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With the planet’s population growing and the global market for seafood steadily increasing, natural fish production from the world’s lakes, rivers, and oceans will be insufficient to keep up with demand in the long term. To support global demand, aquaculture is a critical resource for raising seafood efficiently and sustainably.
The USDA defines aquaculture as the farming of aquatic organisms, including fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and more. The farming process includes seeding, stocking, and feeding fish, shellfish, and other aquatic products in a controlled environment. The controlled environment makes aquaculture distinct from wild caught seafood taken from a natural habitat.
Aquaculture in the U.S. represents a $1.5 billion industry annually and helps support 1.7 million jobs in the broader seafood industry, according to estimates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These figures place the U.S. relatively low on a global scale as an aquaculture producer—17th in total aquaculture production—but the U.S. is one of the top consumers of aquaculture imports. More than 90% of seafood in the U.S. comes from outside of the country, and around half of that total comes from farm-raised seafood.
Aquaculture products in the U.S. that generate the most sales fall in the categories of food fish and mollusks. Food fish—a category that includes any fish raised primarily for food, such as catfish, sturgeon, tilapia, trout, or salmon—accounts for nearly half of the aquaculture market by itself, with $716 million in sales each year. Mollusks—which are marine invertebrates like clams, mussels, and oysters also commonly raised as food—follow behind at $442 million sold each year.