CAN FARMED SEAFOOD SUSTAIN THE FUTURE?
Let’s jump in a time machine, and travel to the year 2050! There are now 9.5 billion people on the planet, and the earth is running out of food resources. Livestock production has drastically decreased due to limited land, and the world is desperately in need of a food solution. What do we turn to?
Farmed seafood is going to save our environment, and it will give us a sustainable, reliable protein for the future.
WORLD POPULATION AND AQUACULTURE PRODUCTION
In 2018, the world population was 7.6 billion. According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), 3 billion people rely on seafood as their primary source of protein. That is 40% of the world population! Over the last four decades, aquaculture (also known as fish farming) grew at a rate of 8.3% a year. In comparison, livestock grew at a rate of 2.9% a year. Based on the research by the Scientific World Journal, the aquaculture production is growing at a rate that will be capable of sustaining future generations.
GLOBAL GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS
A pressing environmental issue is greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, these are the top six contributors of greenhouse gases globally:
Raising livestock and agriculture produces 24% of the earth’s greenhouse gas emissions. Seafood is not on this list because seafood produces very little greenhouse gases! Fish are raised in clean or fresh water ponds, lakes, and oceans. These fish farms require very little energy to sustain them. Fish are cold blooded animals, so in the winter, there is no extra energy required to heat the water for the fish. Fish can also be raised in almost any climate, and they can easily adapt to different weather conditions. This is beneficial to the economy and employment rates because fish can be raised and harvested year round. Countries such as Chile and Ecuador have seen direct correlations between seafood harvesting seasons and economic booms.
Another area where aquaculture is environmentally friendly is its water usage. In the 21st century, people have become more and more conscious of their water usage. The earth is 71% water, however a very tiny portion of that water is actually usable. If the earth was the size of a basketball, all of earth’s usable water would be the size of a ping-pong ball. Today, 33% of the world lives in “water stressed” communities, meaning they are not sure when or where their next drink of water will be coming from. A major usage of water goes into agriculture. A water footprint is the amount of water (in gallons) it takes to produce one pound of edible meat. Here is a comparison of the four major animal proteins water usage:
How does this make sense? Fish are raised in water, yet have the lowest water footprint? That’s right! The 50 gallons it takes to produce one pound of fish meat includes the water it’s raised in. The process from farm to plate is incredibly efficient. Once the fish is ready to be harvested, almost no water is used. The fish is inspected and frozen immediately. Cows need 50 times more water than fish to produce just ONE pound of edible meat. The average American uses 17 gallons of water per shower, so it would take 147 showers to produce one pound of beef. Pigs and chicken also have high water footprints.
In 2019, Popeyes introduced their chicken sandwich. In the U.S. alone, chicken companies are expecting to process a record breaking 43.3 billion pounds of meat. Based on the water footprint of chickens, it would take 22.52 trillion gallons to process all that meat. In comparison, if we used 22.52 trillion gallons to produce fish meat, we would have 450 billion pounds of fish meat. An even crazy statistic is that 22.52 trillion gallons would only produce about 9 billion pounds of beef.
Aquaculture is by far the most environmentally friendly protein. The process of raising seafood is only becoming more efficient as technology advances, so that 50 gallon water footprint will most likely decrease in the coming future.
LAND VS WATER
With 71% of the earth being water, that means only 29% of our planet is land. Of this 29%, a little over half of that is uninhabitable. Eric R. Pianka of the University of Texas broke down the math, and calculated that when the world’s population was at 7 million, and the inhabitable land was divided up evenly between everyone, each person would receive about 2.3 acres of land. This is equivalent to an American football field. In America, the average amount of land a person owns is 24 acres.
It’s clear – the earth is running out of land. Half of the inhabitable land is used for livestock and agriculture. With the growing world population, agricultural production will be one of the first things people are forced to give up. This is another advantage for seafood. It takes about 41 square feet to produce one pound of beef. It takes about 4 square feet to produce one pound of shrimp. Seafood also leads the race when it comes to harvest time. The longest it takes to raise fish (breeding to harvest) is about 9 months. Beef and pork can take up to 24 months to raise and harvest. The evidence for seafood being the future is in the numbers. We are able to produce billions more seafood than any other protein. The world is rapidly turning to seafood as the main source of protein. Fish farming is expected to produce 65% of the world’s seafood within the next 10 years.
ENVIRONMENT AND CONSUMER FRIENDLY
Despite the rumors, fish farming does not harm ecosystems. Wild caught seafood is experiencing higher levels of bycatch than in the past. Bycatch is anything caught by fisherman that is unwanted or not the intentional species. The WWF believes farmed seafood could potentially solve issues dealing with conservation and endangerment. The goal of the fish farming industry is to reduce the amount of wild caught fish and preserve the overfished species.
Fish farming works for a variety of fish. There are strict regulations set in place by the United States FDA, Global Aquaculture Alliance, Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), and other organizations. All imported fish must meet these regulations and requirements, and they are regularly inspected by third party inspectors. The FDA, importers, and seafood retailers (such as Walmart) will reject seafood that does not meet these standards. In these fish farms, the species are fed organic, all natural products. Fish are naturally higher in certain nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, but farmers can feed their fish healthy nutrients and minerals. Farmed fish that become frozen contain the same levels of nutrients as wild caught fish, and they are usually healthier and more reliable because their feed is monitored. With wild caught fish, there is always a risk of consuming toxins or chemicals because they are not monitored.
SO...YES! FARMED SEAFOOD CAN SUSTAIN THE FUTURE
Wow! That was a lot of information! Let’s summarize the key facts:
Fish farming is increasing at the same rate, if not faster than the world’s population. This proves that seafood can sustain the future.
Fish farming efficiently uses water, land, and time. Seafood leads all three of these categories compared to beef, pork, and poultry.
There is very little greenhouse gas emissions from fish farms. Meanwhile, 24% of the world’s greenhouse gases comes from agriculture and livestock.
Fish are versatile. They can adapt to different climates and conditions. This creates a year round harvest which benefits the economy, employment, and development of nations.
Seafood does not take up the land we need for the future, but livestock takes up 50% of our inhabitable land.
All imported seafood must meet strict standards set by various government and third party organizations. Even if there is one minor issues, the FDA, importers, and retailers will reject the seafood item.