What Is Aquaculture?

by Abi Jones

Aquaculture describes the controlled farming of aquatic organisms, such as fish, aquatic plants and molluscs [1]. The practice has a far-reaching history and is a longstanding tradition in many countries. The term aquaculture originated in China with the common carp as populations started to settle in the period of 2000-1000 B.C [2]. Today, aquaculture has become an important part of food production in the modern world. Unlike wild fishing–namely, the farming of aquatic organisms from a natural habitat–aquaculture is the farming of organisms that are in controlled conditions, such as enclosed bodies of water or tanks [3]. 

There are two main forms of aquaculture: freshwater and marine aquaculture [4]. Freshwater aquaculture occurs in man made areas such as tanks or ponds; this form is often used for organisms such as trout and catfish. Marine aquaculture occurs in marine environments such as estuaries and oceans; this form of aquaculture is used for a wide variety of aquatic organisms, ranging from clams to salmon to seaweeds.

There are a number of different methods used for each of these two forms of aquaculture. The three most common methods include pond systems, open net pens and recirculating systems [5].  Having been used for thousands of years, the pond system method is the most traditional technique. It is implemented through inland water systems that are diked to form enclosed areas. This method is extremely useful because of its ability to house a large variety of species. On the other hand, open net pens are used primarily for fish. This method involves a mesh enclosure framework that floats on the water’s surface, and can be used in a much larger scale and in many different types of waterbodies. Recirculating systems are considered a more modern and technologically complex form of aquaculture. These systems are similar to pond systems in that they are controlled enclosed areas of water, usually in interconnected, indoor tanks. They have the ability to significantly reduce environmental risks associated with aquaculture, and thus are likely to become increasingly common in the future. 

Modern aquaculture began in the 20th century as a result of a decline in wild fishing, caused largely by the overfishing of popular species and an increasing demand for food sources as populations expanded. Now, aquaculture methods supply almost 50% of the worldwide seafood demand, and this number is continuing to grow [6]. The method of aquaculture is increasingly important because it 1) provides large fish stocks that are able to meet the growing needs of the human population; and 2) maintains overfall fish prices and reduces the pressure put on wild aquaculture stocks [7]. 

China is a major hub for aquaculture. Rather significantly, the country reports a total output that is double that of the rest of the world’s output combined [8, 9]. To continue advancing its aquaculture industry, China has invested in numerous new technologies, such as extension systems [10]. A number of its cities, such as Hong Kong, now see aquaculture as a major industry that provides thousands of jobs and produces large amounts of fish stocks to fulfil the demand of food consumption.

Despite its successes, aquaculture can be a highly unsustainable industry in many places. In order for this method of food production to continue successfully into the future, the industry needs to look to new techniques, technologies and international policies to prevent negative impacts on ecosystems–especially considering the planet’s current environmental crises. 


[1] FAO, Aquaculture, https://www.fao.org/aquaculture/en/. Accessed 25th November 2021. 
[2] FAO, Milestones in aquaculture development, https://www.fao.org/3/ag158e/ag158e02.htm,. Accessed 25th November 2021.
[3] Kaleigh Jurgensmeyer, Wild-Caught vs. Aquaculture (Farm-Raised) Fish: Myths and Facts https://www.crowdcow.com/blog/wild-caught-vs-farm-raised-fish-myths-and-facts. Accessed 25th November 2021.
[4] NOAA National Ocean Service, What is aquaculture? https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/aquaculture.html. Accessed 23rd November 2021.
[5] Dillon R, How does fish farming work? 4 common methods for aquaculture, https://thehealthyfish.com/4-common-methods-aquaculture/. Accessed 27th November 2021.
[6] Kaleigh Jurgensmeyer, Wild-Caught vs. Aquaculture (Farm-Raised) Fish: Myths and Facts https://www.crowdcow.com/blog/wild-caught-vs-farm-raised-fish-myths-and-facts. Accessed 25th November 2021.
[7] ASC International, Why is aquaculture important, https://www.asc-aqua.org/aquaculture-explained/why-is-aquaculture-important/. Accessed 27th November 2021.
[8] https://www.allcountries.org/china_statistics/13_22_output_of_aquatic_products.html 
[9] Gui et al. (2018) Aquaculture in China: Success stories and modern trends. John Wiley & Sons. DOI:10.1002/9781119120759
[10] Wang et al. (2020) Aquaculture extension system in China: Development, challenges and prospects. Aquaculture Reports, 17, p.100339. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aqrep.2020.100339
Categories Food & Agriculture

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