Aquaculture is the production of aquatic animals and plants under controlled conditions for all or parts of their lifecycles. Aquaculture systems may be either freshwater or saltwater (marine). Producers may use water-based systems (e.g., pens, nets, or open sea cages), or land-based (e.g., artificial ponds, aboveground tanks, etc.). Interventions used in aquaculture farming can include seeding, stocking, feeding, and protection from predators. This contrasts with the wild-caught fishery sector, which harvests aquatic animals from wild water sources. Several U.S. Government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, publish data related to U.S. aquaculture markets.

U.S. Aquaculture Industry

The USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Census of Aquaculture expands on the aquaculture data collected in the Census of Agriculture. The Census of Aquaculture provides information related to production methods, surface water acres and sources, inventory, sales, point of first sale, and distributed aquaculture.

According to the USDA, NASS 2018 Census of Aquaculture, the total sales of U.S. aquaculture products were about $1.5 billion (over $1.75 billion in 2022 dollars). From 1998 to 2005, the number of aquaculture farms increased 7 percent, but product sales, adjusted for inflation, declined 7 percent. From 2005 to 2013, the number of aquaculture farms declined 28 percent while inflation-adjusted product sales increased 5 percent. Aquaculture farm numbers continued to slide from 2013 to 2018, dropping an additional 5 percent to 2,932 farms as inflation-adjusted product sales grew by almost 3 percent.

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Geographically, in 2018, over half of the aquaculture farms were in the southeastern region of the United States. About 20 percent (522 farms) of the aquaculture farms in the United States were in Louisiana. Sales of crustaceans accounted for 37 percent of Louisiana’s total sales of $135.7 million, and sales of mollusks were 21 percent of the total. Florida had the second greatest number of aquaculture farms in 2018 but ranked ninth in value of aquaculture product sales at $71.6 million. The third greatest number of aquaculture farmers were in Virginia, which ranked fourth in sales value at $112.6 million. Mollusk sales accounted for 83 percent of Virginia farm’s total sales value.

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States with the largest aquaculture sales are displayed below. Sales generated from the top two States represented 28 percent of U.S. aquaculture sales, while the top five States accounted for 51 percent of all sales in 2018.

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The following figure shows aquaculture sales by product type. In 2018, food fish (47 percent) and mollusks (29 percent) accounted for over 75 percent of U.S. aquaculture sales.

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In addition to the Census of Aquaculture, USDA, NASS publishes information on catfish in its Catfish Production report twice a year and on trout annually in Trout Production. The Catfish Production report published in February includes water area, grower inventory, and sales numbers by size groups for major production States and the United States. The July issue contains water area and grower inventory.

U.S. Seafood Consumption

The U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Fisheries Office of Science and Technology publishes estimates of the U.S. per capita consumption (PCC) of seafood products, which includes consumption of products produced through both aquaculture and captive fisheries in both marine and freshwater. The PCC calculation is based on a disappearance model, using data collected by U.S. Department of Commerce’s NOAA Fisheries, including the Annual Survey of Seafood Processors, USDA, NASS aquaculture production data, and imports and exports from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. Approximately 80 percent of U.S. seafood consumption comes from imported products. Over the last three decades, the demand for seafood has expanded and contracted as consumers’ tastes and preference for finfish and shellfish have changed. During this period, per capita consumption of seafood grew by 30 percent, reaching 20.5 pounds per person in 2021. The data presented in the chart below include both farm-raised and wild-caught products.

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Global Seafood Trade

In this section, total trade sales of seafood products are displayed (instead of aquaculture-specific trade), because, for some products, trade data do not distinguish between farm-raised and wild-caught products. The United States is one of the largest importers of seafood products in the world. The following chart shows the top five importers by value of seafood products.

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According to Trade Data Monitor, in 2022, China and Norway were the largest seafood exporters on a value basis. As of 2022, China was the world’s largest seafood exporter, supplying over $22.4 billion of seafood products globally. Norway was the second leading seafood exporter at $15.5 billion in 2022, followed by Ecuador, Chile, India, the European Union, Canada, Thailand, and Indonesia. The United States ranked 10th in the world in value of seafood exported in 2022 with U.S. exports of $5.4 billion.

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U.S. Seafood Trade

The value of U.S. seafood imports, adjusted for inflation, has mostly trended upward since 1995. The highest import values for the United States occurred in 2021 and 2022. The top five suppliers to the United States (Canada, Chile, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam) accounted for 51 percent of U.S. total import expenditures on seafood in 2022.

Since 1995, the value of U.S. seafood exports (adjusted for inflation in 2022 dollars) has ranged from a low of $4.2 billion in 1998 to a high of $7.2 billion in 2011. Most of the seafood products exported over last 6 years went to five top destinations (Canada, China, Japan, South Korea, and the Netherlands) accounting for 68 percent of U.S. total exports in 2022.

From 1995 to 2022, the value of inflation-adjusted U.S. seafood exports dropped by approximately 16 percent, while imports expanded by 130 percent, bringing about an increasing trade deficit for seafood products. The largest trade deficit recorded over the last 28 years was in 2021, registering at $24.8 billion in 2022 dollars, and the second largest was recorded in 2022 at $24.6 billion.

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Aquaculture Policy

The National Aquaculture Act of 1980 provides the Federal authority for supporting U.S. aquaculture. The act directed the establishment of a statutory multiagency subcommittee on aquaculture, now known as the Subcommittee on Aquaculture (SCA), within the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy. Additionally, the act directed SCA to develop and implement the National Aquaculture Development Plan (NADP), which was first published in 1983. Currently, members of SCA include the following U.S. agencies: Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Army Corps of Engineers, Department of the Interior, Food and Drug Administration, Department of State, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Management and Budget.

NADP is being updated by SCA in response to Executive Order 13921, published May 7, 2020. The updated NADP will consist of the following: (1) National Strategic Plan for Aquaculture Research; (2) Strategic Plan to Enhance Regulatory efficiency in Aquaculture; and (3) Strategic Plan for Aquaculture Economic Development. SCA established task forces to develop these plans. The first two plans were published in 2022 (About the Subcommittee on Aquaculture), and the third plan is a work in progress.

For more information, see:

USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Census of Aquaculture

U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Landings Data (includes Per Capita Consumption)

National Aquaculture Act of 1980

National Strategic Plan for Aquaculture Research

Strategic Plan to Enhance Regulatory Efficiency in Aquaculture

National Science and Technology Subcommittee on Aquaculture

U.S. Seafood Market Shifts to Aquaculture