When you are in the grocery store or in a restaurant picking out dinner, do you insist on wild caught fish? Do you care if your fish is farm raised? Turns out, most people don’t. According to the United Nations, about 47 percent of the world’s total fish supply comes from aquaculture. This translates to a global aquaculture market that is expected to grow to more than $52.4 billion by 2026.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO’s) 2020 report, “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020,” per capita fish consumption grew from 9 kilograms in 1961 to 20.5 kilograms in 2018, equating to around 1.5% growth each year. Per the report, in 2017, fish consumption accounted for 17% of the world population’s intake of animal proteins, and 7% of all proteins consumed. 

That’s a lot of fish, and a huge opportunity for the aquaculture industry.

The market is responding to huge demand growing fast, with annual fish production expected to expand from 179 million tons in 2018 to 204 million tons by 2030. According to the FAO, aquaculture production specifically is projected to reach 109 million tons in 2030, representing an increase of 32% compared to 2018.

Still, most people might be surprised to learn that the “the number of fish eaten from fish farms is roughly even with the number of wild fish consumed, especially as the demand for fish has grown,” according to UC Santa Cruz researcher Anne Kapuscinski.

Here’s what investors should know about the aquaculture industry. 

What is aquaculture?

Simply put, aquaculture is the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of fish, shellfish, algae, and other organisms in all types of water environments, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

Aquaculture often takes place in coastal marine waters and the open ocean. Aquaculture in the US produces numerous species including oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, seaweeds, and fish such as salmon, black sea bass, sablefish, yellowtail, and pompano. In addition to producing food, aquaculture restores habitat, replenishes wild stocks, and rebuilds populations of threatened and endangered species, according to NOAA.

According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, the top five fish producing countries in 2019 were China (63.7 million metric tons), Indonesia (16.6 million metric tons), India (5.7 million metric tons),Vietnam (3.6 million metric tons) and Bangladesh (2.2 million tons). Asia accounted for 89 percent of world aquaculture production by volume, most of which was produced by China. 

Why invest in aquaculture?

The world’s appetite for fish isn’t anticipated to slow down anytime soon. By 2030, the FAO anticipates that the global human population will eat 30 million tons of fish. 

In part, that’s because the world is demanding more protein than ever. Two strong drivers of the growing aquaculture industry include an increasing population growth and protein consumption per capita. Where this growth can potentially leave oceans overfished and depleted, aquaculture offers a creative solution.

According to Forbes, the fish industry “is a decade or more behind all other production animals with respect to innovation — and thus is one of the more attractive opportunities…for agtech investors and startups alike.” 

The industry, however, is not without challenges. From bacterial and viral infections among densely populated fish to environmental impacts, aquaculture isn’t perfect. 

There is, however, ample opportunity for scientific solutions. For investors, this means investment opportunities in everything from improved vaccines to fish food to genetic engineering of fish that are more resilient and adaptable. According to Global Market Insights, the global aquaculture vaccines market alone will reach $290 million by the year 2025. Even more, supplying nutrients to the aquaculture industry is a $60 billion opportunity

Investment in fish farming is happening now, and happening here. In November 2020, the company Pure Salmon announced that it will build a large indoor fish-farming operation in Virginia. Pure Salmon will invest about $228 million in the equipment and facility, which according to the news release, would be the “world’s largest vertically integrated indoor aquaculture facility.”

While aquaculture is lauded as more sustainable by comparison to the practice of overfishing, for example, there are some doubts about the ethics of it. To name a few, wild fish are often caught to feed farmed fish, questioning the efficacy of the system. Additionally, fish waste in densely populated open ocean farms can deplete oxygen in the surrounding marine environment. That’s not to mention genetic engineering, the living conditions of farmed fish, or other considerations. 

For investors interested in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, the Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index can help. The Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index is the world’s only comprehensive assessment of the largest animal protein producers on critical ESG issues.

The market demand for fish isn’t expected to slow down. And as such, aquaculture is expected to grow as a crucial industry that helps to feed the world’s population. According to the FAO, “to ensure a food secure future for all, the fisheries and aquaculture sector is key.” This means that there is ample opportunity for investors as the fish farming market continues to grow and develop.

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