We rely on oceans for many essential benefits — oxygen generation, coastal protection, climate moderation and, of course, seafood.
Production of seafood has changed dramatically over the past few decades and half of all seafood today comes from aquaculture. Demand for seafood is strong, and with wild fish catch stagnating across the globe, the trend of aquaculture growth will continue. This raises the question: how can we continue to provide seafood in an environmentally sustainable manner?
There are a number of well-founded concerns about aquaculture’s impacts on marine ecosystems and wild fisheries. But with global fisheries reaching unprecedented levels of depletion, the costs and benefits of fish cultivation versus wild fish capture or production of beef, pork and poultry have to be considered. To get a clearer global picture, Conservation International (CI) partnered with WorldFish Center on a research study whose results can be seen in a new report called “Blue Frontiers: Managing the Environmental Costs of Aquaculture.” (Download the report: PDF – 3.79 MB.)
The report launch is taking place in Bangkok, Thailand where I am facilitating a panel discussion with researchers, government officials and representatives of environmental organizations. Thailand is a fitting launch site given that more than 90 percent of world aquaculture production takes place in Asia.
Some types of aquaculture have less adverse impacts than others and there are opportunities to make aquaculture more efficient, both from environmental and economic perspectives. Mussels and seaweed tend to be less impactful and actually can have a positive effect in some situations by removing excess nutrients from coastal waters. Eel production, on the other hand, has large environmental impacts and both salmon and shrimp/prawn aquaculture use relatively large amounts of fish oil and fish meal from wild sources. But did you know that aquaculture products, pound for pound, contribute less to global emissions of nitrogen and phosphorus than pork and beef? And that fish, relative to either pork or beef, convert a higher percentage of the food they eat into consumable protein?
Aquaculture is here to stay and will continue to grow. Chances are that much of the seafood you eat now and will eat in the future will come from a farm. Organizations like CI must look at both the positive and negative aspects of aquaculture and use our knowledge to make it a pillar of healthy sustainable economies where both people and nature prosper.