As effects from global climate change take hold, the importance of aquaculture in providing food security to the world’s growing population will become even more prominent.
Wild fish stocks are expected to migrate with changing ocean temperatures, threatening the historic catch for fishermen and nations who have come to depend on this resource. Some species may be able to adapt, while others will seek cooler waters, farther north or south. In the Gulf of Maine, lobsters are already moving north toward Canada and cod are heading for deeper waters.
As stocks shift it will become more difficult for fishermen in some areas to reach them, particularly if national borders are involved as countries are entitled to the marine resources within their waters. While some may have the means to switch their species of target, entering a new fishery can be expensive and permits are often limited.
One way to ensure livelihoods, economic health, and an enduring supply of seafood is by farming it. Aquaculture has quickly become an integral part of the global food system, and represents an opportunity for fishermen who may be forced out of their industry. In the U.S., seaweed, crabs, clams, oysters and other bivalves are increasingly being farmed. In fact, 95% of the oysters consumed in the country are farmed.
The northeast region of the U.S. is an emerging aquaculture center as fishermen either age out of fishing or find more security in marine farming. From Maine to North Carolina, oyster aquaculture is taking off as demand for the seafood item increases. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently organized a brand new Office of Aquaculture, which aims to ease the regulations for aquaculture, promote the industry, and educate consumers. Nonprofit organizations are also popping up to help interested entrepreneurs make the jump into aquaculture: Greenwave is creating a new generation of ocean farmers with a Farm Startup Program, while Manomet is developing a clam farming project in Maine.
There is potential for ocean farming itself to be affected by changing temperatures, which is why adaptation is key. As aquaculture technologies continue to be refined, land-based systems are now more feasible than ever. Three land-based salmon farming operations are currently under construction in the U.S. and a number of recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) shrimp farms have also appeared across the country, from Texas to Idaho. These groundbreaking initiatives utilize a controlled environment to bring sustainable seafood to every corner of the country.
The best part is that most of the aquacultured seafood in the U.S. is helpful for mitigating climate change: kelp, mussels, and oysters are organisms that actually take in carbon dioxide while growing. Culturing these species is as good for the environment as it is for the food system, keeping the water clean and providing a healthy, sustainable product. As the planet continues to see the effects of climate change, there is a very good chance aquaculture will play an increasing role in our solutions toolkit.