Responsible Aquaculture is Essential to the Future of Seafood
By Barton Seaver
As a seafood evangelist, my message boils down to one simple assertion: eat more of it.
Seafood is among the healthiest proteins on the planet. Its nutrition profile includes omega-3 fatty acids, iron, selenium, B vitamins, and other essential nutrients. A wide body of research shows eating more seafood can reduce the risk of heart disease, improve brain development, help build muscles and tissues, and may even reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Farmed or wild?” is a question I am asked more than any other. “Both,” is now my answer. As world population numbers rise and demand for seafood increases, aquaculture is poised to become an integral source of quality and sustainable food. The water covers more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, yet wild capture fisheries and a small aquaculture sector produce only about 2 percent of the global food supply. It only makes sense that we should look to expand our aquaculture production to become a bigger part of our local, regional, national and international food systems. If we don’t, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization predicts the world will face a seafood shortage of 50–80 million tons by 2030.
Both wild-harvest fishing and aquaculture industries have their detractors, due in large part to past and widely publicized practices that rendered negative impacts on the environment. But aquaculture has long suffered disproportionally from public perception that it is more harmful to both ecosystems and eaters. Aquaculture is a young industry. Just as we are amazed how far other technologies like phones and computers have advanced in 30 years, we need to consider just how far aquaculture has come in that same period of time and reconsider our perceptions of it. The plain fact is that aquaculture on the whole has advanced its sustainability practiced far past what consumers, chefs, and media often allow it credit for.
Aquaculture operations in the typically generate less greenhouse gas emissions, use less land and fresh water, and are more efficient at converting feed into edible protein than beef, pork, and poultry. Aquaculture has traditionally used a high amount of wild-capture fish to feed those being farmed. But recent advances have reduced the required inputs to sustainable levels. For example Regal Springs, the world’s largest Premium Tilapia producer utilizes a primarily plant-based feed. There are land-based energy efficient recirculating aquaculture systems that tap into both solar and wind energy. And there are cooperatives of lake and pond-based farms that sustainably farm fish and provide much needed employment opportunities and community education, healthcare and infrastructure services.
As we learn about, and embrace, the very positive aspects of aquaculture, it is certainly crucial to hold accountable unscrupulous producers who do not use best practices and whose actions diminish the reputation of all producers. And we must equally hold accountable the very best producers, to press these leaders to continuously improve their practices and push the industry forward. Aquaculturists, just like fishermen, are a part of our food system, and it’s time we look to embrace the industry. Let’s celebrate their efforts and maximize aquaculture’s contributions to our tables and our health. Remember: don’t smoke, wear your seatbelt, and eat farmed and wild seafood.
Barton Seaver has built an international reputation as a sustainable seafood expert and oceans advocate. He is a chef, author and speaker and the former Director of the Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative at Harvard University’s School of Public Health. In this role, Barton spearheads initiatives to inform consumers and institutions about how our choices for diet and menus can promote healthier people, more secure food supplies, and thriving communities.
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