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Aquaculture is the world's fastest growing food sector

Seafood consumption has reached an all-time high in 2020, and experts are investigating ways to make aquaculture more sustainable. Half of all the seafood that is currently consumed now comes from farmed sources, as opposed to fish caught in the world’s freshwaters and oceans, and aquaculture is expected to double by 2050.

“Aquaculture is now being more widely recognized as an important part of our global food system, and it will continue to grow,” said UC Santa Barbara Professor Halley E. Froehlich. “So the question is, how do we plot that course in a more sustainable way?”

Even though aquaculture has improved the livelihoods of millions of people across many low and middle-income nations, this sector is still in need of some major improvements. For example, the fish farming industry faces a range of sustainability challenges, including environmental degradation and the overuse of antibiotics. 

In some regions, aquaculture is also associated with gender inequality and poor labor practices. Regardless of its poor reputation, however, aquaculture has great potential to benefit society. 

One of the biggest advantages of fish farming is its nutrient efficiency. In addition, aquaculture can operate on a smaller footprint than many other forms of food production.

Professor Froehlich has contributed to an evaluation of aquaculture, specifically addressing the complex interactions between the environmental, human and animal health parameters, which is a view that scientists refer to as the One Health framework. 

For the current investigation, a diverse team of scientists, economists, sociologists, and policy specialists led by the Center for Sustainable Aquaculture Futures has collaborated to establish strategies that could be implemented worldwide to improve sustainability as the aquaculture industry expands. 

The experts have examined critically important aspects of sustainable aquaculture such as access to nutritious food and quality employment, the health of wild fish ecosystems, and resilience to climate change.

“The paper results from extensive interaction between a wide range of academic experts in aquaculture, health, environmental and social sciences, economists, industry stakeholders and policy groups,” said study senior co-author Charles Tyler from the University of Exeter.

The report not also describes a strategy for developing aquaculture, but also proposes ways that can be used to measure its sustainability and success.

“This is an important paper, acknowledging that aquaculture is set to deliver most of our seafood by 2050, but also that sustainability must be designed-in at every level,” said study lead author Grant Stentiford.

“I hope it will become a blueprint for how government and industry interact on these issues in the future. Most importantly, it considers aquaculture’s evolution from a subject studied by specialists to an important food sector – requiring now a much broader interaction with policy and society than arguably has occurred in the past.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Food.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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