Fishy business: an update on aquaculture’s prospects


Demand for fish protein is only increasing. Projections show growth of 14% by 2030 versus 2020 levels, driven by growing markets in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and Oceania. But the amount of wild-caught seafood remains flat, with more than 85% of the world’s fisheries already being pushed to their limits or beyond.

This situation means future growth cannot rely on a bigger wild-caught seafood catch. And that means aquaculture must keep growing, as well as new markets being developed in so-called alternative seafood. What alternative is that exactly? It is an emerging industry that refers to substitutes for fish and shellfish such as tuna, salmon, and shrimp. Although still in its early days, alternative seafood shows significant potential across three production options, each with its own advantages: plant-based, fermentation-enabled, and cultivated.

The opportunity is explored in a recent McKinsey report,1  but aquaculture – which needs an on-site oxygen supply for larger farms – is in our sights here for its sizeable and potentially growing gas requirement. Currently the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development projects that global fish production will reach 203 million metric tons (Mt) by 2031, with aquaculture production accounting for 108 Mt. It is expected to surpass wild catch at some point next year, as things stand.

Although the past decades have brought significant innovation and new technological solutions for farming fish, supply has not been able to keep up with demand for popular species, such as salmon. This lack of supply is primarily driven by regulatory constraints around new farming licenses, some of which are imposed to secure sustainable farming, as well as protections for wild fish.

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