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Which production systems are best for aquaculture economics?

International Benchmarking of Fish Production Systems

"Blue Revolution" is the term which is often used to describe the enormous growth of the global aquaculture in the last decades. Step by step aquaculture establish its role of the most important supplier of aquatic food while the wild caughts of fisheries stagnate. What are the determining factors behind this story of economic success?

Background and Objective

The global aquaculture production has rapidly increased in the past years. The growth of aquaculture is dispersed very differently around the globe. While in the EU the production rate of aquaculture stagnates, the sector grows in South-American and Asian countries. But, it is the willingness of the European Commission to reform EU aquaculture and to extend the sector. In future, the domestic aquaculture and fisheries should reduce the rate of seafood and fish imports. Thereby, there is almost no clarification which production systems can compete best in the international seafood market.

Our research group, consisting of scientists from the Thünen-Institutes of Fisheries Ecology, Sea Fisheries and Farm Economics, investigate the cost structure of different production systems of the aquaculture and fisheries sector. Our archetype for this undertaking is the global network agri benchmark ( The network brings together scientists, consultants, farmers and suppliers to do international comparative research on costs and productivity of agricultural production systems.

Target Group

 Politics, Business, NGOs,Science


Using farm economic data we analyse the profitability, productivity and viability of different production systems in aquaculture and fisheries. Thereby, our project focuses the international comparison of the systems to answer the posted research questions. Thereby, it is not only about research, but to establish a global network of experts from aquacultural and fisheries science and economy.

Data and Methods

Farm or vessel economic data can be seen as quite dissatisfactory for world fisheries and aquacultures. Moreover, the aquaculture sector in the European Union seems to have an enormous lag of statistical knowledge in particular. This difficult initial situation is caused by various preconditions. One can be seen in the high complexity of the sector with its myriad of species, farming systems or catching gears.

We recommend a more qualitative and commensurate approach for the task of economics of aquaculture on farm level or fisheries on vessel level. Taking into account the results of expert interviews with local scientists, fish farmers or fishers and consultants, literature study and statistics (if available), we define virtual datasets of  "typical production systems". These virtual, but empirical grounded, datasets provide a detailed picture of the economic situation on farm or vessel level. Such a typical production system: 

  • is a virtual model, which bases of empirical data of costs, used technique and inputs;
  • its nature is theoretical, but empirical grounded;
  • is located in a typical region for fish production of the addressed country;
  • combines production facilities, equipment, labour and capital in a manner, which can be seen as a good example for a typical archetype of the addressed aquaculture or fisheries;
  • provides with up to 686 variables a very detailed and coherent picture of an ideal economic situations of the addressed aquaculture and fisheries. 

The typical production systems provide the base for the analysis of the short-, medium- and long-term profitability, productivity and viability in a global context. 

Our Research Questions

  • How profitable, viable and productive are production systems of aquaculture and fisheries in different countries?
  • Which economic factors, which political frame conditions do influence the cost structure of those production systems?
  • How do production systems of aquaculture and fisheries differ in terms of sustainable resource management?

Preliminary Results

Our first results show that the different trout farming practices investigated in Germany, Denmark and Turkey have all been profitable. Smaller-scaled traditional farms in Germany and Denmark seem to struggle for long-term (>10 years) profitability in particular. Turkish trout farms have significant cost advantages due to low wages, cheap investments and approved water supply. In addition, the water temperature and quality reduce the fattening period extremly. Germany have only around 60 large trout farms, which produce more than 100 t per year. Notwithstanding, the profitability of these larger farms is best, but especially because German trout farmers obtain high local prices for their products. Strict environmental regulations stimulate a trend towards using recirculating systems (RAS) in Denmark. Those automatized farms lower labour costs and reduce environmental impacts. From an economic point of view, only very large RAS are able to enhance their profitability significantly. In contrast, smaller and good managed organic farms are profitable, too. But they depend on a limited niche market.

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