Thousands of animal and plant species and their genetic variability form the web of life and provide the basis for feeding a steadily growing world population. Hence, biodiversity for food and agriculture is among the Earth’s most important resources.
In the fisheries and aquaculture sector, the Aquatic Genetic Resources (AqGR) form the basis of production. AqGR allow organisms to reproduce and grow, adapt to natural and human-induced impacts such as climate change, resist diseases and parasites, and continue to evolve. The diversity of AqGR determines the adaptability and resilience of species to changing environments and contributes to the wide variety of shapes, colours and other characteristics of aquatic species. There are more than 31,000 species of fish, 85,000 species of molluscs, 47,000 species of crustaceans and 13,000 species of seaweed in a wide variety of marine, freshwater and brackish water habitats worldwide.
Especially finfish, but also crustaceans, mussels and other seafood are among the most important protein sources of human nutrition worldwide. At the same time, they are of considerable socio-economic importance as a basis for the fishing industry. Particularly in many coastal populations, local fisheries and associated production sectors ensure livelihoods.
The diversity of the AqGR ensures that the needs of future generations for the supply of fish and seafood can be met, even under changing environmental conditions. Genetic diversity is therefore the basis of a sustainable, efficient, reliable and multifunctional fisheries sector. It is also the basis for a genetic improvement of aquaculture organisms, e.g. by selective breeding. However, we know little about the genetic diversity of aquatic living resources in the wild or under domestication, especially below the level of species.
In order to continue to use and develop the AqGR, natural aquatic ecosystems must be preserved as the basis for aquatic diversity.
While catch fisheries is currently reaching the limits of its biological productivity, aquaculture is playing an increasingly important role in meeting the needs for fish and fish products of an ever-growing world population. According to the FAO more aquatic species are being farmed today than ever before: in 1950, countries reported farming 72 species from 34 families; by 2013 production was reported and estimated for nearly 575 species items associated with over 115 families. Only a small proportion of these species can really be considered domesticated. In other words, many species farmed in aquaculture can hardly be distinguished from their wild relatives. The breeding improvement of new aquaculture species has great potential for a sustainable increase in aquaculture production.