Can aquaculture be part of a sustainable food chain?
Our global population is predicted to increase by over 2 billion people in the next 25 to 30 years. We need to find nutritious, and sustainable ways to feed everyone, and sustainable farming - including fish farming - is essential to this.
Fish farming has come under fire lately, resulting in statements such as “stop eating fish ”, “Save our wild salmon” and “Farmed fish is crippling the seas”. But these blanket statements fundamentally misunderstand the complexities of sustainable fish production.
Aquaculture must be part of a resilient, functioning ecosystem
Sophisticated solutions are required. We need cutting-edge technology, combined with the greatest minds in the business and the best of science. It’s about producing more food that is appropriately farmed for the local conditions. We need to support farmers to determine the most effective use of their resources - to manage their land and care for their stocks – not only as a means to create revenue, but as a means to create a resilient, functioning ecosystem, that also brings environmental benefit, and contributes positively to society and culture.
No aquaculture system is inherently sustainable, but all aquaculture can improve their sustainability and contribute to sustainability, and some can be regenerative (for example well-managed mussel and oyster farming cleans water and improves climate resilience in coastal areas).
Good practices are on the rise
Aquaculture is still a relatively immature sector and, while its overall global growth is around 5.8 percent per year, its output in 2017 was 175 million metric tons, meaning it is still small enough to change course. By learning from the mistakes of past industries, aquaculture has a change to chart a different path. One that embraces pre-competitive collaboration, brings together the best thinkers and utilises innovative technology to ensure animal welfare, the planet and fair practices for workers is at its heart.
Good practices are on the rise and, with more investment and greater cross-industry collaboration, they can lead to sustainable growth in the sector.
Water purification systems that clean treatment water after delousing on well boats are being trialled, health-focused breeding programmes are increasing resistance to some of the most common disease challenges facing shrimp and salmon, disruptive technology is being utilised to reduce the impact of bottom trawling, while sophisticated cloud-based data software allows salmon farmers and producers to collect, visualise and analyse all of their health-related data and share this with their health partners.
A transformation in aquaculture’s productive capacity and sustainability is already happening. Meeting four big technical challenges is vital to unlocking aquaculture’s innate potential as a healthy, nutritious and sustainable source of protein.
- Improved feeds: to relieve pressure on wild fisheries, we need to reduce the quantities of small wild fish that are fed to farmed fish. This requires us to improve the nutritional qualities of alternative feeds. Sustainably sourced artemia cysts are already used on shrimp and fish hatcheries around the world, with new innovation steadily coming to market through the use of enrichment of live feed alternatives, feeds based on algae, and probiotics to improve feed conversion and growth.
- Fitter fish: whether it’s sea lice on salmon, white spot syndrome in shrimp, or Nodavirus in seabass, diseases are the most important challenge limiting aquaculture’s growth. When it comes to treatments, the focus is on early detection and rapid veterinary advice, improved genetics (with increased resistance to diseases), and natural treatments (such as cleaner fish).
- Smart farms: with concern around the impact of aquaculture farms on local environments and wild fish stocks on the rise, land-based farms will play an increasingly important role in the future. Land-based farms pose zero threats from escapees. They allow producers to hold stock from smolt to spawn and produce eggs (ova) all year round.
While their popularity has grown in recent years, challenges around animal welfare, and energy and water use need to be resolved leading some producers to build their farms on along the coastline sea in order to easily access water that can be cleaned and filtered. A number of farms in Iceland offer even greater advantages by accessing hot and cold sea and freshwater from natural geothermal and freshwater boreholes
- Knowledge is king: we know what the challenges are, now is the time to work with farmers to identify the most important problems and mobilise science, practical expertise and evidence to find the most effective solutions. The focus must be on driving meaningful improvements, mitigating risk and realising long-term business benefits by inspiring producers to meet and exceed key performance measures. When we pair these advances with emerging traceability solutions - for both wild and farmed seafood - we can provide citizens with sustainable seafood products they can trust.