Can Aquaculture Save The Earth?

Aquaculture could release between 729 and 747 million hectares of land around the world.

To meet the protein demands of approximately 10 billion people by 2050, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and researchers around the world estimate that current animal production should grow by an average of 52 percent. It will be essential to satisfy this need without pressing the environment to the limit.

New evidence shows that fish farms – aquaculture – can help feed the future world population while substantially reducing one of the greatest environmental impacts of meat production – the use of land – without requiring people to completely abandon meat as a source of food.

A new study from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California at Santa Barbara found that the amount of land needed to meet future protein needs with cultured aquatic animals would be significantly less than if terrestrial livestock production satisfied those needs. This research is the first analysis of the land use of the food systems of the future to focus on aquaculture, the world’s fastest growing food sector, and helps reveal its potential role in conservation and food security. The findings appear in the National Academy of Sciences.

“While aquaculture may add some pressure because, ultimately, it is a food production system, our study shows that the relative quantity is minuscule compared to the breeding of terrestrial animals,” said lead author Halley Froehlich, a postdoctoral researcher at NCEAS. “In the future, aquaculture will not be the main threat to food and land use, it is, and probably will continue to be terrestrial livestock.”

Aquaculture production depends on a number of terrestrial crops for food, positioning it uniquely at the interface of aquatic and terrestrial food systems. To understand their implications for land use, researchers examined how much land would be needed to grow the seven most common crops used to feed both livestock and fish farms in three scenarios by the year 2050, synthesizing production data of FAO food and other scientific sources.

The researchers compared a scenario without changes, in which the consumption of terrestrial meat continues to dominate the products of the sea, to two scenarios in which aquaculture complies in 2050 with the additional protein demands of the world population. They found that replacing land production with aquaculture in place could save between 729 and 747 million hectares of land worldwide; that is an area twice as large as India, the seventh largest country in the world.

These savings, which also consider the replacement of land required for livestock grazing, would occur if the future growth of aquaculture is entirely marine or a mix of fresh and marine water: the two aquaculture scenarios that researchers understand to understand a range of possible futures.

Aquaculture could release between 729 and 747 million hectares of land around the world

Land savings would be achieved because fish and other aquatic animals are extremely efficient in converting feed to biomass for human consumption. For example, a cow requires between six and more than 30 pounds of feed to obtain a pound of biomass, while most farmed fish need one to two pounds of feed to do the same. This efficiency translates into much less farmland needed to grow food for the fish that people eat.

These results highlight the role that the choice of food plays in the future of biodiversity, and the greatest threat is the habitat lost by the human use of the land. “The expansion of agriculture around the world is driving most species extinctions and the dramatic loss of ecosystems,” said co-author Claire Runge, a researcher at the University of Tromsø – the Arctic University of Norway, who was a postdoctoral researcher. in NCEAS at the time the investigation was conducted. “This is only going to increase in the future, and aquaculture offers a way to reduce some of this pressure in our natural landscapes, wild places and wildlife.”

According to Froehlich, the study does not advocate aquaculture as a panacea for sustainable food production. As with any food system, there are compensations. Even so, these results are based on growing evidence of the potential of sustainable aquaculture production.

“Aquaculture does not have to be this massive burden on land or water, especially if the farms are strategically located and there are incentives for management that lead to sustainable location and feeding practices,” said Froehlich. “The potential is ripe to really do it right.”

Co-author Ben Halpern, director of NCEAS and a professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UCSB, said the study also provides a clear reason for people to change their meat diets and increase fish consumption to reduce fish consumption. environmental impacts due to your food choices.

“What you eat has an impact, but we understand that changing diets can be difficult,” Halpern said. “We hope that awareness of the amount of land that can be saved with a fish-rich diet will help people make the change, and similarly, we expect our results to put more weight on policy arguments to make more systematic changes.”.

 

 

Source: Vista al Mar