Why Aquaculture Matters
What is Aquaculture?
Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic animals and plants for food or other uses.
Popular aquaculture species include:
- fin fish such as salmon, tilapia, and catfish
- crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs
- mollusks such as clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops
- echinoderms such as sea cucumbers and urchins
- plants such as seaweeds and algae
Farming involves some form of intervention in the rearing process, such as seeding, stocking, feeding, protection from predators, and containment for controlled harvesting. This can be done by using pens or fencing in the open ocean, estuaries, or rivers. Aquaculture can also be conducted inland in man-made ponds or tanks. Inland aquaculture is the largest and fastest growing segment the aquaculture industry.
Farming also implies ownership of the stock being cultivated, as well as a degree of control over the conditions in which the stock were raised, environmental impact of the farming and traceability of the end product.
How did Aquaculture Begin?
Large-scale aquaculture was first practiced over 4,000 years ago. However, over the ages it was largely forgotten. In modern times it has been easier to simply harvest fish from the wild than raise them. By the 1970s, aquaculture played a niche role in the seafood industry with rudimentary methodologies and less than 5% of total seafood production globally.
In the 1990s that changed: Production from wild-caught fisheries began to level out around the world and have not increased since. Of course this did not slow the demand for seafood fueled by increased population growth and urbanization.
It was at this time that aquaculture began to expand rapidly to compensate for the growing gap between rising demand for seafood and declining wild catch. For nearly three decades since, aquaculture, has successfully scaled to meet global seafood demand. In fact, today aquaculture accounts for over half the seafood consumed globally.
Why Support Aquaculture?
Supporting aquaculture supports consumer access to a wide variety of reasonably priced seafood. It supports public health initiatives that include seafood as part of a balanced diet. It supports a healthier planet with pressure taken off our oceans, lakes, and rivers. It supports jobs since half the world’s seafood industry is based on aquaculture. It also supports economic development in the rural regions where aquaculture often takes place.
A better question might be: Can we afford not to support aquaculture? The world’s population today is around 7 billion. Traditional seafood production is already struggling to keep up with demand. Within a generation we will need to feed over 2 billion more people.
By nearly all accounts, the world’s wild fisheries are incapable of producing much more seafood, if any, over their current levels. Aquaculture is the obvious answer. It is, in fact, the only viable solution for doing so.
Aquaculture has proven its ability to rapidly scale and keep pace with escalating demand. Over the past 30 years, wild-capture fishery production increased from 69 million to 93 million tons; over the same period, aquaculture production increased from 5 million to 63 million tons.
It’s still early days, but already aquaculture has shown that it can be developed in a manner that is both environmentally and economically sustainable. Moreover, it can create jobs and opportunity throughout both the developed and developing world, ensure variety and value for consumers, and, hopefully, take pressure off our wild fisheries by supplementing their yields.
Why is Aquaculture Important?
Aquaculture plays a key role in meeting the food demand of our growing global population.
✓ With the world population expected to skyrocket to 9 billion by 2050, aquaculture helps meet the increasing demand on our food supply.
✓ Global consumer demand for seafood continues to grow, especially in the developing world, as urbanization and living standards rise.
Aquaculture helps lessen the strain on our global fish stocks, while being an environmentally-sustainable solution to food production.
✓ The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that, in 2014, 30% of commercial fish stocks were captured at a “biologically unsustainable level” – a number that will only increase.
✓ Aquaculture is resource efficient – requiring less feed and producing less greenhouse gas emissions compared to beef, chicken, or pork.
Aquaculture provides healthy and affordable seafood options for consumers.
✓ Many public health experts and nutritionists recommend two weekly servings of seafood, but American diets fall well below that. For example, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service estimates 80-90% of Americans don’t eat the recommended amount of seafood.
✓ Aquaculture provides a wide variety of affordable, convenient, and familiar seafood to consumers.
The seafood industry is a key contributor and job creator – and the industry is growing rapidly.
✓ Today, 53% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is the product of aquaculture.
✓ Estimates show 62% of fish will come from aquaculture by 2030.
✓ The global market for aquaculture is expected to reach $202.96 billion by 2020.
Six Ways Aquaculture Benefits Consumers
1. A sustainable solution
Aquaculture opens a new culinary frontier with the world’s most environmentally sustainable solution to answer consumer’s growing demand for delicious and nutritious foods that are safe and traceable.
2. Provides more seafood choices
Wild fish stocks simply can’t keep up with our growing population. Aquaculture fills that gap, ensuring consumers uninterrupted access to their favorite seafoods.
3. Supports the economy
Aquaculture accounts for over 50% of all seafood consumed globally and supports thousands of jobs across the United States, Europe, and beyond.
4. Keeps seafood prices down
For over two decades aquaculture has made up for shortfalls in wild catch. It has ensured sufficient supply to consumers and helped to keep all seafood prices down.
5. Supports dietary guidelines
Public health authorities recommend that we to eat more seafood. But where will it come from? Since wild catch peaked in the 1990s, aquaculture is the key to meeting dietary guidelines.
6. Protects the environment
Aquaculture is a sustainable solution that together with responsible fishing practices takes pressure off wild fish stocks and fragile marine ecosystems.
What are the Biggest Challenges Facing Aquaculture Today?
Misconceptions and Misinformation
Like any fledgeling industry, aquaculture has its growth pains. But none are so pervasive or potentially damaging as the public’s perception of farmed seafood.
Seafood in general faces challenges with consumers that are magnified when it comes to aquaculture products. Unlike other sources of protein like beef, pork, or chicken, consumers feel less comfortable with seafood. Among the most common reasons for this are: 1) mixed messages around the safety and health benefits of seafood; 2) lack of understanding with regard to buying and preparing seafood and, 3) the notion that eating seafood is somehow bad for the environment.
Many of the fears surrounding seafood, like most other fears and stereotypes, are based on unsubstantiated rumor or information about a very small subset that gets applied to the entire group.
In the case of aquaculture, reporting, that is often ill-informed and sensationalized, surrounding a very small number of bad actors and the conditions and production methods at their facilities, has served to paint the entire industry as unsafe.
Opponents of the industry repeat these overblown concerns repeatedly, forming an echo chamber that serves their own purposes and ultimately harms the consumer.
The Aquaculture Coalition is committed to being a balanced and reliable voice for aquaculture. We will collaborate with governments, the media, and concerned third parties to explain the benefits of aquaculture, shed light on its challenges and, just as important, dispel the rumors, misconceptions, and false information that prevent the public from creating an informed view of this exciting new industry.