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Aquaculture Forum: Aquaculture 'convergence' gathers momentum

K. Dun Gifford
K. Dun Gifford
October 01, 2005

Historians often mention “convergences” to help explain major changes in human evolution. One example is large airplanes creating soaring international tourism and commerce, which, when converging with the Internet, makes possible the outsourcing of U.S. service businesses to low-cost, undeveloped countries.

The extent of the transformations wrought by these innovations was not even imagined before 1960.

We are about to see one of these convergences in the way we grow food. This convergence will produce a worldwide consensus about the environmental, human-health and cost benefits of growing animal protein through aquaculture instead of agriculture. 

Here are some factors and indicators that point to this convergence: 

• “Aquaculture is the fastest-developing food-producing sector in the world,” reports FAO Aquaculture Letter Number 32 (December 2004).

• In the last 20 years, aquaculture production has grown almost 10 percent annually, while commercial fisheries production grew at only 1.2 percent and livestock meat production by 3.1 percent.

• China’s aquaculture production in 2001 was 26.1 million tons, followed by India with 2.2 million tons. This combined 28.3 million tons is 71 percent of the world’s aquaculture production. China and India account for 37 percent of the world’s population (2.38 billion out of 6.45 billion). The United States accounts for 4.5 percent of the world’s population. It is hardly a coincidence that the world’s two largest countries are intent on expanding their reliance on aquaculture.

• Scientific evidence of the human health benefits of eating seafood, particularly coldwater fatty fish, continues to mount. The Seafood & Health conference in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 5 to 7 will present a global summary of this accumulating science. The evidence is particularly strong for the key role that regular seafood consumption plays in brain development (embryonic and neo-natal) and heart health throughout life.

• The annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society in Anchorage, Alaska, this fall heard evidence that in the absence of aggressive new conservation efforts, climate change and global warming will cause the extinction of Pacific wild salmon in the next 100 years.

• The Canadian National Health Institute and Laval University, both in Quebec, jointly released studies this year that farmed and wild salmon have similar levels of omega-3 fatty acids, while farmed trout has five times the levels of wild trout.

• A study by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation concluded that PCB levels in farmed and wild salmon are equal. 

• “True cost analyses” of producing animal protein consistently make clear the distinct environmental advantages of seafood over land-based food.

Aquaculture has taken a drubbing in the last few years from a handful of wealthy environmental groups. In the long run, this will be viewed as modern aquaculture’s growing pains. Some early unwise aquaculture projects (for example, turning mangroves swamps into shrimp farms) grew to become poster children for all aquaculture.

As this aquaculture convergence takes hold, these and other battles will be seen as the growing pains of an industry in its youth.

Working through these pains is the basis for crafting the kind of aquaculture future that will capture a strong and supportive consensus.

October 2005 - SeaFood Business 

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