Aquaculture and socio-economic growth and development: enabling policies and partnership for improved benefits

The Bangkok Declaration and Strategy for Aquaculture Development Beyond 2000 recognised that aquaculture has great contribution to people’s livelihoods, food security, poverty alleviation, income generation, employment and trade; and the potential of aquaculture’s contribution has not yet been fully realised across all continents. It also recognised that aquaculture’s potential to contribute to human development and social empowerment cannot be fully realised without consistent, responsible policies and goals, effective institutional arrangements and regulatory frameworks, and improved co-operation among stakeholders at the national, regional and inter-regional levels. It suggested that the aquaculture sector should continue to be developed towards its full potential of contributing towards sustainable livelihoods, human development and social well-being.

Over the past decade, aquaculture expansion has been driven mainly by the private sector’s motive for profits. Through innovations in technology and organisation; intensification in operations; and diversification in products, species and culture systems, aquaculture continues growing in the new millennium towards a matured and global industry, accounting for half of the world human seafood consumption and with half of its products traded across borders. While the sector is still mainly motivated by and promoted for its economic benefits, increasing attention has been paid to aquaculture’s environmental and social responsibilities. Learning from past experience of runaway yet unsustainable aquaculture growth, many governments have used regulations and public policies to establish clear guidelines for resource utilisation and to promote sustainable practices in aquaculture operations. Policies and regulations have also been used to address public concerns over the potential negative environmental and social impacts of aquaculture; certification schemes have been initiated to address consumer’s health concerns. As a result, fish farmers have become increasingly aware of the importance of long-term sustainability and more willing to adopt codes of conduct, best management practices, farmers’ groups, and other self-discipline mechanisms. Globally, the main theme of aquaculture development in the first decade of the new millennium seems to be sustainable economic growth, environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

Even though globally the impressive aquaculture development of the last decade has led to the recognition of the sector as more than just a branch of fisheries, institutional arrangements for sustainable aquaculture development have only made baby steps and have many aspects to improve. In most countries there are still lack of aquaculture-specific laws and regulations; the sector has to deal with diverse regulations designed by different agencies for diverse sectors touching upon aquaculture but often without due consideration of the aquaculture sector. Even with laws and regulations specifically targeting aquaculture, the lack of institutional and human capacity for their implementation may render them ineffective. While certification schemes have helped facilitate environmentally and socially responsible behaviours, their proliferation has often caused confusion, increased costs of compliance, and in some cases, fostered cynicism that these schemes are no more than marketing trickeries for higher profit margins. Despite increasing awareness, knowledge and technical constraints tend to hinder farmers’ attempts to fulfil their environmental and social responsibilities.

An economically efficient, environmentally friendly and socially responsible aquaculture sector will benefit everyone because of its associated invaluable environmental and social amenities. However, this win-win situation is difficult to achieve because of diverse hindrances. Externalities (people may not know or care about the impacts of their behaviours on others), moral hazard (people may think their individual irresponsible behaviours do not matter much as long as others are environmentally and socially responsible), averse selection (profit-driven people may want to free-ride those who are environmentally and socially responsible) and asymmetric information (even when all the people are willing to simultaneously internalise their externalities for mutual benefits, it will not happen because of lack of communication and trust) are some of these barriers. As is the case in many countries, various institutions can be set up to neutralise these obstacles. Laws and regulations are only one of them and may not be the most efficient or effective one. In any case, efficient and effective institutional arrangements for sustainable aquaculture development would, at minimum, require understanding of the socio-economic impacts of the sector, and the willingness of the governing authorities to set up policies, laws and regulations; enforce environment stewardship and facilitate equitable development, as well as effective partnership among stakeholders for decision-making, cost and benefit sharing, and conflict resolution.

This paper builds on countries’ recent experiences to review the role of aquaculture in countries’ socio-economic growth and development, and discusses how institutional arrangements (including policies, laws, regulations and effective partnership among stakeholders) can lead to aquaculture’s enhanced net benefits to society. Aquaculture growth has recently been slowing down, and the sector is facing various resource, environmental, economic, knowledge and institutional constraints. Fortunately, as population growth, economic expansion and increasing preference for healthy food are expected to continue sustaining the demand for aquaculture products, there would be a relatively benign environment to foster environmentally and socially responsible behaviours in this highly profit-driven and lucrative sector.


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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.