Aquaculture is the fastest growing food production sector in the world. Global production of farmed fish and shellfish has more than doubled over the past 15 years. Meanwhile, per-capita consumption of fish is 17 kg per year, nearly half of which comes from aquaculture, a sector which employs around 12 million people worldwide.

Why? Protein from the seas

Ocean fisheries are either stagnant or declining. Most countries engage in some form of aquaculture, an industry that has rapidly expanded at an average of almost 9% per year for the last 30 years. During the next decade, more seafood will be produced than beef, pork, or poultry, making aquaculture one of the most important industries in global food production.

  • Shrimp

    Shrimp farming is an important part of aquaculture and is valued at around 9 billion USD. Recently, shrimp production has shifted from traditional, small-scale businesses into a global industry. Technological advances have led to higher production and brood stock is now shipped worldwide.

    Virtually all the shrimp we eat come from just two species: Pacific white shrimp and giant tiger prawn, accounting for 80% of all farmed shrimp. These industrial monocultures are susceptible to diseases and can create ecological problems like high energy use, mangrove habitat destruction, effluent, and waste when not well managed.

  • Farmed Fish

    Fish farming involves raising fish in tanks, ponds or ocean enclosures. The most important species are carp, salmon, tilapia and catfish. It offers an alternative to widespread overfishing of ocean species.

    However, farming carnivorous fish, such as salmon, does not always reduce pressure on wild fisheries, since they are usually fed fishmeal and fish oil extracted from wild fish. The fish farming industry produced 33.8 million tonnes of fish in 2008.

    The sector has considerable potential to grow further, if smallholder fish farmers can improve productivity and gain access to world markets through initiatives such as those being taken by us and our partners.

  • Mangrove Protection

    Well maintained mangrove forests are extremely productive ecosystems that benefit both the marine environment and people. They protect coastal zones, provide nursery areas for fish, and generate livelihoods for millions of people, for example through tourism.

    Mangrove forests support a wide variety of fish, crab, shrimp, and mollusks, which are an essential source of food for coastal communities around the world. Mangrove wood is resistant to rot and insects, and its dense root systems trap sediments, helping to stabilize the coastline and prevent erosion.

Challenges Swimming in circles

The rapid growth of aquaculture is accompanied by a range of problems that affect productivity and sustainability. The challenges facing traditional wholesale markets include cut-throat competition for scarce raw materials and the need to address growing demands for food safety, improved worker livelihoods, and overall sustainability.

  • People

    Gone Fishing

    Fisheries and aquaculture provide incomes for almost 55 million people worldwide, with a particular concentration of smallholder fish farmers in Asia. In China alone almost 14 million people work in the sector. There are also many jobs in processing, packaging, marketing and distribution. In total, fish production supports 10% of the world’s population.

    Yet unfair employment practices in the sector—including exploitation of local labour, gender discrimination and child employment—are undermining trust in the sector and jeopardising markets for farmed seafood.

    Many fish farmers are underperforming, because they lack up-to-date knowledge and quality inputs. Even farmers who produce large amounts of shrimp in a sustainable way are not getting a premium price, as the chain of custody cannot be reliably demonstrated to buyers.

  • Environment

    Environmental Impact

    Aquaculture’s rapid growth has had a profound effect on ecosystems. Demand for inputs places a huge strain on scarce resources. The discharge of fish feces, unused fish feed, and chemicals on aquaculture farms reduce the amount of oxygen in the water and relseasing chemicals that can kill aquatic species, decreasing biodiversity.

    This pollution jeopardizes production, and since intensive farming causes various bacterial diseases, fish farmers are using antibiotics in greater numbers. Intensive systems also require high levels of inputs, mostly feed, which in turn requires increasingly intensive soil, water, and waste management. Feed is critical, representing almost 60% of operational costs, but many feed companies use fish meal from unsustainable wild fish stocks.

    Aquaculture has also resulted in the destruction of coastal and magrove areas, causing surrounding areas to be more prone to floods, droughts, and tropical storms.

