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Eating more fish but getting less nutrition


People in Bangladesh are now eating 30% more fish than they did 20 years ago, but they are getting a smaller amount of important nutrients from it, a new study shows.  Fish is widely known as a healthy food, rich in protein and other nutrients, so how can this be? Well, it comes down to the types of fish available for people to eat.  In Bangladesh as in many regions in the world, naturally harvested fish, which is known as capture fisheries, are faltering. A combination of overfishing, pollution and environmental damage has led to significant losses in both quantities of fish (biomass) and the number of fish species (biodiversity) available.

The result is that consumption of fish from capture fisheries in Bangladesh declined by 33% between 1991 and 2010.  This trend is also seen globally. Production from global capture fisheries peaked in the 1990s and has since been declining as unsustainable fishing practices continue to worsen. Globally, 89% of marine fish stocks are either overfished or at maximum capacity.  At the same time, aquaculture or fish farming (known as the “blue revolution”) has been rapidly expanding. In fact, it is the fastest growing food production sector globally, with average annual growth of 8%, and now accounts for half of all fish consumed by people around the world.

Since aquaculture was introduced in Bangladesh in the 1980s, the industry has grown rapidly. And the country is now the world’s sixth largest producer of aquaculture products.  Growth in this sector has more than compensated for declines in the quantity of fish available from capture fisheries, and this is evident in large increases in consumption over time.

But what is not widely known is that the nutritional value of different fish species varies greatly. It turns out that, in Bangladesh, local species from capture fisheries are generally much more nutritious than the species being farmed.  Capture fisheries in the country are dominated by nearly 300 species of “small indigenous fish”, which are often consumed whole, including head and bones.  Nutrition powerhouses, these small fish are rich sources of important micronutrients including iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin A, as well as high-quality protein.

Aquaculture, on the other hand, is dominated by a handful of large fish species, both indigenous and exotic. Only the flesh of large fish is normally eaten, which is a rich source of high-quality protein, but generally has lower micronutrient content.  As diets have shifted towards more farmed fish, nutrient intakes from fish has declined. And this has serious implications for a country suffering widespread malnutrition.

Indeed, Bangladesh has among the worst malnutrition rates in the world. More than one in three children under five years of age are stunted an indicator of chronic malnutrition. And millions live with various micronutrient deficiencies.  This has been estimated to cost the country US$1 billion each year in foregone economic productivity. And that doesn’t take into account the cost to the health-care system for treating malnutrition or other social costs.

Malnutrition in its various forms affects nearly every country in the world. Combined with poor diet, it’s the number one cause of the global burden of disease.

Fish is a nutrient-rich food that can play a more significant role in addressing this global challenge, not only in Bangladesh but in many regions.  If the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of ending malnutrition is to be achieved, the goals of food production systems, including aquaculture, must be realigned to focus on nutrition. And this means diverse food systems that prioritise nutrient-rich foods.  A novel example of such an approach also comes from Bangladesh. Nutrient-rich small fish are produced in aquaculture systems alongside large fish in a practice known as polyculture, so that several species are raised in the same pond.

The large fish can be sold for income, while small fish are harvested regularly for household consumption or, when in excess, for sale. Farmers are able to increase total yields while also improving the nutritional quality of their production systems.  One small fish, known as mola (Amblypharyngodon mola), is an exceptional source of vitamin A, and including it in polyculture systems has been shown to be a cost-effective strategy for alleviating vitamin A deficiency. Despite the evidence, this approach is yet to be widely adopted.  Research confirms that simply producing more food is not the only global challenge. The focus of food production systems, including aquaculture, must move beyond maximising yields to also consider nutritional quality. Otherwise, the world will continue to confront situations like the one in Bangladesh, where malnutrition remains in spite of plenty.

Global aquaculture market’s growth 2022


The global aquaculture market is experiencing robust growth, which is likely to accelerate through the year 2022.

