Charting a course to sustainable aquaculture


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The global demand for seafood is rising rapidly with a growing population consuming larger amounts of fish in their diets. Most of the additional demand for seafood is now met by aquaculture as global catches from wild fisheries have stagnated or decreased since the mid-1980s. 

Can the aquaculture sector avoid some of the large resource and environmental problems that have plagued the agricultural and livestock sectors during the past several decades? 

Aquaculture is now the fastest-growing animal food production sector and will soon supply more than half of the world's seafood. The industry can play a vital role in ensuring access to affordable seafood and in generating income from the sale of seafood in both developed and developing countries.

Although aquaculture has the potential to feed millions of people, some types of aquaculture production may severely degrade aquatic ecosystems, pose health risks to consumers, reduce incomes and employment in the capture fisheries sector, and diminish food resources for poor populations.

A study by FSE director Rosamond L. Naylor and Stanford Ph.D. student Dane Klinger explores potential solutions to the industry's range of resource and environmental problems. These include novel culture systems; alternative feed strategies; and species choices by stage of adoption, benefits, costs and constraints. The study also considers promising technologies and policies that could provide incentives for innovation and environmental improvement.

"Rethinking aquaculture production with an integrated mind-set is needed to tackle the simultaneous challenges of feed and energy demands, containment of wastes, pathogens, and escaped fish, land and water requirements, and consumer preferences," said Klinger. 

Environmental regulations, international standards, labeling, and information strategies can help provide incentives to producers to adopt improved technologies and management practices, but they need to be coordinated and promoted with care to prevent excessive costs to producers and confusion for consumers.