As is the case for most food groups today, sustainable and responsible sourcing is a key concern for the seafood industry. New, more environmentally sensitiveand safe methods for producing and harvesting seafood have led more and more suppliers and industry leaders to closely examine the practices employed at all levels of the supply chain. These concerns are of particular interest for the seafood industry for a number of reasons, most notably the need to feed a growing world population and the revision of past perceptions surrounding aquaculture practices.

Eliminating the aquaculture stigma

A report entitled “Aquaculture’s Prominent Role In Feeding a Growing Global Population” by Michal Tlusty, director of ocean sustainability science at the New England Aquarium, Boston, and Neil Sims, co-founder of Kampachi Farms LLC, Kona, Hawaii, perfectly sums up the stigma around aquaculture, the error of this stigma and why aquaculture will be critical to the future of the world.

Aquaculture faces far more scrutiny and criticism than terrestrial agriculture, according to the report, because land-based agriculture and livestock production has been in existence much longer and is more familiar. Environmental impacts of aquaculture from decades ago also seem to linger in people’s minds. Another source of stigma comes from within the seafood industry, with the commercial fisherman viewing aquaculture as competition. These stigmas can and should be debunked.

The impacts of aquaculture that were a concern 30 years ago live in the past, as aquaculture practices have changed a great deal since then. As for competition with commercial fishing, the two will need one another to support the ever-growing human population and provide sustainable sources of protein.

Aquaculture for future generations

The conversation around sustainable aquaculture practices and the concerted push to bring all players in the supply chain up to the highest levels of sustainable practice compliance is critical for the future of the global food supply. According to Tlusty and Sims, the world’s population is expected to reach some 9 billion people over the next 25 years. Providing proteins for this population and doing so in a sustainable manner, is key for global food security.

A great benefit of aquaculture is that it is more environmentally friendly and less wasteful on resources to produce. According to Tlusty and Sims, “by relying primarily on land animal proteins, we will only further increase the environmental pressures on the planet. It is estimated that as much as 18% of greenhouse gas emissions come from terrestrial animal proteins.”

Aquaculture also has minimal impacts on resources. By decreasing the large size of fish, aquaculture farms have been able to reach a 1:1 feed conversion ratio. This means 1 pound of feed yields 1 pound of body mass. Mammal proteins do not have such a low feed conversion ratio. Averages are 6.8:1 for cattle, 2.9:1 for pigs and 1.7:1 for chicken. Keeping these ratios in mind, along with the increasing population and demand for protein, it begs the question “where will all this feed come from?” The corn, grains, soy and other mammal feeds will have to be grown and developed somewhere, requiring more resources, such as labor and land, than seafood aquaculture. 

Closing the gap in responsible global aquaculture

As the industry continues to evolve, Beaver Street Fisheries, Jacksonvill, Fla., and other seafood suppliers have joined with the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), St. Louis, to spearhead the worldwide adoption of globally recognized standards and practices that will help aquaculture facilities achieve third-party certification. This drive is happening at every level of the aquaculture supply chainin finfish, crustaceans and mollusks. 

The GAA’s Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) program provides the seafood industry with a responsible ranking system that can be applied to the aquaculture supply chain by star level, and encompasses food safety and quality, as well as environmental and social accountability. The BAP program has been in existence for over a decade, and over time, has developed standards for each step in the supply chain based on best aquaculture practices that are specific to the particular species being produced, allowing more and more aquaculture products to become certified.

In recent years, the majority of the certifications have been at the plant and farm level (2-star product), but the time has come to close the gap on BAP 4-star aquaculture and expand certification to include hatcheries and feed mills. This initiative won’t happen overnight, but would close the gap for responsible aquaculture by ensuring the production facilities, farms, hatcheries and feed mills are all certified.

Along the way, we must also be aware that small farmers can be reluctant to change, like any industry or business, which is why global seafood organizations like the GAA and leading suppliers are taking a hands-on role in fishery improvement projects that teach new, sustainable methods. Aquaculture farmers will have to embrace sustainable practices for their businesses to thrive in the global marketplace that now demands responsible production standards.

Aquaculture paves the way for a better future

The seafood industry is sitting at a critical point in history. Practices and technologies have evolved to bring us to a place where aquaculture can provide high-quality and environmentally sustainable sea proteins to the world. Leaders in the industry must continue to join together to spread these practices across the globe for current and future generations. Seafood, both wild-caught and farm-raised, will be critical in feeding quality, nutritious proteins to the increasing global population.