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A rapidly growing human population has led to in an increased reliance on new and enhanced methods for cultivating food on land and in the ocean. The term aquaculture refers to the cultivation in water of animals or plants for human consumption. Depending upon the particular species, aquaculture may be done in freshwater, brackish water or salt water.

Mariculture refers specifically to cultured food production in marine or brackish waters using floating cages, net enclosures, natural or artificial ponds, or closed circulation water systems. Sustainable mariculture supports human well-being, both now and in the future.

Aquaculture is the fastest-growing animal-food production sector in the world, and 17% of the global yield comes from mariculture. Ninety-six (96) % of mariculture yield is produced by only 15 of the world’s 151 coastal nations and their territories.

Mariculture yield is used as a component in calculations of the status and trend of the Food Provision (Subgoal: Mariculture) goal.

Approximately Half of All Farm-Raised Fish and Seafood For Direct Consumption by People Comes from Aquaculture

How Was It Measured?

Reported mariculture production comes from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Global Aquaculture Production Quantity dataset for years from 1950-2011. Only production classified in marine and brackish water environments was included in the analysis; all freshwater and seaweed production were excluded. Total species produced within a country were summed to give a single production value per country for each year that production took place. If no data were available from 2011, status and trend were calculated using the US dollar value from the previous year. This method does not penalize countries if they are only missing a reported mariculture yield value for 2011, however, it does penalize countries that have not reported their mariculture yield for more than one year previous. 

Mariculture yield is used as a component in calculations of the status and trend of Food Provision (Subgoal: Mariculture). 

What Are The Impacts?

Fish and Seafood Farming is the Fastest Growing Animal-Food Production Sector

1 in 7 People

Ecological Impacts

As the volume of mariculture production has risen steadily over the past 30 years, so has the potential risk to surrounding environments. One potential threat comes from farmed populations that have escaped into the wild.

If genetically modified farmed species come into contact with wild stocks, there is the risk of “biological pollution” through interbreeding, which can weaken ecosystem structure and foster the spread of disease. If these non-native species establish viable populations, they may compete or prey upon native species possibly to the point of driving them to extinction.

Certain mariculture methods can damage or destroy coastal habitats.  Mangroves, in particular, have suffered significant losses as forests worldwide are cleared to make way for shrimp farms. By some estimates, shrimp farming is responsible for 10% of global mangrove loss (FAO 2006).

Nutrient pollution from fish wastes and chemical pollution from compounds employed to kill parasites in mariculture species can have adverse effects upon the environment.

Human Health Impacts

Currently, over 1 billion people are dependent upon fish as their daily source of protein. As the population continues to grow, it becomes increasingly important to implement sustainable mariculture. 

Demand for seafood is expected to continue growing by as much as 10 percent annually, or 11 million tons per year for the foreseeable future (FAO 2008).

The growing field of aquaculture has the potential to supplement nutrition, alleviate hunger, improve food security and reduce poverty in many regions (Subasinghe et al. 2009; WFS 2011). However, mariculture practices with poor wastewater treatment, and chemical and/or antibiotic use, can yield seafood that is hazardous to human health.

Economic Impacts

Aquaculture increased steadily from 2001-2009, with an average annual growth rate of 6.1%.

Mariculture production of the Whiteleg Shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) increased nearly tenfold from 269,000 tonnes in 2001 to 2.3 million tonnes in 2009, and generated US$9.2 billion in 2009; the Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) generated US$6.4 billion (FAO 2009). 

Get More Information

UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): Fisheries and Aquaculture Department   

This database provides aquaculture volume and value statistics by country or area, fishing area and culture environment.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Fisheries Service (NOAA)

This database provides quantity and value information for U.S. fisheries, searchable by species, year(s), or state/area.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada: Aquaculture Canada     

Aquaculture Canada provides an overview of aquaculture activity, production rates, economic and employment activity, and output by species.


Beardmore, J. and J. Porte. (2003). Genetically modified organisms and aquaculture.FAO Fisheries Circular, no. 989.

Bostock, J., B. McAndrew, R. Richards, K. Jaunce, T. Telfer, K. Lorenzen, D. Little, L.  Ross, N. Handisyde, I. Gatward and R. Corner. (2010). Aquaculture: global status and trends. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 365: 2897-2912.

Subasinghe, R., D. Soto and J. Jia. (2009). Global aquaculture and its role in sustainable development’, Reviews in Aquaculture 1(1): 2-9.

Trujillo, P. (2008). Using a mariculture sustainability index to rank countries’ performance. Pp. 28-56 In: Alder, J. and D. Pauly (eds.) A comparative assessment of biodiversity, fisheries and aquaculture in 53 countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones.’ Fisheries Centre Research Reports. Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia.    

Subasinghe, R., D. Soto and J. Jia. (2009). Global aquaculture and its role in sustainable development’, Reviews in Aquaculture 1(1): 2-9.    

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