There’s a Seafood Gap – How Can We Fill It?

Seafood gap Photo by Julian Paul via Unsplash
Photo by Julian Paul via Unsplash

Making sure everyone has access to enough fish and seafood is a growing headache. Fish stocks plummet, and existing fishing methods are largely unsustainable and wasteful.

So what about aquaculture?

“Seafood has a big role to play in feed­ing a rapidly grow­ing global pop­u­la­tion. But there aren’t enough wild fish in the sea to do the job. So fish farm­ing, or aqua­cul­ture, with its prom­ise of sus­tain­able seafood, will have to fill the gap. The ques­tion is: Can it?”

That was the question posed in recent Washington Post article. The interviewees were Tj Tate, director of the sustainable-seafood program at the National Aquarium, and Amy Novogratz, co-founder and managing partner of Aqua-Spark, an aquaculture investment fund.

The answers they gave highlight some of the solutions, and some of the blind alleys too. They are champions of traditional aquaculture; but aquaculture, I believe, is not the answer to the problem of seafood provision.

Chesapeake success story

The interviewees quite rightly underline the highly encouraging story of Chesapeake Bay and the restoration of its shellfish beds.

“…An oyster is actually a very simplistic type of aquaculture”, says Tate. “And it’s a filter feeder. So it’s actually cleaning the bay. The more oyster farms we have, the better. What they found out is that they can grow different species and not just have the oysters. They can grow seaweed with it. Or if you’re in the Northeast you can do clams, mussels, oysters, kelp.”

This type of marine agriculture is something we’ve talked about before on this website, most recently in September 2017, and in an article I wrote with the Brain Trust’s Ray Keene OBE.

Move Over Aquaculture…

In talking of solutions, however, the experts’ emphasis is on expanding aquaculture and the exploration of alternative feed for farmed fish.

“We’re taking as much as we can from the oceans and we’re currently producing a whole lot of aquaculture”, says Tate, “but we’re predicted to need to actually triple the amount of aquaculture we’re producing by the end of the century … We need to improve our practices. We need to bring in some of the better technologies for aquaculture. We need to lower the [environmental] footprint of aquaculture as we grow it.”

There is something important missing here – the farming of the sea bed and sea, beyond the relatively simple restoration of oyster beds.

At present the vast majority of the world’s fishing industry uses a Neanderthal hunting and gathering method. We gave up that unsustainable approach on land 10,000 years ago when land food supplies first began to run short.

…Make Room for Marine Agriculture

Photo by Joseph Barrientos via Unsplash
Photo by Joseph Barrientos via Unsplash

Rather than expanding standard aquaculture, we need to agriculturalize the sea, just as our ancestors agriculturalized the land 10,000 years ago.

This is not a new idea – I argued the case at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Tokyo way back in 1990. Japan now has an active farming system in Okayama between two islands.

This thriving example of marine agriculture has tripled the fish harvest, while yields are diminishing outside this zone. It’s not just about fish – the system also provides oysters, mussels, and other shellfish to add to the pot!

Seafood provides essential brain nutrients, which can reverse the ongoing rise in mental ill health. Also, it does not require fresh water, unlike pastoral and arable farming, which soaks up huge amounts.

Moreover, kelp and other marine plants sequester CO2, contributing to climate change solutions. We cannot grow any more rain forests on land but we can plant the equivalent in the sea.

There’s no way out of this, other than moving forward with vision and ingenuity. The arable land available to us has reached its limit, but the population is still growing. Aquaculture cannot provide all the seafood we need, and is beset with its own nutritional and environmental issues. Farming in the sea is the only answer.

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