The report attributes aquaculture’s rising success to the world’s growing human population, its hunger for seafood, and the decline of the captured fish industry.  The report predicts a compound annual growth rate for the global aquaculture industry of 4.46 percent for the five-year period between 2018 and 2022. In 2018, the report predicts a CAGR of 3.72; a CAGR of 4.12 percent in 2019; 4.50 percent in 2020; 4.83 percent in 2021; and 5.15 percent in 2022.

Other key factors identified by the report in the industry’s promising future include improvements in aquaculture systems, sustainable practices, and diversification of species. By focusing on polyculture and intensification of aquaculture, the market – currently valued at USD 180.2 billion is anticipated to reach USD 224.2 billion by 2022.  Currently, total seafood production aquaculture of 74.81 million tons is lower than captured fisheries. But the report details how aquaculture will likely overtake wild-caught fisheries within the next five years.

At present, the global aquaculture market is dominated by China, which accounts for nearly three-fourths of the market in terms of both volume and value, according to the report. China’s CAGR from 2017-2022 is predicted to be 3.99 percent. The second-largest market share for aquaculture products is India, followed by Indonesia, Chile, Norway, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Of those countries, Indonesia will see the highest CAGR through 2022 at 17.24 percent; South Korea will experience the second-highest growth rate at 14.77 percent; and the remaining countries will see compound annual growth rates of between four and nine percent, the report predicted. The aquaculture sector in the United States is estimated to have a CAGR of 4.10 percent.

The report names the biggest impediments to even greater growth for the sector as climatic conditions and prevalence of diseases. Diseases such as white spot disease in shrimp and early mortality syndrome (EMS) in salmon have caused major losses affecting global markets.  However, the aquaculture industry has seen the benefits of its efforts to improve management in the sector, according to the report. Furthermore, the aquaculture sector is an important part of the economic development of many countries, and has received positive treatment by governments seeking to boost their countries’ economic performance, including the introduction of policies in support of the sector. 

Moreover, the market is witnessing a change in consumption preferences that favor aquaculture products. Demand is growing for good-quality and safe products, and consumers are increasingly trusting aquaculture to provide products that meet those demands.The aquaculture industry is also branching into the farming of new species as a way to expand its market share. New aquaculture species mentioned in the report include finfish species like meagre (Argyrosomus regius), greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili), and Atlantic wreckfish; yellowfin tuna  redbelly tilapia  and Napoleon wrasse.

Innovations in the aquaculture technology and the introduction of new species play a major role in the evolution of the global aquaculture market, which has witnessed huge advances in diverse aspects. The introduction of new species in the market directly focuses on the development of aquaculture and provides core scientific and commercially useful information to support the growth in aquaculture production and in the advancement of new technological tools.”

In delving into the characteristics of the market, the Technavio report predicts the already somewhat fragmented market structure will become even more so by 2022, though it does expect the sector to move more from growth mode into maturity. It predicts continuing high levels of innovation, low to medium levels of mergers and acquisition activity, and much higher levels of disruption threats by 2022.




The largest aquaculture research project ever undertaken in Brazil has been started. BRS Aqua involves 22 research centers, 50 public partners and 11 private companies - numbers that should increase over the course of its duration. It is a milestone in investments in the theme, as a result of the partnership between Embrapa, National Bank for Economic and Social Development, National Council for Scientific and Technological Development and the current Special Secretariat of Aquaculture and Fisheries, attached to the Presidency of the Republic.

The project is the third largest ever funded by BNDES Funtec - a non-refundable credit facility for applied research, technological development and innovation projects. It will be R $ 45 million financed by the state bank, R $ 6 million from Embrapa and R $ 6 million from the Special Secretariat of Aquaculture and Fisheries, totaling R $ 57 million. The goal, at the end of the four years, is to establish the infrastructure and scientific research needed to meet the needs of the aquaculture market.

