Farming the seas

22 July 2009 | News story

Aquaculture, the farming of aquatic organisms such as fish, mollusks, crustaceans and aquatic plants, has been around for 4,000 years. But it is only in the last 50 years that it has become big business, now giving employment to 9.8 million people around the world.

The aquaculture sector is growing much faster than the terrestrial farming sector for meat and other animal products. On a worldwide scale, it has grown an average of 8.9 percent per year since 1970, compared with 2.8 percent for meat terrestrial production systems.

In the Mediterranean region, aquaculture has rapidly expanded over the last two decades, with an annual growth rate rising from four percent in 1980 to 13 percent in 2000.

Aquaculture currently faces a significant challenge – how to fulfil in a sustainable way the expectation of alleviating the pressure that fishing fleets put on fish populations and the increasing demand of sea products in local and international markets.

To help, aquaculture producers, the IUCN Global Marine Programme and the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers have created a series of guidelines for the sustainable development of aquaculture in the Mediterranean.

Aquaculture is expected to develop widely in the near future, in the Mediterranean’s European, Southern and Eastern countries. Over the past decade, there has been growing concern, particularly in Mediterranean countries, about the quality of aquaculture products. There have also been worries about the way aquaculture interacts with the environment, fish health and welfare, and the way feed production is managed.

It is important to improve aquaculture management practice in the Mediterranean area and to certify it for consumers since Mediterranean aquaculture has to compete with imports from Asia and South America, where aquaculture production growth is the highest in the world.