Value chains and market access for aquaculture products

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By Milthon Lujan

Projection of fisheries and aquaculture production for the period 2019–2029. Source: Ababouch, et al., (2023).
Projection of fisheries and aquaculture production for the period 2019–2029. Source: Ababouch, et al., (2023).

Aquaculture products have become some of the most globalized food products, attracting interest from various stakeholders examining industry developments.

It is important to highlight that a unique feature of the global aquaculture value chain is that more than 80% of production takes place in developing countries, mainly in Asia. At the same time, 60 to 70% of the demand in value occurs in Europe, North America, and Japan.

As a result, the institutional and operational capacity of producing countries face the challenge of complying with international regulations and standards for consumer protection, social compliance, and environmental requirements, in order to actively participate in the global aquaculture value chain.

Researchers from FAO, Nha Trang University, and the University of Cantabria published a study where they review the current state and problems facing aquaculture value chains.

The report focuses on the challenges and prospects for the development of aquaculture value chains, their main drivers, implications, and opportunities for the future of the global aquaculture value chain.

Governance and development of the global value chain

A value chain describes a range of activities, actors, and services required to take a product from an initial state, through various stages of production and processing, to a final destination market.

The concept of value chain analysis, governance, and development has emerged over the last 20 years as a useful approach to analyzing and understanding dynamics in value chain nodes of key actors, economic costs and benefits, value addition and creation, and developing appropriate trade policies and instruments for promoting sustainable aquaculture.

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Global aquaculture value chain

Aquaculture value chains make significant contributions to socio-economic development in many countries. The first set of key activities in the global aquaculture value chains relates to production.

By 2019, global aquatic animal production was estimated at 85.3 million tons, valued at US$260 billion, and contributed 54% of fish for human consumption.

An estimated 20.5 million people were engaged in aquaculture in 2018, and between 7 and 7.8 million additional employment opportunities were produced throughout the aquaculture value chain, from harvest to distribution.

The second group of key activities in the global value chain is utilization. Around 88% of fish harvested by fishing and aquaculture in 2019 were used for direct human consumption, compared to 67% recorded in the 1960s.

Aquaculture products were distributed live, fresh or chilled (44%), which is the most preferred and highest-priced product form. The rest of the fish supply for human consumption was frozen (35%), canned (11%), or cured (salted, fermented, and smoked: 10%).

Despite significant growth in aquaculture using feeds, less wild fish (18 million tons in 2019) were used for fish meal and fish oil production, compared to around 30 million tons in the 1990s.

Among the reasons, an increasing share of fish meal and oil, estimated between 25% and 35%, is produced from fish processing by-products.

Main drivers of value chain development

The global value chain of aquaculture has evolved over the decades to adapt to the emerging requirements and preferences of consumers and health authorities in major markets.

These requirements and preferences have been driven for many years by concerns about the health of consumers and aquatic animals, shelf life, and convenience.

Consumer preferences have been shaped by social changes and the evolution of lifestyles.

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Rules governing value chains

Aquaculture value chains are highly globalized and involve many actors and companies interacting across national borders and continents.

Today, it is common to cultivate fish in one country, process it in another country, and consume it in a third different country.

The management of aquaculture product flows, transactions, and associated logistics must be based on international rules so that market access and market entry are reliable and predictable. These rules are enshrined in agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Challenges facing value chains

While the significant growth of the global aquaculture value chain and the associated socioeconomic, nutritional, and food security benefits for rural and coastal communities in many countries are considered positive.

However, the development of fed species aquaculture has impacted key biodiversity and ecosystem functions through mangrove deforestation, excessive release of nutrients, chemical pollution, and escape of cultured species.

A wide range of approaches have been promoted, with varying degrees of success in their implementation and results. These include the Ecosystem Approach to Aquaculture (EAA), spatial planning, aquaculture zoning, and management of the aquaculture area.

These approaches have been complemented throughout the global aquaculture value chain with market instruments based on standards, certification, and labeling.

Perspectives for value chain development

Over the past 30 years, aquaculture has become more integrated into the global food system, with rapid growth in seed and feed production and large transformations in cultivation and processing technologies, biosecurity, farm management, and value chain governance.

According to OECD/FAO projections for the period 2019-2029, global fish production will reach 200 million tons by 2029, increasing by 25 million tons compared to the base period.

Similarly, it is projected that by 2019, 90% of fish and aquaculture production will be consumed as food.


Many factors can influence the dynamics of the global aquaculture value chain development. As a result, there is a range of uncertainty when projecting into the future.

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These include external factors (climate change, environmental conditions) and political factors (fisheries and aquaculture management and governance, trade policies, market, and price fluctuations).

The review concludes that over the past 20 years, trends in aquaculture production and environmental performance have been positive. Habitat destruction, particularly of mangrove ecosystems, has declined markedly since 2000.

Challenges to the aquaculture industry persist, particularly the effects of pathogens, parasites, pests, pollution, harmful algal blooms, and climate change.

Lahsen Ababouch
FAO, Rome, Italy.

Reference (open access):
Ababouch, L., Nguyen, K. A. T., Castro de Souza, M., & Fernandez-Polanco, J. (2023). Value chains and market access for aquaculture products. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society, 1– 27.

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