Setting future research priorities is a risky business; the chances are very high that somewhere, someone is likely to feel that a specific priority has not been addressed. We attempt to define seven research areas that we believe can yield the greatest impact on improving and increasing commercial aquaculture outputs over the coming decade. Research efforts must be integrated across disciplines by teams of researchers who work together effectively to meet the future needs of aquaculture worldwide (Engle 2016).

Markets and Consumer Demand

Ultimately, consumers will drive what aquaculture products, which supply chains, and which product attributes they are willing to support with their buying power. Ongoing studies that measure changes and point to emerging market opportunities will provide the type of guidance that aquaculture businesses need to avoid costly decisions based on incorrect assessments of market trends and what consumers really want. For example, while much is written about the growing demand for locally grown aquaculture products in developed countries, there is uncertainty about the quantity of locally raised products that consumers are willing to purchase at prices higher than those associated with greater volume imports.

Diet Ingredients and Additives

The ongoing efforts to identify alternative sources of dietary protein from agricultural products and processing resource streams (Ytrestøyl et al. 2015) also require increased attention to ingredient quality as the demand to reduce the use of fishmeal and fish oil continues. Promising research areas include protein sources from marine plants, single-cell proteins, and others. As successful replacement of fishmeal continues, a key quality challenge has emerged concerning the shifting of essential fatty acid profiles in aquaculture products. These changes are considered to compromise previously identified health benefits (Sprague et al. 2016). Ensuring product quality will require fish oil replacements of novel origin and development of essential fatty acid supplements. Meeting this challenge through a combination of laboratory and commercial field trials will avoid issues related to resource limitations, reduced product quality, and reduced sales in the future.

Biofloc technology offers potential benefits to increase aquaculture production, but research efforts will need to move beyond the current rudimentary independent tanks, ponds, and dosing systems. Understanding the microbial communities and rapid assessment of floc quality are necessary to the development of systems that optimize pond health and nutrient recycling (da Silva et al. 2013) and growth of cultured product. Research is also needed to assess and develop procedures related to the safety of both workers and the products harvested. Marketing research is needed to assess which groups of consumers will consider products produced from biofloc systems as acceptable and desirable.

The application of probiotics and prebiotics will require an increasingly precise standardization of evaluation. Benefits in terms of production performance, overall health, immune response, and stress response need to be confidently demonstrated under commercial farming conditions to demonstrate real value (Fuchs et al. 2017). Similarly, dietary supplements such as specialized bioavailable amino acids, nucleic acids, nucleotides, cell wall extracts, and enzymes need to be proven through on-farm trials. Unequivocal benefits in terms of fish digestion of novel diets, maintaining optimal health, growth performance, and product quality in commercial production need to be demonstrated. Research must continue to evaluate formulated alternatives to Artemia sp. and other live feeds to address biosecurity considerations (Tacon 2017) to expand global production of shrimp and marine fish species.


Aquaculture genetic selection and classic selective breeding programs leading to domesticated species have lagged significantly behind terrestrial systems and need to expand. During the next decade, trait selection will most certainly be driven by industry demands, which will include the ability to efficiently digest dietary levels of alternative protein and lipid sources, develop an optimal fatty acid profile in tissue, and achieve excellent growth (also at increasing temperatures driven by global climate change), other consumer-appealing product characteristics, and disease resistance. Advances in maintaining genetic diversity during the coming decade must be complemented by retention of specific pathogen-free (SPF) and specific pathogen-resistant population status, particularly for species with well-established SPF production systems. Finally, genetic transfer and pollution can come from a variety of unexpected sources and have unexpected effects. The challenge of producing selectively bred animals that do not present a threat to existing wild populations in terms of invasive or polluting genetic material will become increasingly acute. A better understanding of the impact of potential gene flow out of open farming systems will need to be gathered to effectively address concerns about the impact on natural populations.

Genetic research efforts that affect such improvements must be developed with an in-depth understanding of consumer attitudes, beliefs, and social acceptance related to products of genetic selection and modification. Recognition and application of effective communication of how new products are developed and work toward greater understanding of the science of genetics are essential.

Health and Survival

Aquaculture survival rates are comparatively less than those achieved in terrestrial animal production systems. Increases in overall survival through the production cycle, particularly for the larval phases, have the potential to markedly increase production worldwide. Research on practical ways to improve biosecurity of aquaculture facilities, cost-effective disease surveillance programs, and improved understanding of the epidemiology of emerging pathogens can lead to greater prevention and reduced spread of diseases. While a growing array of supplements, probiotics, and prebiotics have been developed to enhance immune resistance and increase overall resilience, many have not been formally evaluated under commercial conditions or proven to be cost effective. Research devoted to more effective and easily administered vaccinations will be required (Peterson et al. 2016), and special research attention is required to develop cost-effective mechanisms to deliver vaccines, especially boosters, in commercial production. Chemical and biological treatment of disease will become increasingly restricted, thereby requiring new compounds, methods of administration, and above all, sustainable therapeutics.

