Study: Potential to produce seafood through aquaculture remains untapped

Researchers claim nations have plenty of opportunities to meet demands for marine protein.

WORLDWIDE — Countries around the world can increase production of manufactured seafood and comfortably meet the world’s increasing demand for seafood without having to occupy large swaths of the oceans’ surface, according to a study recently published by a group of researchers and scientists from U.C. Santa Barbara, UCLA, Nature Conservancy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The study, published in “Nature, Ecology and Evolution” on Aug. 14, made a strong case for countries to actively pursue marine aquaculture interests as part of an international effort to keep up with forecasted growth in seafood consumption.

Wild fisheries, the study hinted, would unlikely be able to keep up with the increasing worldwide demand for seafood.

“Marine aquaculture presents an opportunity for increasing seafood production in the face of growing demand for marine protein and limited scope for expanding wild fishery harvests,” the report’s abstract stated. “We find vast areas in nearly every coastal country that are suitable for aquaculture. The development potential far exceeds the space required to meet foreseeable seafood demand; indeed, the current total landings of all wild-capture fisheries could be produced using less than 0.015 percent of the global ocean area.”

Scaling aquaculture farms to meet increasing global demand for marine proteins does not have to come with a large footprint, according to the study.

“Suitable space is unlikely to limit marine aquaculture development and highlights the role that other factors, such as economics and governance, play in shaping growth trajectories,” researchers stated in their report. “We suggest that the vast amount of space suitable for marine aquaculture presents an opportunity for countries to develop aquaculture in a way that aligns with their economic, environmental and social objectives.”

Producing seafood in the open ocean would be more efficient than similar efforts on land, according to the study.

“The majority of existing aquaculture takes place on land, in freshwater and in near-shore marine waters. However, problems, such as high resource use, pollution and habitat destruction have created a generally negative reputation for aquaculture in several countries and pose challenges for continued expansion,” the study stated.

“Open-ocean aquaculture appears to have several advantages over the more traditional culturing methods, including fewer spatial conflicts and a higher nutrient assimilation capacity, highlighting the opportunities for sustainable marine development,” the study continued.

Researchers, however, stated they must still determine whether adaptive measurement practices and other sustainability elements would be in place to allow large-scale open-ocean aquaculture farms to become common.

“Despite the perception that marine aquaculture has high growth potential, little is known about the extent, location and productivity of potential growing areas across the globe,” the study’s researchers and scientists stated. “Most of the research on marine aquaculture potential has focused on specific species and/or specific regions, and there remains an important need to assess the more general growing potential across locations.”

Nonetheless the collaborative study maintained marine aquaculture was an opportunity worth pursuing to address growing populations, increased seafood demand and peaking wild fishery catches.

The world’s population is forecast to reach 10 billion people by 2050, according to the report, likely increasing the pressure of food systems to regularly produce and delivery animal protein.

“Momentum is building to look towards marine aquaculture to meet the growing protein demand,” researchers stated. “The relative sustainability of marine aquaculture compared with land-based meat production and the human health benefits of diets rich in fish make it even more pressing that we consider aquaculture’s potential.

“Oceans represent an immense opportunity for food production, yet the open ocean environment is largely untapped as a farming resource,” the study’s researchers continued.

Aquaculture’s high growth potential, according to the study, would only be moderated by “additional environmental and socioeconomic factors that would rule out seemingly suitable space.”

“A more refined assessment may exclude environmentally sensitive or high biodiversity areas, such as coral reefs. Other areas might be avoided due to economic considerations, such as the distance to ports, access to markets, shoreside infrastructure, and intellectual or business capital,” researchers stated in their study. “The social interactions with wild fisheries, jobs, prices and cultural heritage should also be taken into consideration. Other uses of these areas, such as by the military or for energy production, [might] also limit the available space.”

NOAA photo

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