- Aquaculture is a profitable investment that can not only feed Earth’s growing population but also help rehabilitate the oceans, according to a report from The Nature Conservancy and Encourage Capital released last week.
- Aquaculture is already a $243.5 billion industry, but the report estimates that by 2030, the sector will require an additional $150 billion-300 billion in capital investment to meet the increasing demand for seafood.
- The study focused on the viability of three particular segments of aquaculture: On-land finfish recirculating aquaculture systems — abbreviated as RAS — offshore finfish aquaculture systems, and bivalve and seaweed aquaculture systems.
People love their seafood, but they don’t want anything fishy when it comes to environmental and economic impacts. A recent Feed4Thought survey from Cargill showed sustainability considerations are so important, about 59% of those surveyed ranked "keeping fish healthy" as the most important duty of a company raising seafood. How to keep fish healthy and still provide sufficient amounts to feed the world is, however, another question.
Today, nearly one in five U.S. shoppers say they would like to eat more fish, and Nielsen reports seafood sales increased 3.4% over the year ending Feb. 24. This increasing interest in sea-based protein has led experts to hypothesize that seafood in the oceans could be extinct by 2048. While Sylvia Earle, who is a National Geographic Society explorer in residence and a former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said at The Good Food Conference last year that this prediction is a little overblown, she warned fishing as it is known today will stop by the end of the century because supply will not be there. She suggested lab-grown substitutes as an alternative, and said marketing could help turn consumers' attention to the new products like aquaculture.
Anticipating a radical change in how humans will need to procure their sea-based diet, the study, called "Towards a Blue Revolution," proposed aquaculture not just for its environmental benefits but also for its financial advantages. RAS and offshore fish farms currently comprise less than 1% of all fish production, but the cost to do this type of fish farming are dropping. Oceana issued a report in 2013 indicating 90% of U.S. fish for consumption is imported, which increases costs to the customer. By switching to aquaculture, farms could be located closer to major markets, which could reduce transportation and logistics costs, saving companies a good chunk of change.
Companies that raise their fish in aquaculture environments can also claim their fish is sustainably farmed, something for which consumers are more than happy to pay a little extra. According to Nielsen, sales of seafood with sustainability claims are also up 3%, compared with a 27% jump in sales of seafood with Marine Stewardship Council labeling, and a 30% spike for those with Sustainable Fishing labeling.
Although some will say there is a difference in taste in farmed fish versus wild ones, the Nature Conservancy study proposes relocating farms to deeper water with stronger currents. This can allow the fish to behave more naturally as well as keep the surrounding waters cleaner than the conventional aquaculture farms constructed in shallow waters with limited natural filtration, which could affect taste.
In any case, the fishing industry is going to see radical change in the near future. With the world population growing and the ocean’s fisheries already depleting, aquaculture may be the solution for humans who want to continue to enjoy sushi in landlocked or even coastal areas. This latest report may encourage some additional investment in the industry, which could be the catalyst to developing the science and marketing that could bring more farmed fish to plates worldwide.