The Opportunity: Why Aquaculture? Why Now?
May 23, 2008 · Print This Article
Despite the apparent availability of seafood in the marketplace, the vast majority of which is imported into the United States, the world faces a potential global seafood crisis. A major study in the journal Science predicts the global collapse of the world’s major fisheries by the middle of this century. Already, over the past 50 years, there has been a 90 percent reduction of the ocean’s large predatory fish, including sharks, swordfish and tuna. Although wild-catch supplies are in steady decline, seafood consumption continues to rise, driven by both population growth and changing consumer behavior. Only aquaculture can bridge the gap between growing demand and limited wild supply.
Aquaculture production has increased at an average compound rate of 10 percent per year since 1990. Projections suggest that by 2030 most of the fish consumed by people worldwide will come from aquaculture. But many forms of aquaculture currently in use have serious inherent limitations, liabilities, risks and environmental impacts. Producers who avoid these risks by investing in land-based, recirculating aquaculture systems stand to reap significant financial rewards.
In the United States, one of the world’s fastest-growing seafood markets, the gap between demand and supply is even more pronounced, contributing in excess of an $8 billion seafood trade deficit. Per capita consumption of seafood in the U.S. has jumped to 16.3 pounds, its highest level in more than 20 years, and is expected to continue rising. (Per capita consumption would more than double if consumers followed the government’s recommendation of two six-ounce servings per week.) By 2020 more than 70 million Americans will be over the age of 60, a group that consumes more seafood, dines out more often, and demands more processed and prepared meals. Hispanic and Asian populations, who also tend to consume more seafood on a per capita basis, are expected to increase. There is increasing demand for natural and organic foods and this now represents the fastest growing segment of the food industry. At the same time, there is increasing demand for packaged, ready-to-eat seafood. Next-generation aquaculture systems deliver consistent, reliable supplies of fish without the use of chemicals, hormones or antibiotics.
The global seafood crisis may well become a global protein crisis if risks such as Bird Flu, Mad Cow Disease, or terrorist attacks conspire to threaten other protein sources as well as rising transportation expense. Next-generation aquaculture systems, which are land-based, closed-containment (enclosed), and can be located close to market, are not only more efficient and environmentally sound than other forms of protein production, they also offer a far more bio-secure solution with dramatically reduced transportation costs.