How Aquaculture Works

Aquaculture History

Aquaculture has a place in world history. This Japanese fish market that likely was part of an aquaculture system.
Aquaculture has a place in world history. This Japanese fish market that likely was part of an aquaculture system.
Boyer/Roger Viollet/Getty Images

As we learned earlier, the aquaculture industry has experienced tremendous growth throughout the past few decades. But, the cultivation of aquatic organisms has been practiced since ancient times. Throughout the ancient world, aquaculture played an important role in food production. It was also a big part of social and economic landscapes of many cultures.

Aquaculture may just trace its roots to the ancient water-oriented civilizations of the East, where fish served as a main part of people's diets. During the Tang dynasty, carp cultivation thrived in China. In the 5th century B.C., Fan-Li is noted to have raised carp in ponds. Going back 2,000 years in Asia, fishmongers sold live fish, which they kept in woven baskets right in the markets and in bamboo cages in ponds outside the markets.

European aquaculture grew as exploration and trade with the East developed. In ancient Rome and Gaul (modern France), oyster cultivation thrived. Like the ancient Chinese, ancient Romans bred fish in ponds. Due to the scarcity of fish in Europe in the Middle Ages, aquaculture was used to offset the cost of fish. However, transportation improvements made fish easier to obtain, resulting in a decline in European aquaculture.

Aquaculture didn't become widely practiced in North America until the late 1900s. But, people were already exploring the possibilities in the United States and in Canada a few years earlier. In the United States, Stephen Ainsworth of West Bloomfield, N.Y. experimented with the cultivation of brook trout in 1859. While Ainsworth's interest in aquaculture remained a hobby, Seth Green in nearby Caledonia Springs, N.Y., made big money from the fish hatchery he built in 1864. Green expanded his business to supply fish eggs to more than 200 people who were interested in cultivated fish for both profit and hobby [source: Anderson]. One of the first fish major hatcheries in North America was constructed in Newfoundland, Canada by Norwegian Adolph Nielson in 1889. This site was one of the most expansive and technologically-advanced in the world [source: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador].

Although aquaculture has been practiced since ancient times, the greatest growth has occurred in the last two decades. Next, we'll learn about the development of contemporary aquaculture.