Aquaculture for all

Nine ways to produce more sustainable and affordable blue food

Freshwater fish Food security Socio-economics +2 more

Conversations around increasing aquatic food production too often focus on species, environments and ambitious hi-tech solutions that will benefit the privileged few.

Carp farmers in Bangladesh

© M Gulam Hussain

A new perspective in One Earth led by Stockholm Resilience Centre researcher Patrik Henriksson and Max Troell, argues that greater attention should be paid to improving the productivity and environmental performance of affordable and accessible aquatic species.

The study details a range of available intervention and investment areas that would significantly and sustainably boost production of these nutritious foods.

Farmed fish can be produced with 87 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions than beef, use 49 percent less land than poultry, and require 84 percent less fresh water than pigs.

At the same time, it has been projected that the production of aquatic foods will increase by 32 percent between 2018 and 2030. But it is not a given that this increase in production will be sustainable.

Improvements in feed composition and efficiency over time for poultry, salmon, tilapia, Chinese carps and marine shrimp (click on image to enlarge)

© Henriksson et al

“Fulfilling the potential of aquaculture to contribute positively to food system transformation will require better accounting of the environmental performance of the huge diversity of production systems, and interventions that facilitate upscaling of aquatic farming to support sustainable diets,” say the authors.

Improvements in feed composition and efficiency over time for poultry, salmon, tilapia, Chinese carps, and marine shrimp.

Nine areas of intervention

The study identifies nine intervention areas for improving the productivity and sustainability of global aquaculture:

  1. Species choice
  2. Genetic improvements
  3. Farm technologies and practices
  4. Spatial planning and access
  5. Disease reduction
  6. Feed
  7. Regulations and trade
  8. Post-harvest processing and distribution
  9. Financial tools

“These interventions would have the most impact if geared toward boosting accessible, affordable species,” say the authors.

For example, more tolerant and less resource-demanding species have a lower environmental impact, but are less in demand.

“This could to some extent be overcome by nudging consumer behavior and focusing on value-added products like surimi, which is made from deboned fish paste,” say the authors.

Equally, many smallholder farmers are unable to benefit from quality feed, seed, or disease diagnostics due to limited access to credit.

“Enabling insurance providers and cooperatives could play an important role in alleviating risk and gaining access to credit and markets among smallholder aquaculture farmers,” they add.

"Aquatic foods alone cannot ensure future food security but, if developed thoughtfully, they can play a greater role in alleviating the current food system's environmental pressures on the planet”.

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