Aquaculture will be an essential part of our response to the challenge of meeting global food demand sustainably.
Much has been made of the steady economic and social benefits aquaculture is already delivering in many rural communities across the world.
But for its detractors, there’s a question mark over how sustainable this kind of farming really is, particularly in its use of wild fish to feed their farmed counterparts.
I believe there’s a danger that consumers are misled by this argument, which fails to recognise that aquaculture offers a considerably more sustainable alternative to ocean fishing.
We know that one third of wild fish stocks are currently fished at unsustainable levels, and this proportion is continuing to increase to meet demand. Seafood consumption has more than doubled in the last 50 years, up from 9 kg per capita in the 1960s, to over 20 kg currently. This trend of growing seafood consumption is set to continue.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that aquaculture has grown year on year. But you may not know that in 2014, it overtook wild capture fishery as the primary source of seafood. This growth – against the backdrop of flat or declining wild fisheries – has required significant investment in aquaculture nutrition, which continues today.
Today’s aquaculture feeds contain far fewer marine ingredients than those in the past, instead using by-products from fish processing, and terrestrial sources of protein and fat, such as canola oil and soy protein.
In addition, the Marine Ingredients Organization, the international trade organisation that represents and promotes the marine ingredients industry, has revealed that the ratio of aquaculture-reared fish against marine-sourced fish used in feed is on a downward trend.
What does this mean for consumers? It means that farmed fish are producing more consumable protein than is used in the feed – and this is an important threshold to pass to be a truly sustainable industry.
The search continues for more nutrition sources other than wild fish, such as microalgae and supplements to enable fish to better utilise plant-based ingredients.
If we’re to provide enough protein for the 9.7bn people estimated to be living on the planet by 2050, it’s critical we support the aquaculture industry on its journey towards ever greater sustainability.
1The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018 - Meeting the sustainable development goals. Rome. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
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