Development must be equitable and sustainable.

SHANGHAI, CHINA — While the growing aquaculture category is playing a crucial role in global food production, more innovation is needed to ensure equitable and sustainable growth, said Qu Dongyu, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

He spoke on the opening day of the Global Conference on Aquaculture Millenium+20 in Shanghai, China. Aquaculture is the fastest growing agri-food sector globally and there is huge potential for additional expansion in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, he said.

The conference, which adopted the theme “Aquaculture for Food and Sustainable Development,” is the fourth to be held and is organized by the FAO and China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, together with the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA).

Aquaculture is vital for feeding the world’s expanding population and the conference is considering a range of issues and opportunities ranging from traditional family farming in vulnerable communities to cutting-edge technology.  Themes to be discussed at the conference include: innovation, genetic resources, biosecurity, the social and human dimension, value chains and market access.

Global consumption of fish has increased by 122% since 1990 and aquaculture now accounts for more than 50% of current fish consumption. That figure is expected to rise above 60% during the next decade. However, the impacts of the climate crisis and disruption to production and consumption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have created challenges on the rate of growth and expansion of the sector.

The Shanghai Declaration, which is expected to be adopted at the conference, is a call to action that will shape the future of aquaculture and seek to optimize the sector’s contribution to global agri-food systems in line with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Qu stressed aquaculture plays an important role in the FAO’s new Strategic Framework 2022-2031 through its Blue Transformation priority program, with the objective of supporting 35% to 40% growth in global aquaculture by 2030.

“FAO’s Strategic Framework is based on the principles of the Four Betters: better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all — leaving no one behind,” he said.  “The Shanghai Declaration is a call for global action.”

The FAO recognizes the contribution of aquaculture to food security, by providing technical assistance through the implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

A key instrument that has been guiding the principles for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture around the world since 1995, the Code seeks to develop and implement efficient policies and legal frameworks that promote sustainable and equitable aquaculture development, especially in developing countries, with improved socio-economic benefits.

The FAO conducts a global review of the state of aquaculture, and on the request of its members, it also is developing Guidelines for Sustainable Aquaculture (GSA) to provide practical guidance for government authorities and policymakers in their efforts to promote the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and advance their capacity in the development of sustainable aquaculture sectors.

The UN organization also has developed innovative projects to promote aquaculture. For example, the FAO has partnered with the United Arab Emirates to develop the country’s fledgling aquaculture industry. With technical support from the FAO, the UAE is investing in modern technologies to build sustainable and profitable aquaculture production that will maintain the country’s fish supply, improve its food security and transform its agri-food system.

In response to climate shocks and extreme weather events, the FAO is working to support livelihoods and increase resilience by rebuilding the prawn industry in Dominica and elsewhere through its Climate Change Adaptation of the Eastern Caribbean Fisheries (CC4FISH) project.

The director-general said aquaculture could also play a key role in the FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Initiative to accelerate agri-food systems transformation.  Through the Global Sustainable Aquaculture Advancement Partnership, the FAO is collaborating with the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences.

Qu told the conference: “Aquaculture already plays an important role in ‘Leaving no-one behind,’ which means all our efforts and actions must focus on everyone everywhere, in order to end hunger and poverty.”

The sector needs to adopt an “holistic” approach with a focus on people and communities, specifically on the women, youth, elderly and indigenous communities who rely on aquaculture for their livelihoods, he said.