In Search of an Ethical, Eco-Friendly Way to Feed the Planet by 2050

In Search of an Ethical, Eco-Friendly Way to Feed the Planet by 2050

The planet’s 2050 population projection by the United Nations paints a potentially dire scenario for the future of humankind based on a single question: “How do we feed 9.7 billion people?”

IFCNR’s latest white paper – “Increasing Species of Marine Finfish in Aquaculture: The Key to Meeting the World’s Protein Needs,” a collaborative work by Dylan Black of Perciformes Group; Kelsy Armstrong, IFCNR’s Executive Director; and John Aquilino of Sea Products Development – examines the proposed means of achieving that goal.  Most importantly, the paper raises compelling questions based on facts too often ignored or minimized during the ensuing discussion of new or expanded ways to use natural resources.

At issue is how to reconcile the increased protein demand from an already overcrowded planet where agrarian land, global fisheries, and fresh water supplies are straining to service the present human population of seven billion plus.

Global fishery production has remained static for the past three decades and has shown no sign of an ability to expand. Many wild-caught fisheries are in decline and wild marine fish stocks are, for the most part, fished to their limit or overfished.  Hope then points to aquaculture.

Inland freshwater aquaculture currently out produces its saltwater counterpart.  Relying on freshwater aquaculture to fill the forecasted protein deficit presents yet another problem, namely, Earth’s growing scarcity of freshwater.  By 2050, five billion people will experience severe water shortages, according to the UN World Water Development Report.

Science, industry, and governments therefore, are focused on saltwater inland, deep-water, and off-shore mariculture to meet 2050’s protein needs.

Unfortunately, there too exist problems that the aquaculture industry must overcome to become 2050’s global protein savior.

Of the various saltwater aquaculture options available, many within industry, academia, and government agencies worldwide look to deep-water net pen technology as the one technology promising to provide the impressive quantities of marine fish needed by 2050.  Under certain conditions, net pen advocates are correct.  Unfortunately, given human nature and the seemingly universal belief that “bigger is better,” net pen (or sea cage) farming on a massive scale faces sustainability problems similar to capture fisheries due to the potential for degrading the ocean’s ecosystem.

Scholars, industry officials, and government agencies such as the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) believe net pen aquaculture if done sustainably and well managed, can avoid negatives associated with this technology.  They see it as an essential component of aquaculture’s ability to provide marine protein today and for the future.

Another viable saltwater alternative is land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS).

RAS technology, relative to other modes of aquaculture, is a fairly recent entrant in the field.  Some consider it the wave of the future that avoids environmental problems traditionally associated with aquaculture. Resistance to RAS technology rests largely on high startup costs and energy usage.

The purpose of IFCNR’s study is to analyze the role wild fisheries and aquaculture play in feeding the growing world population, to advocate for introducing new marine fish species to aquaculture, and to identify the most sustainable aquaculture systems relative to meeting predicted global protein needs by 2050.

The entire article will be published in PDF form on in roughly ten days.

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