Back to aquaculture as a conservation tool.
As Waterlust founder, Patrick Rynne, discussed in a previous blog post, every product that humans produce has an environmental cost. The objective of an environmentally conscientious producer of anything is to make a product that satisfies the demand for it while creating the lowest ecological impact and staying within the carrying capacity of the environment.
Demand for seafood and protein is expected to climb dramatically over the next few decades. The global population continues to rise, large lower-income populations in China and India are increasing their GDP and adding more protein to their diet, and buying trends in North America and Europe are showing a shift from beef and pork towards chicken and seafood as people seek lower saturated fats in their proteins. Many environmentalists have pushed vegetarianism as a solution to reduce our ecological footprint and eating less meat is undoubtedly a very impactful way to lower your indirect carbon and freshwater consumption and should be encouraged. However, food is a powerful cultural and sociological cornerstone and large-scale dietary shifts do not occur in the timeframe needed to address our immediate marine environment concerns.
As a global strategy, not enough people are changing their eating habits to alleviate the need for lower impact protein production methods. We need alternatives that billions of people will get on board with and soon.
If there was ever a time to make a change in how we produce food, that time is now.In fact, change has been imposed upon us.Both protein producers and consumers all over the world have changed dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are large meat shortages in many countries as processing plants are forced to shutdown due to coronavirus cases. Seafood has seen similar issues although on a smaller scale but have also had to adjust their processes to account for the closing of restaurants where an estimated 70% of seafood is consumed in America. Seafood producers are turning to frozen or portioned and packed product forms to address this, but change doesn’t happen overnight.
Consumers are cooking at home at levels never seen before which leads naturally to a closer examination of one’s diet. Without intending to, I’ve been almost completely pescatarian during the quarantine (just a few pepperoni pizzas away from being able to make that claim without a qualifier) and have been eating vegetarian more often than not. Many of my friends are discovering the joys of bread baking, how quick and healthy oatmeal with berries can be and looking up the astounding nutritional profile of lentils and other pulses. How everything will shake out as businesses re-open is still very much uncertain, but there is no doubt that a shake-up is occurring.
Wild fisheries will continue to be an essential part of seafood production but should not be expected to fill the projected increase in demand. Wild capture fisheries are a finite resource so there are no more available fish to catch. We have maxed out most fisheries ability to replace themselves and, in many cases, should consider reducing catches to allow wild populations to recover.
Seafood is usually a more sustainable protein source than terrestrial protein. There are always exceptions to the rule such as wild-caught species that have high by-catch rates, but aquatic organisms have a few major advantages that make them very efficient to produce.
1) They are cold-blooded, so they don’t spend energy heating their bodies.
2) They don’t fight gravity.
3) They don’t spend energy building dense, heavy bones.
4) Swimming (or being a stationary filter feeder) is more efficient locomotion than walking or flying.
Aquatic organisms generally have better energy retention and protein retention capabilities than chicken, pigs or cows. That is to say, our limited resources of feedstuffs will get more bang for the buck when fed to fish, shrimp or bivalves, than chickens, pigs and cows.