Why aquaculture matters
In our very first blog post, we talked about who we are and what we do. In short, we strive to help aquaculture producers have better control over their production. Time now to talk a bit about why that matters.
Let’s be clear, the aquaculture debate is far-reaching and multi-faceted, with so many relevant variables to be considered when evaluating its potential and weaknesses. This post offers an overview of some of the main reasons why aquaculture, the world’s fastest growing food source, merits our consideration and support.
Solving the impending food shortage
The inconvenient truth is that our planet is already overpopulated, and with a projected population of nearly 10 billion by 2050, our species shows no signs of slowing down its reproduction rate. Still, we all have an equal right to live, which means we need to eat – we need protein. As it turns out, our various sources of protein differ not only in taste and nutritional value, but also in how their production impacts the environment.
Fixing the hunted vs raised paradox
When it comes to land animals, we’ve long accepted the fact that hunting alone can’t possibly satisfy our demand for meat, and we impose strict quotas on hunting activities because we know that, without regulation, entire species of animals would become extinct. Yet, when it comes to seafood, aquaculture is still generally frowned upon, with most people favoring wild-caught over farmed, despite the fact that we’ve already overfished most of our marine stocks, with the FAO concluding in 2010 “that the maximum wild capture fisheries potential from the world’s oceans has probably been reached.” There’s no two ways about it: mankind needs to be self-sufficient when it comes to producing the food we need to feed our population. We can’t keep blindly picking into our natural resources at a rate that exceeds their capacity to replenish.
Favoring sustainable protein sources
So farming and raising our food in a sustainable fashion appears as the only way to provide for the expanding global population without entirely depleting our planet. As we’ve learned, those activities aren’t without their own challenges, the main caveat being the word “sustainable”. Between land and water use, water contamination and CO2 emission, among others, raising livestock has turned out to be one of humanity’s most polluting and dangerous activities, as stressed for years now by organisms like the NRDC and FAO. Farming seafood has also raised many valid concerns, especially for carnivorous species like salmon, but as an industry and a diet choice, seafood does present many advantages over our other preferred sources of protein.
For instance, fish takes top honours with regards to feed conversion efficiency:
“It takes roughly a pound of feed to produce a pound of farmed fish; it takes almost two pounds of feed to produce a pound of chicken, about three for a pound of pork, and about seven for a pound of beef.” - Joel K. Bourne, Jr., National Geographic
Aquaculture is also much less resource-intensive in many other respects, as Bren Smith, who operates a sustainable, 3D ocean farm in New York’s Long Island Sound explains:
"Think about it. Growing food in the ocean: no fertilizer, no air, no soil, no water. None of these things that are hugely energy-intensive and huge climate risks to both freshwater and soil." - Diane Ackerman, The Human Age
Embracing the blue revolution
There are many reasons to root for aquaculture to succeed and improve as an industry, but the reality is that there’s no more stopping its growth. Between stagnant commercial fishing catches and an all around increasingly high demand in fish, commercial aquaculture has been seeing double-digit growth for decades. Compare only 3% of the fish we consume being farmed in 1950 to a staggering 47% in 2011 (FAOSTAT data published first in National Geographic).
The challenges of our ‘blue revolution’ now reside in making aquaculture a sustainable industry that can support its own growth and our exponential breeding rate without killing the earth we hold so dear. Like most agricultural activities, quality of production in aquaculture currently ranges for organic and sustainable to frighteningly irresponsible, with diseases and feed quality being some of the main areas of concern. However, because of the indisputable advantages aquaculture holds over livestock, like feed conversion ratio and resource demand, people are increasingly recognizing its potential as a viable long term solution for feeding our planet.