"This project is of great importance not only to our research center, but also to the entire Embrapa and to Brazil. It is the proof that aquaculture has come to stay and has become a strategic area in the country, "celebrates Eric Arthur Bastos Routledge, head of Research and Development at Embrapa Fishing and Aquaculture (TO), unit that coordinates the BRS Aqua.

Four species studied

In Brazil, one of the biggest challenges in aquaculture is the lack of technological packages for the creation of important aquaculture species. Therefore, the project will focus on tambaqui research (Colossoma macropomum), Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) and bijupirá (Rachycentron canadum), which present great market demand or have high productivity potential.

"These species meet at different technological levels and for each of them there will be a different approach," explains researcher and project coordinator, Lícia Maria Lundstedt, of Embrapa Fisheries and Aquaculture. According to her, while the tilapia has a more advanced technological package, research with bijupirá is still incipient in the country, although it is a species native to the Brazilian coast and has the potential to be an option for the development of the national marine fish culture.

Reinforcement of research infrastructure

"Each of these species alone would yield several projects. Anyway, BRS Aqua will generate the most diverse products, among them an increment of the infrastructure for future aquaculture research at Embrapa ", explains Lundstedt. THE Embrapa Coastal Tracks (SE), for example, will have a new laboratory to research marine species; The Embrapa Middle North (IP), which already works with shrimp, will also have improvements in its facilities for research in the area and several other units of Embrapa will receive a reinforcement in infrastructure to increase aquaculture research.

To meet the most diverse demands, BRS Aqua functions as a large umbrella under which there are eight component projects (Germplasm, Nutrition, Health, Environmental Management and Management, Fish Technology, Aquaculture Sector Economics, Technology Transfer and Management ), with research distributed in several Embrapa research centers and productive poles.

Formation of germplasm bank

"One of the highlights in genetics is the generation of scientific and technological information that has a direct impact on the production of better quality tambaqui fingerlings, which will lead to reduced mortality and increased production," Lundstedt said. the project intends to establish a collection of qualified tambaqui germplasm at Embrapa Pesca e Aquicultura for future public or private investments in genetic improvement.

According to the researcher, currently the production sector of the tambaqui uses germplasm little characterized scientifically and without genetic improvement. For the production to advance, it is necessary that the germplasm be genetically improved as regards the productive characteristics, such as improvement in growth rates, greater resistance to diseases, adaptation to intensive systems of cultivation, among other advances.

In sanity, the project intends to map the most important health challenges of tambaqui and its risk factors to propose good management practices, rapid disease diagnosis systems and to develop their respective treatments. One of the main results in this area will be the identification of the preponderant risk factors related to shrimp mortality caused by white spot disease in order to propose measures to avoid or mitigate the effects on its production in the Northeast.

Caused by a virus, the disease manifests itself in the initial stage of development of the crustacean, calcifying it, causing lack of appetite, lethargy and white spots on its shell. Then the animal dies and pollutes the others. With this, entire productions are lost even before they reach the consumer. One of the most recent cases of the disease occurred in Ceará in mid-2017. In six months, 30,000 tons of shrimp were lost - equivalent to 60% of production in the period.

In nutrition, the focus will be on tambaqui and tilapia. Food protocols will be defined for the intensive production of tambaqui, in the larval, fattening and slaughter phases, in nurseries and net tanks, based on the digestion capacity of the feed ingredients and the nutritional requirements of the fish. In addition, the project will address aspects related to feed processing technology, since there are several parameters that need to be carefully monitored to obtain high quality products. The rations available in the market will also be evaluated nutritionally. It is precisely this input that impacts up to 82% in production costs, depending on the system adopted. In practice, the producer ends up spending more than necessary to fatten the animal.

Climate change and fish farming

Issues related to global warming and environmental sustainability are also on the radar of the project, which provides for the development of equipment to monitor the release of greenhouse gases in fish farming. It is also planned to analyze the relationship of production in network tanks, their greenhouse gas emissions and water quality. Monitoring of the physical, chemical and biological variables of sediment and water, including soil contamination and treatment of effluents generated by fish production, will also be studied. Likewise, a system will be developed to treat effluents from fish production.