Track record Doing swimmingly

  • 2015

    Solidaridad built on the Seafood Trade Intelligence Portal and the food security programme in Bangladesh to increase transparency in seafood supply chains and promote good practices. We also created partnerships with producers, input suppliers and buyers to pilot innovative solutions. For example, we took 15 European companies on a trade and investment mission to Myanmar, which led to two investment pilots for tilapia and shrimp. In addition, a partnership with Wageningen University, Deltares and Pur Projet set out to redesign shrimp-farming polders in coastal Bangladesh.

  • 2014

    Over 60 EU-approved factories in Bangladesh and Myanmar shared in-depth performance and compliance information with regard to traceability, food safety, and social and environment sustainability for the Seafood Trade Intelligence Portal.

  • 2013

    Over 25,000 fish and shrimp farmers joined our training programme in Bangladesh.

Solution Market Transparency

One of the key ways we work towards market transparency and sustainable production in aquaculture is through portals. To that end, we have developed the the Seafood Trade Intelligence Portal (STIP), which provides seafood buyers around the world with a supplier database including detailed information on all EU-approved seafood exporters.

  • Local Support

    Many smallholder shrimp farmers find it difficult to meet the standards required for access to high-end niche markets. Due to a lack of knowledge, they often use inappropriate inputs and are unaware of the benefits of certification. Our producer support programmes, which focus on optimising farming systems, can double production and triple incomes.

    Although millions of fish farmers in Asia produce a significant volume of seafood that meets high-end market requirements, they are often not visible within international markets. By 2020 we aim to build a thriving international seafood sector where wholesalers choose sustainable seafood, processors invest in safe, high-quality supply chains and farmers receive support to increase sustainable output and reduce their environmental footprint.

    Together with our partners in Sustainable Agriculture, Food security and Linkages (SAFaL), we assist farmers in establishing sustainable farming practices and increasing their income, while safeguarding the environment. About half of the producers we support are extensive monoculture shrimp farmers; the remainder have freshwater farms and engage in polyculture. The business cases we develop involve local premium retailers as well as international shrimp buyers.

    We support local fish farmers who produce black tiger shrimp, giant prawn, pangasius and tilapia. The primary aim is to capitalise on the unique characteristics of improved traditional, low-input, and low-intensity production systems in order to meet international demand for high-quality produce with a distinctive origin, and invest in capacity to increase competitiveness in export markets.

    In line with significant improvements in supply chains, we are helping to build the reputation of the Bangladeshi seafood sector through strategic brands such as Premium Panga for high-end domestic retail markets and high-end black tiger shrimp, such as Selva Shrimp, for export.

    "I am motivated to assist small-scale shrimp farmers with getting access to high-end markets."

    Manager Gazi fish farm in Bangladesh

  • Informing global influencers

    Supermarket chains and large retailers are important players in setting market requirements, given the increasing globalisation of the aquaculture value chain, with large retailers controlling the growth of international distribution channels.

    The STIP addresses the biggest single issue in seafood supply chains worldwide: transparency. By systematically disclosing information about traceability, food safety, and social and environment sustainability, it will help set the agenda for investments in sustainable seafood by businesses, investors, and development organisations.

    The STIP supplier database will help ensure that production meets increasingly stringent market requirements by collecting and making available data and information on supply chains and markets. As a result, buyers will be able to find suppliers that meet their specific needs and market requirements. Exporters can use the STIP to explore new markets and find international buyers that match their own needs.

    "At Solidaridad we build alliances with producers, buyers and certifiers, in order to devise tailored solutions that will pay off for producers and market players alike."

    Internation Programme Manager, Aquaculture Solidaridad

Impact Bold start

Aquaculture is our newest programme, but we have made a bold start towards transforming international wholesale markets through the STIP. We thus aim to increase the share and volume of sustainable seafood in markets in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, the UK, and the US.

Want to know more

about Solidaridad's impact?

Join us Support our work

The aquaculture sector has great potential, but also faces significant challenges. If you are an exporter, you can use STIP to showcase your company and increase your market exposure to buyers from all over the world. If you are a buyer, you can source fish from increasingly responsible suppliers in Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Indonesia.


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  • Contact Information

    Daniel Knoop

    International Programme Coordinator, Aquaculture

    't Goylaan 15, 3525 AA Utrecht, The Netherlands