The State of the World's Aquatic Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture 

A new report shows the great potential of genetic improvements in aquaculture. According to the authors, this could significantly boost sustainable food supply for future generations.

The report The State of the World's Aquatic Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture reviews the use of aquatic genetic resources both in capture fisheries and in aquaculture, in areas under national jurisdiction. It was published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in late August 2019.

Wider, appropriate and long-term application of genetic improvement in aquaculture, with a focus on selective breeding, will help boost food production and in this way meet a projected increase in demand for fish and fish products with relatively little extra feed, land, water and other inputs, the report says. It is based on information provided by 92 countries, together representing 96 per cent of global aquaculture production and over 80 per cent of capture fisheries production.

Aquaculture production could be significantly enhanced

Aquaculture is lagging far behind terrestrial agriculture - both cropping and livestock - in terms of the characterisation, domestication and improvement of its genetic resources for food production. The report concludes that we have the opportunity to significantly enhance sustainable aquaculture production through the strategic management and development of some of the more than 550 species currently used in aquaculture.

We are still largely farming wild fish, says the report, with 45 per cent of cultured species being little different from their wild counterparts. It also notes that just over half of the reporting countries consider that genetic improvement is having a significant impact on their aquaculture production, in contrast with the extensive use of improved breeds and varieties in livestock and crop production. The report stresses the potential for sustainable production gains through the genetic improvement of farmed aquatic resources.

Rising fish demand expected

According to FAO, a growing human population is expected to drive up fish consumption by approximately 1.2 per cent per annum over the next decade. Production of fish and fish products is estimated to reach over 200 million tonnes by 2030.

Given that production from the world's capture fisheries has stabilised at about 90-95 million tonnes per annum, with nearly a third of marine fish stocks being overfished, there is little scope for additional production in the foreseeable future except through loss-and-waste management and efficiencies. The expected growth in demand for fish and fish products therefore needs to be largely met from aquaculture. In this context, the responsible and sustainable use of aquatic genetic resources will be essential to fulfil this role.

Numerous technologies are available to improve aquatic genetic resources, with FAO recommending a focus on well-designed, long-term selective breeding programmes, which can increase productivity of aquatic species by 10 per cent per generation. 


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