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Fish farming is seen as an alternative to overfishing and a guarantee of enough fish on the table. Wrong, a study finds

Farmed fish account for more than half of all fish meals worldwide, and have done so since 2013 [1]. In 1974, the aquaculture share of fish consumption was only seven percent [2]. In 2020, when a total of 177.8 million tonnes of aquatic animals were killed, aquaculture accounted for 87.5 million tonnes and wild-caught 90.3 million tonnes, of which 20.4 million tonnes were used as feed for animal fattening, mainly in aquaculture [1].

The decrease in aquaculture growth for six selected species, each averaged over the five years before and after the year with the highest growth (peak). [3]


Fish farming reaches its limits

The enormous growth of aquaculture since the 1950s led to the assumption that aquaculture would continue to grow and would be able to cover the increasing fish consumption per person in the future, despite stagnating catch yield since the 1990s.

An international research team contradicts this optimism in a study [3]: The growth of aquaculture had already peaked decades ago on all continents and for all fish species. Of all the species that do not need fish in their feed and are most likely to thrive in farming, growth has fallen most sharply.
The decline in aquaculture growth by continent, again before and after the year with the highest growth (peak). [3]
Don't forget fisheries!
In order to meet the expected fish demand of 173 million tonnes in 2030, aquaculture would have to grow by two percent annually—considered impossible by the authors of the study. On a limited planet, even this growth has its limits. According to the authors, it would be wiser to rely more on fisheries again, which would yield 16 million tonnes more per year if managed sustainably—or even 50 per cent more wild fish on the table if no more fish ended up in animal fattening.

The lopsided geographical distribution of global aquaculture production [1, Table 7].



[1] UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022 (SOFIA).

[2] FAO, SOFIA 2018

[3] U. Rashid Sumaila et al: Aquaculture over-optimism? Frontiers in Marine Science, 2022

Graphics: Billo Heinzpeter Studer (data selection), Annemarie Gantenbein/ satzbild (graphics)


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