Aquaculture development in Asia-Pacific: Current status and future prospects

The Asia-Pacific region continues to lead in aquaculture production. Aquaculture production in the region was 11.94, 31.08 and 59.57 million tonnes in 1987, 1997 and 2007, and accounted for 85.5, 90.7 and 91.4 percent of the global production, respectively. The dominance of the region in the global aquaculture scene is also exemplified by the Asia-Pacific being the leading producer (in volume and value) of the major cultured commodities viz. finfish, molluscs, shrimp and seaweed, and nine out of ten of the current leading aquaculture-producing countries being from the region. Among the countries in the region, China has continued to maintain its dominance in aquaculture production.

Aquaculture practices in the Asia-Pacific region are very diverse and are conducted in fresh, brackish and marine waters, with overall freshwater finfish production being the most dominant. Also, aquaculture practices in the region are mostly small-scale, farmer- owned/leased, operated and managed practices, often concentrated in areas that are conducive to aquaculture. In the last decade, the region has witnessed major developments and successes such as that of: (1) the change in shrimp culture practices from the indigenous black tiger shrimp (Penaeus monodon) to the exotic whiteleg shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei), indicative of the resilience and adaptability of small-scale farmers to unforeseen circumstances; (2) striped catfish (tra) farming in the Mekong Delta, Viet Nam, possibly the most explosive growth in an aquaculture commodity, within a restricted geographical area; (3) establishment of a significant export trade for a relatively low-value cultured commodity (Indian major carp (Labeo rohita), commonly known as “rohu”) in Myanmar; (4) the development of marine cage culture of relatively high-value finfish species in China and other Asian countries, with a gradual decrease of dependence on wild-caught seed stocks, among others. The region is also experiencing the increasing development and adoption of better management practices (BMPs) for major cultured commodities and farming systems. This combined with the organisation of farmers into clusters would add further synergies bringing about improvements in management, profitability and sustainability of small-scale farming and will facilitate these farming communities to meet the modern market demands on food quality and safety, and challenges collectively and effectively.

It is noted that the great bulk of aquaculture production in the region is of relatively low-value species, often commanding a farm-gate price of less than 2.0 US$/kg and overall, the farm-gate price of most cultured commodities has remained relatively static over the last ten years or so, often placing small-scale farmers at the brink of economic viability. The need for taking measures to improve this trend in the coming era will be crucial to both the economic viability and sustainability of the sector at large in the region.

The review discusses the potential growth areas in aquaculture in the region, which include intensification of existing practices; more judicious and expansive secondary use of lentic waters, foremost through the development of cage culture; effective use of non-perennial waters (estimated at 66.72 million ha) for culture-based fisheries development through community management; and enhancing and improving upon the age-old rice-fish culture practices to meet modern market demands. The potential constraints confronting the growth of the sector and the possible strategies that would facilitate the expected growth from aquaculture and thereby continue to contribute to meeting the increasing food fish demands to food security and to poverty alleviation in the region are discussed.

Apart from those strategies that would bring about a direct impact on production increases, there is also a need to improve public perceptions on aquaculture through better communication of successes and their impacts on nutrition, food security, and social well-being; the contribution of aquaculture to biodiversity conservation and the increasing emphasis by the aquaculture community on attempting to cause minimal perturbation of the environment, to the extent that any form of food production system could achieve. These attributes will lead to better policy development and governance of the sector, thereby further facilitating the sector’s growth in the region. The region will be more cautious of the use of alien species in aquaculture development, particularly in respect to new introductions, and will also ensure that measures are taken to bring about induction of scientific know-how on maintaining genetic diversity in broodstock management of newly emerging species. A number of selective breeding programmes have started for major commodities such as tiger shrimp, rohu, tilapia and common carp, and there is a need to evaluate the impacts of genetically improved strains on the overall production figures. Also, this highlights the need for development of mechanisms for access and benefit sharing (i.e. dissemination of improved strains) of the genetic resources. Increasing communication and use of modern technologies to do so, among small-scale farmers in the region will be crucial in disseminating knowledge, keeping farmers informed of the fast-changing global market place and leading to adoption of technological innovations.

The region will have to be alert and continue to develop mitigating measures for the potential climatic change impacts on the sector. In this regard, the most vulnerable in the region would be those systems that are located in deltaic areas, such as the Mekong, Ganges-Brahmaputra, Red River etc., which also happen to be hubs of aquaculture activity, and means of millions of livelihoods.

Aquaculture in the Asia-Pacific region is on a firm footing and will continue to contribute increasingly to global foodfish supplies, income generation, food security and poverty alleviation, in spite of the major global challenges and constraints faced by such developments. It will continue to forge ahead and be the global leader and will do so through the dedication and resilience of small-scale farmers who constitute the backbone of the sector, as in the case of all primary production sectors in the region, but with ever increasing awareness of achieving sustainability with minimal environmental perturbation and impacts on 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.