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Aquaculture to play a key role in global protein production

Aquaculture can potentially become the most efficient protein source in future

By: Brian Tesch,
Advertising Manager

With diminishing habitats, decaying fisheries and an increase in demand for Seafood, aquaculture across the globe is poised to play an important role in the future of food supply. It is unlikely that wild capture fisheries will be able to produce any higher yields in the future. In many parts of the world, wild fisheries have been experiencing a sharp decline. Most notable are the Atlantic salmon, a species that once dominated the eastern seaboard with numbers estimated in the hundreds of millions are now around 500,000. Despite ambiguous packaging and with a few minor exceptions, all of today’s Atlantic salmon you will find in your local grocery store was farm raised in an aqglobal_seafood_production-colornoaa-govuaculture facility. While the industry is easily replacing salmon demand, it has a long way to go.

On paper, fish are the most efficient source of animal protein to produce. There are many ways to compare efficiency when it comes to proteins, to simplify, we will look at the feed
conversion ratio. The ratio expresses the amount of feed by weight, to produce a protein by weight. Fish being the most efficient have a 1.2 ratio, meaning it takes 1.2 pounds of feed to produce one pound of fish. Beef and pork have ratios that are 8.7 and 5.9 respectively (taken from NOAA). The reason for its efficiency is directly related to the industry’s biggest challenge. Fish are predators and are built to consume and process more complex forms of proteins and nutrients, unlike cows or pigs. This is great when it comes to efficiency scales and sustainable production of protein, but like most things, there’s a catch. Since fish are predators they must eat other sources of proteins.

Most fishmeal today is produced from the harvest of pelagic fish less desirable for human consumption such as herring or anchovies. This poses a problem because it puts a lot of weight on herring and anchovy populations and it does not completely solve the problem of sustainable fish production. Most of the aquaculture industry is based on converting less desirable fish into more desirable fish. This is a problem because in this process, nutrients and proteins are lost. It’s important to note that populations of anchovy and herring are more likely to decrease than increase, making fish feed another limiting supply on the aquaculture industry.

So while global fishery production is very limited and mostly in decline, Aquaculture has been supplementing the growth in the seafood industry but most of that growth is based on the natural carrying capacity of smaller fish such as anchovies, which is very limited and mostly also in decline. Paired with demand for Seafood increasing as global populations set to reach 9 billion in 2050, the industry has some very limited problems. Continuing of this course, the Aquaculture industry will reach a limit in the amount of feed, therefore fish they can produce.

What is the solution?

Increasing anchovy populations is one way, but done unnaturally is outlawed. People have tried artificially increasing fish populations in the past but most have been labeled as geo-terrorists.

Most notable was Russ George in an attempt to restore fisheries in the Northeast Pacific. He poured 120 tons of iron into the ocean in 2012 in an attempt to artificially bloom algae. Iron being a limiting nutrient for algae in the open ocean. In the next following years, fishing yields quadrupled in the region, but because no scientist was brought on to the experiment, it’s impossible to prove the increase in yields as a direct result of Russ George’s ambitious experiment.

If you can’t increase populations, the only other option is to decrease the reliance of anchovy in fish food. The aquaculture industry all over the world is looking for sustainable protein substitutes for fish feed, and progress is being made. The solution is simple, find alternative food sources to raise fish on. Once the feed becomes sustainable and uses less fish, the aquaculture industry is poised to become the world’s leader in protein production due to its sustainability, efficiently and overall tastiness.

Contact the author at btesch14@wou.edu