Aquaculture development in Latin America and Carribbean: Current status and future prospects

The Latin America and the Caribbean Region (LAC Region) is a region on the move, not only in socio-economic and political terms, but also in what refers to aquaculture. With a population of over 561 million inhabitants (2005), it accounts for 8.7 percent of the world’s total population and is responsible for about 8.5 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product (2007), showing as well the highest life expectancy at birth among developing regions.

A traditional fishing area excelling in the production of wild species (17.2 million tonnes per year in 2005-2007), particularly small pelagics off Peru and Chile, the region accounts for 12–13 percent of total world landings (wild and farmed) of fish products. Aquaculture, in turn, is less relevant, but has grown very rapidly, rising from about 8,400 tonnes per year in 1975–1977 to 1.7 million tonnes per year in 2005–2007, valued at 7,033 million US$ in 2006 (19.3 percent growth per year, compound), more than doubling the world growth rate of 8.3 percent during this same 30 year period. In so doing, and taking into account the more modest growth rates of wild fish production, local aquaculture’s contribution to total regional fishery output has risen from a mere 0.1 percent in 1975–1977 to 8.8 percent in 2005–2007.

However successful this growth process, LAC aquaculture is mainly based on four species (salmon/trout, shrimp, tilapia and mussels). In fact, salmon/trout and shrimp alone account for about 80 percent of the value and 66 percent of the volume farmed along the region in 2005–2007. Similarly, of 32 countries and territories registering aquaculture production in 2005-2007, South America is responsible for 81.8 percent of the volume and 86 percent of the value farmed. Here, only three countries – Chile, Brazil and Ecuador – account for 74.5 percent of the volume and 77.9 percent of the value farmed in this last triennium. Adding Mexico and Colombia, these five nations explain 87.1 percent of volume and 89 percent of the value farmed in 2005–2007.

Even with limited aquaculture production, the LAC Region is already outstanding in salmon/trout production and exports, so that Chile is the most important foreign supplier of the United States and Japanese markets for those products, while Ecuador, Honduras and Costa Rica are the main suppliers of fresh tilapia fillets to the important and growing US market.

This very high degree of concentration of LAC aquaculture production is also accompanied by a diversification process that involves the farming of up to 86 different species during some periods. Concurrently, though, most of them are produced in very low quantities, to the point that 59 percent of all species farmed regionally show annual productions below 1,000 tonnes in 2005–2007, and 78.2 percent of them are below 10,000 tonnes per year in the same period. This means that 48.1 percent of all species farmed in the LAC Region show a mean annual ex-farm value of less than US$ 1 million, and 73.4 percent of them have a value of less than US$ 10 million (2005–2007), figures that speak for themselves of the still-limited contribution of the current diversification efforts.

Irrespectively of the limited achievements in local aquaculture, this paper refers to the region’s potential for future development, on account of its natural environmental conditions, the availability of space, water resources, etc., factors to which apt human resources and infrastructure can be added. Even though good and fairly open market opportunities are discussed and exposed up to the year 2030, the text also discusses a number of limitations and restrictions to making these developments possible. Among them, the most relevant obstacles may be the lack of proper governance, research and development and managerial aspects.

The paper also calls attention to prevailing inequities that prevent and/or discourage access to aquaculture production by small-scale farmers. Current norms and market conditions also tend to discourage their active participation in this industry, implying that there is an inexcusable need for governmental help in providing technology and technical assistance to these producers, but above all, covering a number of other issues, including management, market and marketing, financial aspects, logistic, etc. that commonly become the soft spots that have made past support efforts fail for most part.

Even aquaculture opportunities and development potential in this region are promising, it is essential that local governments have the will and eventually the financial and human resources to embark on a development adventure to further promote the sector. Even if this activity looks attractive and open-ended to many in the region, it is still somewhat obscured by relatively poor visibility, low priority, and not necessarily the best of public images.


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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.