Majority of Coastal Countries Could Meet Seafood Needs Through Aquaculture

A new study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution suggests nearly every coastal nation in the world has the potential to meet its domestic seafood needs through sustainable aquaculture.

Aquaculture–the practice of farming aquatic organisms including fish, mollusks, and crustaceans–is the fastest growing food sector and provides hope for building food security around the world as well as reducing pressure on wild fish stocks.

Scientists from UC Santa Barbara, Imperial College London, the Nature Conservancy, UCLA, and NOAA recently published a study that indicates most coastal countries across the world could meet their own seafood demands by using a small fraction of their ocean territory for aquaculture. The authors say, “Even after applying substantial constraints based on existing ocean uses and limitations, we find vast areas in nearly every coastal country that are suitable for aquaculture.”

Specifically, “the current total landings of all wild-capture fisheries could be produced using less than 0.015% of the global ocean area,” (par. 1, Gentry et al, 2017). This study takes an important step in mapping out areas with aquaculture potential. Much research in the sector has been focused on particular species or regions, with less known about the global potential for aquaculture as a solution.

aquaculture potential hot spots, Gentry et al., 2017
Global hotspots for finfish aquaculture (credit: Nature Ecology & Evolution ISSN 2397-334X online)

The areas of highest potential were found in warm, tropical regions. If all areas of prospective aquaculture were to be developed for that purpose, “approximately 15 billion tonnes of finish could be grown every year–over 100 times the current global seafood consumption.,” (par. 7). While this study did consider some constraints, the authors recognize that more conservative estimates may be used in the real world. Environmental concerns may reduce available aquaculture sites and distance to ports or military areas may also want to be avoided. Even so, the massive scale of aquaculture potential allows for flexibility when it comes to these factors.

Several countries show particular promise for aquaculture development. Indonesia is one, where developing just 1% of its “suitable ocean area could produce more than 24 million tonnes of fish per year,” (par. 9).

Importantly, the countries with the highest potential are largely the ones not producing any significant marine aquaculture. This led the authors to conclude that other factors such as social, economic, and the regulatory atmosphere have a greater influence on aquaculture development at present. They also noted that, considering the significant potential, it is surprising more fish farms are not appearing. The potential for aquaculture growth–and the associated food security and economic expansion–is indeed vast. We know how much can be produced and where; it’s now a matter of allowing and encouraging sustainable operations.


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