People around the world continue to increase their fish consumption. Today, shellfish and finfish account for a sixth of the world’s animal protein consumption. However, worldwide wild fishing reached its peak over two decades ago and resulted in an increase in aquaculture or fish farming. The aquaculture industry more than doubled production between 2000 and 2012 to keep up with this demand, but that’s not enough. New research has shown that industry will have to double production again by 2050 to meet the demands of the world’s population, which continues to grow. Can it do that sustainably?
WorldFish, INRA, Kasetsart University, the World Bank and WRI have teamed up to find the answer to this question. The partnership resulted in a paper on improving the productivity and environmental performance of aquaculture. This paper examined the industry’s ecological footprint and how it could grow in the years to come. The paper introduces several new strategies that will reduce the industry’s environmental impact while providing nutritious food and jobs for millions of people. Sustainable aquaculture will become more critical in the years to come, which explains why this paper is so important today.
The good and the bad
Expanding the world’s animal protein supply becomes a realistic goal as farmed fish can convert feed into edible food. In fact, they achieve this goal just as efficiently as poultry. However, as with any form of food production, the environmental impact remains a problem.
When aquaculture was booming in the 1990s, many complained about farm practices. For example, they were concerned about the effects of clearing mangroves to enable shrimp farms to be built in Latin America and Asia. Men and women expressed concern about wild marine fish and used them to encourage the use of fish oil and fish meal. These concerns only added to the discourse on water pollution and disease in fish and shrimp, many of which have already stated that they are a problem.
Fortunately, the industry has worked to improve its performance, and continues to do so today. It now produces more farmed fish in less space, has reduced the use of fish and fishmeal in aquaculture feed, and has largely halted the conversion of mangroves. The increase in production, however, requires an associated increase in efficiency, otherwise the environmental impact will increase considerably. In addition, the industry must increase productivity. Failure to do this will lead to stunted growth because there simply isn’t enough land, water, and fodder to otherwise obtain. How can you achieve these goals?
Compared to animal husbandry, aquaculture remains a young industry. Over the years, farmers, researchers, scientists, and other industry experts have used the technology in a variety of ways. They used it to improve breeding techniques, control disease, and improve feed and nutrition. In addition, they used technology to find ways to reduce the impact of production. Science and traditional knowledge come together to increase efficiency in these areas and people are seeing the results all over the world. Vietnam is a good example of technological innovation and its benefits. In 2000 observers experienced a breakthrough in catfish breeding, which led to an increase in production capacities and intensification. The change included the widespread use of high quality pellet feed. This resulted in one Increase in catfish production from 50,000 tons in 2000 to over 1 million tons in 2010. Despite this enormous increase, the total world pond area of the country has only doubled.
Change the focus
In order to secure the future of aquaculture, regulations and certification systems must go beyond the individual farm. Having many producers sharing the same resources often results in cumulative environmental impacts, even if all farms follow the law. By using spatial planning and zoning, countries can ensure that the farms remain within the carrying capacity of the local ecosystem. Implementing these methods also reduces the conflicts that arise from resource use. Norway has successfully implemented these measures to prevent salmon producers from congregating in one area. The distribution of the farms reduces the risk of illness and the environmental impact.
Governments need to put in place public and private policies that reward farmers who practice sustainable aquaculture. Thailand has successfully implemented such a program. It rewards shrimp farmers who legally operate in aquaculture zones. Farmers in the program get access to free training, wastewater treatment and water supplies. In addition, smallholders will have access to low-interest loans and tax exemptions, with the loans and exemptions used to introduce improved technologies that increase productivity while reducing the need to clear more land for aquaculture farms. Insurers are bidding now Smallholder Policy in industry to increase its resilience, giving farmers confidence to invest in their holdings.
Benefit from information technology
Farmers find the latest information technology to be of significant benefit to them. This includes advances in ecological modeling, connectivity, mapping and satellite technology, as well as open data, as all systems can monitor and plan worldwide. Platforms that integrate these technologies enable governments to improve their spatial planning and monitoring. They also support the industry in planning and demonstrating sustainability and share success stories. Information technology also provides an opportunity for everyone to hold government and industry accountable when things go wrong.
Consume low-trophic species
Marine ecosystems continue to struggle under pressure. Fortunately, fish farming alleviates this pressure as farmed fish require few wild fish in their feeding schedule. For this reason, consumers must consume species with low trophies or those at the lower end of the food chain. These include catfish, clams, and tilapia. People in emerging markets consume these species today and should be encouraged to do so even if they move into the middle class. Impoverished people should not be overlooked, however, as fish is the main food source for more than a billion people in third world countries. Aquaculture producers must meet these people’s requirements to ensure that they meet their nutritional needs.
Wild fish catches around the world remain stagnant even as the world population increases. Aquaculture ensures that humans have healthy food for a living. However, as demand increases, changes will need to be made to ensure that it continues to do so. It is important for the future of our species.
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