Promoting responsible use and conservation of aquatic biodiversity for sustainable aquaculture development

The projected increase in the world’s human population over the next 50 years is thought to require an increase in food production of 1.5–2.0 times that currently achieved by food production systems. Aquaculture, the farming of aquatic organisms, including fish, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic plants, now supplies half the total world production of these foods (FAO, (2009) The State of the Worlds Fisheries 2008). Aquaculture production has increased by about 8 percent per year over the past 20 years and continues to be the fastest-growing food production sector. The increasing demand for seafood in the face of static or declining production by fisheries can only be met by increasing aquaculture production. However, the ability of aquaculture to achieve this will depend on accessing new areas of production and increased efficiency of production from existing areas.

Like agriculture, where most of the land suitable for cultivation is already being used, suitable aquaculture sites are limited. Recognition of the value of natural biodiversity, documentation of its loss over the recent past, the increasing vulnerability of the remaining fragments and recognition of the utility of natural habitats for the delivery of vital ecosystem services also reduce the ability and/or advisability of prioritising many places for food production. There is scope for increasing production by accessing new regions for fish farming, such as the open sea, although this will require the development of innovative engineering technologies. Similarly, increased production could be achieved by bringing more species into culture. However, more production from existing areas has the greatest immediate scope for improved production, through application of more intensive farming practices, the application of genetic improvement to a greater range of aquaculture species and a more rapid application of the newest and more powerful methods of genetic improvement to aquaculture species.

Aquaculture is a sector that is likely to benefit greatly from the application of appropriate genetic and reproduction biotechnologies to increase food production, but the application of established genetic improvement methods in aquaculture is much less than in agriculture. Reasons for this include the diversity of species in aquaculture at present (over 230), lack of knowledge of the biology of many of these species and the cost of technology development. These constraints explain in part why biotechnologies are only now emerging as useful tools for increasing the productivity and sustainability of this sector. Knowledge of the aquatic environment and its diversity and genetic resources are also much less than that of the terrestrial sphere. Recent improved understanding of the genetic variety of wild populations, the rapid differentiation of stocks domesticated from these, and the high mobility of many aquatic species has led to concerns over the potential deleterious interaction of wild and domesticated stocks. Given this context, the aquaculture sector will need to rationalise the number of species or species groups on which genetic improvement will focus. Only a handful of species has paid dividends through increased productivity from the application of the genetic improvement to date. The sector needs to broaden and accelerate this front, but with an explicit understanding of what species/species groups will be worked on and how this effort could be rationalised through international effort(s).

The world’s wealth of aquatic biodiversity at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels provides great potential for the aquaculture sector to enhance its contribution to food security and meet future challenges in feeding a growing human population. To realise and explore this potential, issues of access and use of aquatic genetic resources for aquaculture need to be considered. Different to the plant and terrestrial animal-farming sector, aquaculture still depends largely on the natural genetic resources as an important source for broodstock for many species. However, with increased fragmentation and habitat destruction and in the context of climate change, these important resources are under threat. A global approach to responsible use and conservation, effective policies and plans, better information including characterisation of aquatic genetic resources at different levels, and wider use of genetic applications in aquaculture are identified as some of the important elements needed to improve management of aquatic genetic resources. The panel of experts will assess salient issues regarding the status and future trends towards the sustainable use, conservation and exchange of aquatic genetic biodiversity.


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Global Conference on Aquaculture 2010

The conference was organised by FAO, the Thai Department of Fisheries and NACA and held in the Mövenpick Resort and Spa, Phuket, Thailand, 22-25 September. The conference was the third in a series of aquaculture development conferences, following on from the Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium held in Bangkok 2000, and the FAO Technical Conference on Aquaculture, held in Kyoto 1976.