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Can Aquaculture be made more Sustainable?

Can Aquaculture be made more Sustainable?

Aquaculture, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), is “the fastest growing food production system in the world.”   It accounts for nearly 50 percent of the world’s food fish, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and more than 1 billion people rely on fish as an important source of animal protein.  With this rapid expansion; at 8-10 percent over the last 30 years according to the WWF, many organizations are concerned with the sustainability of this industry, and whether its growth can continue with minimal negative environmental impact.

The WorldFish Center, based in Penang, Malaysia, as well as Conservation International (CI), recently put out a report studying the environmental impact of aquaculture.  The report is entitled “Blue Frontiers: Managing the environmental costs of aquaculture”, and they are presenting their findings at the Conference on Sustainable Fisheries for Food Security towards 2020 held by ASEAN-SEAFDEC and taking place in Bangkok, Thailand this week.  ASEAN-SEAFDEC stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center.

“Blue Frontiers” found that though aquaculture is ecologically more efficient than other forms of animal protein production such as beef and pork, the ecological impact of aquaculture can be improved.  Some of this improvement can take the form of learning from other countries.  For example, the study found that the methods for raising salmon in Europe, Canada and Chile are more efficient than those in China and other Asian countries.  With Asia accounting for around 90 percent of the world’s aquaculture, (China itself accounts for around 60 percent), changes in production methods can significantly alter global environmental impact.  China was also found to be less efficient than other countries, such as Thailand, in the production of shrimp and other prawns.

The report also suggests that more innovation needs to be made in what we feed our fish.  Currently, fishmeal, or dried and ground fish, and fish oil is used to feed “intensive and semi-intensive systems” such as salmon, eel, and shrimp.  But the report suggests that there are other ways to meet the nutrition demands of these marine animals without relying on fishmeal – including breeding fish that have a lower demand for the high quality lipids and proteins found in fishmeal and fish oil or developing those high quality substances from plants and microorganisms.

The report puts forth other recommendations for improving efficiency and gives a detailed analysis of the environmental impact of aquaculture today.  In addition to sustainable aquaculture, however, many other themes are being explored at the ASEAN-SEAFDEC conference.  They include such topics as overfishing, fish safety and quality, and livelihood and employment prospects in fishing communities; amongst many others.  In general, the overarching theme of the conference is captured in its alternate title: “Fish for the People  2020: Adaptation to a Changing Environment.”

With around 90 percent of the world’s aquaculture taking place in Asia, and with the fisheries sector being recognized as important for food security in the Southeast Asian region, the ASEAN-SEAFDEC conference is a step towards meeting the pressing demands for both food security and sustainability in this important global resource.

Photo Credit: Regal Springs Tilapia via the World Wildlife Fund



Rishi Sidhu

Rishi Sidhu is a freelance writer and journalist based in Boston, Massachusetts. He found his love for international relations while teaching English on the Japan Exchange and Teaching program in the rural town of Agematsu in Nagano prefecture. After 2 years in Japan, Rishi traveled to India to study Hindi and pursue his journalism career. He became interested in food security when he first heard people in India complaining about rising food prices and loves the issue because of its impact on all aspects of human society; from health to politics, from environmentalism to global development.