Harvest of whiteleg shrimps (Penaeus vannamei) in the Philippines. Giant tiger shrimp production in Vietnam has been used as an example of extreme use of antibiotics, the example is misleading according to Centre research. Photo: M. Troell/Azote

Aquaculture and antibiotics

Not as gloomy as portrayed

Aquaculture industry has significantly reduced its antibiotic use - but there is still room for improvement

Story highlights

  • High ue of antibiotics is represented by
    Chilean salmon production and giant tiger shrimp production in Vietnam
  • Study provides a more up-to-date picture of antibiotic consumption specifically within the aquaculture sector
  • Aquaculture offers a source of animal protein with relatively limited antimicrobial usage

Antibiotics are used widely in the farming of food animals to treat disease and increase productivity. According to some studies antibiotic consumption in animals accounts for up to 80% of antibiotic sales in the US.

When it comes to fish farming, the use of antibiotics is not as extreme although some studies paint a gloomy picture.

In a study published by Van Boeckel et. al in the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the use of antibiotics in the aquaculture industry is represented by Chilean salmon production in 2002 (Salmo salar) and giant tiger shrimp (Penaus monodon) production in Vietnam in 2003.

The two sectors made up 24% of global Atlantic salmon production and 7% of global shrimp production in 2013.

But the examples are misleading.

"These two systems are rather extreme examples, as Chile uses 60 times more antibiotics compared with the other three top salmon-producing countries combined," centre researcher Max Troell explains.

Together with colleagues from Worldfish and Wageningen University, Troell recently published a response in the same journal.

Although the study presented by Van Boeckel and his colleagues is comprehensive and unique assessment of antibiotic consumption in livestock around the world, Troell's response provides a more up-to-date picture of antibiotic consumption specifically within the aquaculture sector.

"As fish constitute 17% of global animal protein and of this almost half originates from aquaculture it is important that we have a good understanding about issues related to antimicrobial usage by this sector"

Max Troell, co-author

Limited antimicrobial usage
"Although small problematic areas persist, aquaculture offers a source of animal protein with relatively limited antimicrobial usage," says first author of the PNAS response, Patrik Henriksson.

Despite this, the authors conclude that the aquaculture industry needs to continue to stride towards alternative and better practices aiming for further reduction of antimicrobials.

"Aquaculture certification standards set by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council help limit antibiotic use but regulations and the capacity to follow up on these must also cover small-scale farmers that may not be subject to certification," Max Troell and his colleagues conclude.



Henriksson, P. Troell, M and A Rico. 2015. Antimicrobial use in aquaculture. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112, June 2015

Max Troell is a system ecologist mainly working with environmental problems associated with aquaculture. This work focuses on inter-linkages between aquaculture and fisheries, on different spatial scales.


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