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Farmed fish could solve pending population crisis, food experts say

(Excerpts)

MONTEREY, Calif. — Farmed fish has gotten a bad rap, but it’s the only way the world is going to feed the additional 2.4  billion people expected to be added to the Earth’s population in the next 34 years, experts told a sustainable food conference.  With the world's arable land maxed out and wild seafood overfished, aquaculture is the one place we can look to produce enough animal protein for all those extra mouths, said Steve Gaines, a professor of marine biology at the University of California Santa Barbara and lead investigator for the university's sustainable fisheries group. He spoke at a conference on sustainable food at the Monterey Bay Aquarium earlier this month. 

The rising human population isn't the only issue. As standards of living rise, people eat more protein and especially more meat. In China, for example, annual meat consumption has risen from 28 pounds per person in 1982 to 138 pounds in 2015.  Growing enough crops to feed more pigs, chickens and cows is a challenge. In most of the world, all the land that can be planted already is planted. Plowing under the marginal land that's left would only lead to deforestation and land degradation, which only contributes to climate change, said Gaines.

Turning to the world’s oceans doesn’t help. Analysis of global fisheries, even if all were sustainably managed for maximum production, would only take care of between 1% and 5% of the coming demand, Gaines said.  The only option, experts at the Monterey conference said, is aquaculture.  Currently just 15% of world animal protein consumption comes from aquaculture but that can quickly be ramped up.

It's a hard sell in the United States. Panelists blamed part of the U.S. prejudice against aquaculture on NIMBYism (i.e. Not In My Backyard.) Americans were content to eat farmed salmon, shrimp, oysters and other species when they were produced far away, but didn't want to see fish farms and pens in their pristine waters at home.  There's also an ongoing negative connotation with fish farming among the more eco-conscious in the United States because of early unsustainable fishery examples, especially farmed salmon and shrimp, in South America and Asia.

Asia out in front
Asia, which has practiced pond and rice paddy-based aquaculture for millennium, has embraced modern aquaculture. Today more than 70% of all seafood from aquaculture is produced in Asia, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. "Asia leads the globe. Thanks to aquaculture, the global per capita supply of fish is at an all time high," said Edward Allison, a professor of marine and environmental affairs at the University of Washington in Seattle.  In Asia, most fish are farmed inland in ponds. Traditionally, agricultural waste was added to the ponds. That fed algae that in turn fed zooplankton that the fish ate, making the system very ecologically friendly and sustainable.

Long ramp up
Americans need to start eating a wider variety of seafood than just shrimp, tuna and salmon, the experts said.
Currently 78% of the salmon Americans eat is farmed, according to research by Oai Li Chen at the University of Washington. However, as a whole, salmon makes up just one-fifth of world aquaculture production, said Peet.

“On land we eat four things: cows, pigs, chickens and lambs. But in aquaculture there are hundreds of different species, the diversity of options choices is so much richer than from the land,” said Gaines.
Popular farmed fish in Asia include carp, tilapia Asian sea bass, snappers and groupers, said Fitzsimmons. His favorite is tilapia, which he said is to seafood as chicken is to poultry.

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