Sustainable aquaculture is a viable solution for declining fish stocks

The farming of aquatic organisms such as fish, crustaceans and plants is the fastest-growing agriculture sector in the world, valued at over USD 144 billion, according to WWF.

WWF-Living-Blue-Planet-fishFactors such as global population growth and increasing per-capita demand for seafood from an emerging global middle class already strain the world’s oceans. Worldwide wild fish stocks have halved since 1970, while 29% of marine fisheries are overfished — and analysts expect worldwide seafood demand to double by 2050.

Aquaculture is already playing a major role in meeting demand: In 2014, the industry overtook wild-caught fish as the world’s leading source of seafood for consumption.

There are therefore ample opportunities in the sustainable aquaculture and fish feed sectors to help solve ocean health and food access problems.

Sustainable aquaculture
The industry has had its own sustainability issues, largely environmental problems associated with some open-water systems, but this is a highly entrepreneurial area with a lot of activity focused on responsible production.

Land-based aquaculture is among the most promising solutions. Projected to grow nine-fold over the next 15 years, this segment includes the emerging and rapidly improving technology of self-contained, land-based Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS).

Unlike open-water systems, RAS tanks can operate almost anywhere in the world, including urban and even desert environments. This extreme flexibility, which enables strategic co-location of RAS production with major markets, distribution centres and transportation hubs, gives RAS a huge potential for expanding sustainable seafood production and delivery worldwide.

Recirculating Aquaculture Systems
RAS technology is already seeing significant adoption in markets including the United States, where virtually all tilapia fish come from RAS operations, and Norway, where one-third of all Atlantic salmon smolts (juvenile fish reared in hatcheries) are RAS-produced.

Yet RAS has certain limiting factors. Costlier to build than open-water farms, land-based systems require more energy to operate, are harder to scale up, and require careful attention to water quality and disease control.

Entrepreneurs are developing solutions in all of these areas, however, and with strategic investment RAS could be an important source of high-quality protein for populations worldwide.

Fish feed innovations
There are also opportunities in the area of fish feed. A term generally describing protein-based pellets formed with a binding agent, fish feed is an integral component of aquaculture, with 46% of farmed fish requiring some form of feed to grow.

Fish feed production must increase 8-10% annually to keep pace with aquaculture, even as sources of marine-based proteins, a vital component of fish feed, are diminishing due to overfishing and climate change.

Solutions are being developed that include software that allows farmers to optimize feed usage; an integrated aquaculture and feed approach in the South Pacific that uses only raw local ingredients; and alternative feed technologies based on krill, algae and insects.

Huge value increase
By 2020, the value of the global aquaculture industry is expected to exceed USD 200 billion, an increase of 38% over today’s value.

The global fish feed industry, meanwhile, is projected to grow from its current value of approximately USD 75 billion to USD 123 billion by 2019.

Both sectors could have a lasting positive impact on seafood sustainability, and both offer a multitude of investment opportunities — including helping businesses resolve key challenges on the road to success.

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