New fish products

BRS Aqua will also work on different aspects related to fish processing. The project will work on developing technological solutions for the efficient and humane slaughtering of fish, standardization and quality control of fillets, waste use and processing co-products in the elaboration of value-added materials. Likewise, there will be a study of models for solid waste management in the fish processing industry.

Besides technological bottlenecks, Brazilian aquaculture also lacks data and economic analysis. "Because it is a relatively recent sector, compared to traditional agroindustrial chains such as other meats or grains, there is little information on several aspects of the fish chain," says Embrapa researcher Manoel Xavier Pedroza Filho, responsible for the segment of project economics. According to him, data on economic and financial viability of cropping systems, production chain structure, investment risk, economic impact of technology adoption, and macroeconomic data on national aquaculture (jobs, GDP, etc.) are lacking.

"The absence of such information makes it difficult for public and private sector decision-makers to play a key role, not only to guide investment but also to support the formulation of public policies for the sector," he said. BRS Aqua intends to generate economic information of the four species contemplated in the project, through analyzes of economic feasibility of production systems, impact of technology adoption, investment risk, among others.

Great national potential

Although it has 12% of the world's fresh water and a coastline of more than 8,500 km, the Brazilian production of aquatic animals is below its potential. The causes of this performance are diverse and include poor quality of breeding matrices; few studies on the support capacity of growing environments (maximum number of fish ideal for a certain area); limited technical assistance; deficiency in the control and monitoring of aquatic animal diseases; incipient use of waste for the production of derivatives; lack of treatment and utilization of aquaculture effluents and standardization of indicators for environmental licensing in the different environments where aquaculture is practiced.

"We did a survey of information on the sector between 2012 and 2013, which generated two studies that revealed the full potential in the area of ​​aquaculture in Brazil. This was at the time of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture, which wanted to invest in aquaculture development, "recalls Marcos Rossi Martins, head of the Department of Industry and Services at BNDES.

The analysis found major bottlenecks and opportunities. The variety of fish in the Amazon River Basin, for example, is a differential for Brazil to reach new markets. The climate is another advantage in favor of the country, whose conditions for tilapia cultivation - one of the most consumed species of fish in the world - are excellent. Other crops, such as crustaceans and molluscs, also have potential for scale in Brazil. However, the fish industry is still incipient in the country, both in fishing and aquaculture.

According to a 2014 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, world consumption in aquaculture is around 20 kg per capita, while beef consumption reached less than half: 6.54 kg. In this scenario it is easy to see how the fishing and aquaculture market is promising in the country.

"The world demand for fish has been growing rapidly due to population growth and the search for healthier foods. In Brazil this also occurs. In 2003, consumption was less than 6.5 kilograms of fish per person per year, now this figure has risen to nine kilograms per capita. If the population ingested the quantity recommended by the WHO, which is 12 kilos, this would already have an impact on the consumption of 5.722 thousand tons, "estimates Jaldir Lima, one of the coordinators of the BNDES study.

Expectation of improvement in competitiveness

The project was also well received by representatives of the productive sector. Antônio Albuquerque, technical director of the Association of Shrimp Breeders (ACCC), is a sign that the research is attentive to the demands of the market. "This initiative from Embrapa to listen to several actors, including other production chains, to know what the main demands are, is very positive. It is also very useful that the research know what kind of support the productive sector can give ", he says.

Francisco Medeiros, CEO of the Brazilian Fisheries Association, Peixe BR, has many expectations. "We have been following up on this proposal since 2015. It is a sector lacking solutions that offer better competitiveness. In Brazil, we have great researchers in aquaculture, however, we observe low use of technologies generated by these research institutions, "he analyzes. "We have a major competitiveness problem and we expect all these actions to bring solutions that promote better market conditions. Let's follow closely the execution of this work, "he summarizes.