October 8, 2014

2013 USDA Census of Aquaculture: Highlights

Dave Love

Dave Love

Associate Scientist, Public Health & Sustainable Aquaculture Project

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

From the 2013 USDA Census of Aquaculture

From the 2013 USDA Census of Aquaculture

The USDA Census of Aquaculture is the most important and comprehensive data source for understanding the trajectory of the U.S. aquaculture industry. Last conducted in 2005, the census is a snapshot of production amounts, methods, and sales information from thousands of aquaculture operations in the United States.

The key finding from the census was an across-the-board decrease in the number of farms in the U.S. Roughly 3,000 farms responded to the 2013 census, which was a 28 percent decrease from 2005. The total acreage in both freshwater and saltwater production decreased dramatically from 2005 to 2013 (Figure 1). This decrease may be due to poor enrollment on the part of the USDA Census, or due to a true decrease in the number of farms nationally.

The decrease in the number of farms was most pronounced in pond aquaculture (37% decrease), which is due in part to decreased catfish production in the southeast U.S. But there was a decrease in almost every other method of production, too: -24% cropland used for crawfish; -13% recirculating aquaculture; -10% non-recirculating aquaculture; -6% flow-through. There was a 35% decline in the number of on-bottom mollusk farms, but some farms may be transitioning to off-bottom growing methods, as there was a 7% increase in this method. Areas of potential modest growth were in aquaponics, microalgae, and sea vegetables (new categories added to the census in 2013), but these categories combined account for only about 100 farms.

The combined annual sales from edible aquatic animals was $1.15 billion, which came from sales of food fish ($0.73 billion), mollusks ($0.33 billion), and crustaceans ($0.085 billion). Some of these products are sold domestically, and others are exported to other countries. Imports and exports data for some aquaculture species (trout, salmon, shrimp, oysters, mussels, clams, scallops) are publicly available from the USDA-ERS and total imports and exports of seafood is provided by the National Marine Fisheries Service (Fisheries of the United States 2012).

U.S. aquaculture production accounts for about 1% of global aquaculture production. As I have said previously, “The ideal aquaculture operations that consumers should support are ones that produce nutritious seafood, provide a high quality of life for workers, and conserve resources for future generations.” Within the domestic aquaculture portfolio, we need to take a hard look at which operations support this vision (and are economically sustainable) and find ways to support their growth.

Below are some key statistics from the 2013 Census of Aquaculture.


  • There were 3,000+ aquaculture operations in the U.S. that responded to the census.
  • 1,296 farms raised food fish with total sales of $732 million. The largest food fish sales were from catfish ($357 million; 695 farms), trout ($110 million; 359 farms), hybrid striped bass ($51 million; 68 farms) and tilapia ($42 million; 181 farms). Seven Atlantic salmon farms (4-Maine, 2-Washington, 1-West Virginia) and three Pacific salmon farms (1-Montana, 1-Oregon, 1-Washington) were listed.
  • 756 farms raised mollusks with total sales of $329 million. The main contributors were oysters ($180 million; 483 farms) and hard shell clams ($65 million; 278 farms).
  • 556 farms raised crustaceans with total sales of $85 million. The main contributors to this category were crawfish for food ($35 million; 436 farms) and saltwater shrimp ($43 million; 56 farms).
  • 282 farms raised sport fish with total sales of $23 million. The most popular farm raised sport fish were largemouth bass, sunfish, crappie, and walleye.
  • 166 farms raised baitfish with a total sales of $29 million.
  • 285 farms raised ornamental fish with total sales of $41 million.
  • 10 farms raised sea vegetables (1-California, 5-Florida, 2-Hawaii, 2-Maine) and 18 farms raised microalgae (3-Arizona, 3-California, 1-Colorado, 6-Florida, 1-Georgia, 2-Hawaii, 1-Iowa, 1-New Hampshire).
  • In the “miscellaneous category,” 78 farms raised turtles, 33 farms raised alligators, 18 farms raised snails, 12 farms raised frogs, one farms raised urchins, and one farm raised sea urchins.

By State

  • Food Fish: Mississippi leads the nation in food fish sales ($203 million; 216 farms). Other major food fish producing states are Alabama ($109 million; 147 farms), Washington ($84 million; 14 farms), Texas ($58 million; 72 farms) and Idaho ($47 million; 27 farms).
  • Mollusks: Washington leads the nation in mollusk sales ($149 million; 125 farms) and accounts for 45% of all shellfish sales in 2013. Other major mollusk producing states are Virginia ($42 M, 80 farms), Connecticut ($28 million; 25 farms), Florida ($20 million; 132 farms), California ($17 million; 27 farms), Louisiana ($14 million; 39 farms).
  • Crustaceans (including shrimp): Louisiana leads the nation in crustacean sales ($35 million; 407 farms) and 41% of the total production. Other major crustacean producing states are Florida ($16 million; 20 farms), Hawaii ($16 million; 12 farms), Texas ($10 million; 23 farms), and Alabama ($1 million; 11 farms).

Method of production

  • The rank order of production methods were: ponds (1,479 farms), mollusks on-bottom and off-bottom (857 farms), raceways (391 farms), recirculating systems (360 farms), cropland used for crawfish (341 farms), cages or pens (303 farms), non-recirculating systems (291 farms), and aquaponics (71 farms).
  • Recirculating aquaculture was most prevalent in Hawaii, California, Florida, Washington, North Carolina, and Texas.

The image is from the 2013 USDA Census of Agriculture.


  1. Posted by Katharine R. Meacham, Ph.D.

    Thank you for this thoughtful, careful research. The reading — and fish-consuming public — needs to take note and promote more discussion.

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