion. By far the largest producer is Asia, accounting for more then 90% of production, with the accumulted total for the Americas, Europe and Africa combined standing at just 8.2%.

This imbalance in production, the FAO authors argue, needs to be addressed to ensure aquaculture is distributed more evenly around the world – and closer to the populations it needs to feed. The FAO is calling for “immediate efforts” to stimulate development in the developing world, including Africa, Latin America and Small Island Developing States.

Technology and innovation needed urgently for global aquaculture

Climate change, environmental protection and sustainability were also key themes from the report. The authors argued that an important development will be “integrated growth in low trophic level culture species”, including seaweed and filter-feeding bivalve molluscs and finfish. Improving feed efficiency and reducing the use of marine-sourced ingredients also need to be on the agenda, and innovation is essential, say the authors.

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On the technology front, the FAO argues that selective breeding programmes, biosecurity systems and digital technologies all need to be harnessed to improve production efficiency, reduce aquatic diseases and improve food safety certifications and traceability. Better support for electronic technologies in aquaculture will also broaden market access through e-commerce for farmers, the report suggests.

Legislation needed to support sustainable development alongside social responsibility

The FAO proposes a “lead agency” to support countries to develop and implement legislation for sustainable development of aquaculture. “

“Having established itself as a major food producing and economic sector, aquaculture now needs to proactively integrate social responsibility and human wellbeing perspectives at all scales, including both workers and communities at large,” the FAO states.

“Certification of sustainability and of decent work standards is a downstream demand, and yet the burdens of compliance fall disproportionately on producers, especially smaller-scale aquaculture operators. Mechanisms to redistribute costs and benefits equitably between producers and retailer should be sought and implemented.”

Aquaculture’s important role in UN Sustainable Development Goals

“Given that aquaculture now supplies around 50 percent of aquatic food, and given its potential to contribute to so many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, we all need to focus on how to move it forward in a sustainable way,” said Xinhua Yuan, FAO’s Deputy Director for Aquaculture.

“Fish and other aquatic products can and will play a major role in meeting the dietary demands of all people, helping improve the resilience of global food system, while also meeting the food security needs of the poorest,” he added.

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