The rise of aquaculture has been one of the most profound changes in global food production of the past 100 years. Driven by population growth, rising demand for seafood and a levelling of production from capture fisheries, the practice of farming aquatic animals has expanded rapidly to become a major global industry. Aquaculture is now integral to the economies of many countries. It has provided employment and been a major driver of socio-economic development in poor rural and coastal communities, particularly in Asia, and has relieved pressure on the sustainability of the natural harvest from our rivers, lakes and oceans. However, the rapid growth of aquaculture has also been the source of anthropogenic change on a massive scale. Aquatic animals have been displaced from their natural environment, cultured in high density, exposed to environmental stress, provided artificial or unnatural feeds, and a prolific global trade has developed in both live aquatic animals and their products. At the same time, over-exploitation of fisheries and anthropogenic stress on aquatic ecosystems has placed pressure on wild fish populations. Not surprisingly, the consequence has been the emergence and spread of an increasing array of new diseases. This review examines the rise and characteristics of aquaculture, the major viral pathogens of fish and shrimp and their impacts, and the particular characteristics of disease emergence in an aquatic, rather than terrestrial, context. It also considers the potential for future disease emergence in aquatic animals as aquaculture continues to expand and faces the challenges presented by climate change.