What are aquatic foods?

Aquatic foods are animals and plants grown in or harvested in the wild from water for food or feed, and their synthetic substitutes. They include the following:

  • Finfish: fish as normally understood (e.g. tilapia), which are called finfish to distinguish them from shellfish, which technically are not classed as fish
  • Shellfish: any aquatic animal whose external covering consists of a shell, either crustacea (e.g. shrimps) or molluscs (e.g. oysters)
  • Aquatic plants: includes both aquatic plants (e.g. watercress) and algae (e.g. seaweed).
  • Other aquatic foods: certain niche categories, notably echinoderms (e.g. sea cucumbers) and aquatic mammals (e.g. whales)
  • Aquatic feeds: any of the above categories and other single-celled organisms (e.g. yeasts) used as animal feed
  • Synthetic substitutes: whole or component substitutes for any of the above, produced in environments outside their normal biological context (e.g. surimi or plant- or cell-based alternative aquatic food protein).

Why aquatic foods?

Fish and other aquatic foods are essential to the food and economic security of over 800 million around the world.

Aquatic foods have a unique and critically important role to play, alongside land-based crops and livestock, for transforming global food systems to address major global challenges related to the sustainable development agenda, and in particular the nutrition and public health discourse.

Nutrition, environment, equity, and economic outcomes at local to global scales are affected by the diversity of and the way aquatic food species are farmed and/or harvested, using a great variety of technologies.