Economics and Regulation

Aquaculture has become a darling for international economic investment, offering strong returns and growth unparalleled in all other primary production sectors, attracting industry giants such as Mitsubishi and Cargill into the fold within the past year (Terazono 2017). Commoditization and global investment can increase industry instability, but also significantly increase reach and broaden economies of scale. Macroeconomics research to understand the impacts of exposure to global investment systems will be central to predicting growth in commodity species worldwide. Increased understanding of national policies and their effects, particularly for extremely large producers such as China, will also be required to take advantage of potential changes in consumption and trade patterns.

Accurate and realistic economic and financial benchmarking data and models are needed to support investor decisions related to aquaculture businesses. The extent of economies of scale and the subsequent effects on potential profitability must be identified and communicated clearly to guide investors to feasible systems and species and reduce the number of aquaculture business failures.

Socioeconomic research is needed to understand more completely the conditions under which small-scale aquaculture development will relieve poverty and enhance food security and those under which it will not. More integrative research approaches, such as the Socio-Ecological System Framework (Redman et al. 2004), are insightful but will require more powerful modeling and prediction systems to understand complex social interactions beyond local economic and logistical constraints.

The lack of comprehensive studies on the demand and supply of adequate amounts and quality of labor needs to be addressed for aquaculture businesses to continue to thrive worldwide. Aquaculture companies increasingly have come to rely on inexpensive labor or workers from other countries. As standards of living continue to increase worldwide, the availability of the types of labor required in aquaculture businesses may become a serious constraint. Understanding the dynamics of the labor market for aquaculture can help to chart pathways for planning for mechanization and automation that will be required with increased scarcity of labor.

Equally important will be the increased understanding of national and international regulatory frameworks. Potential resource conflicts can be avoided by appropriate research. For example, use of marine spatial planning as an enabling platform has the potential to lead to novel models for co-use and optimal spatial configurations. Research is needed on innovative policy alternatives and mechanisms that address the need to increase aquaculture production while addressing environmental concerns.

Technology and Systems

Continued engineering research will be needed to further develop productivity through the enhancement of production systems and technologies for both inland and offshore production. While closed, land-based systems are often preferable for larval and juvenile stages, larger open systems are often better suited for production of more robust animals ready for growout. Research will need to identify optimal combinations (and timing) of production systems to ensure the best performance of animals in all life stages, along with research that focuses on intensive culture conditions in response to increasingly limited space for open systems. Key technology advances to improve filtration will be necessary for the development of zero-exchange recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) and energy requirements of RAS must be significantly reduced to improve sustainability. As zero-waste requirements increase, research into the reuse and recycling of all waste streams from aquaculture, such as solid wastes in the form of biodeposits, will be required.

The Internet of Things concept, connecting all sensors and data-gathering devices to the Internet where their data are available, increases the already vast amount of data available along aquaculture value chains. These data range from production facilities, harvesting, and processing systems through to bulk and retail markets and the end consumer. Operational systems research directed to the ability to optimize value by harnessing Big Data all along the production chain will be imperative (Dunke et al. 2018). Linking data not only allows stakeholders to ensure supply chain integrity but also engages consumers and convinces them of product quality and sustainability.

Climate Change and Sustainability

Long-term regional monitoring of water quality and other parameters expected to be affected by climate change is needed to accurately model likely effects. Open aquaculture sites and species will be exposed to global climate change extreme events and complex physicochemical interactions of CO2 with more important water quality parameters (Steinberg et al. 2017). In the absence of adequate long-term data, it is difficult to assess modifications that will be needed to manage aquaculture production facilities in the future. For example, Somridhivej and Boyd (2017), using a long-term data set of water quality parameters, concluded that increasing alkalinity of inland waters was unlikely to affect aquaculture production in the foreseeable future. While disastrous events will be difficult to predict, data on trends and expected seasonal extremes can guide production cycles, potential changes in target species selection, and/or cultivar selection for future production cycles. Specific species and production system models that address regional concerns are required.


Risks and uncertainties are inevitable, and many other key research needs have not been included here. However, we feel that this perspective provides at least a basis for discussion and consideration for the development of future research agendas. Join us at the Journal of the World Aquaculture Society-sponsored session, “Research Priorities in Support of Commercial Aquaculture: A Global Overview,” to be held at Aqua 2018 in Montpellier, France in August 2018, to continue this discussion. Leading world experts in various aquaculture disciplines will contribute their views on research priorities for the coming years.

Literature Cited