Discussing the Merits of Aquaculture

Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and world-renowned anti-poverty crusader, has turned his prodigious attention to an issue dear to many of us in the TreeHugger community: environmental sustainability. Citing figures that project the world's population to reach a staggering nine billion by 2050, with an average output of $20,000 or more, Sachs argues that new technologies are needed to raise living standards while also softening the human impact on the environment

That silver bullet: aquaculture, which he claims could support rising consumption of seafood while reducing anthropogenic pressures on oceanic ecosystems. This "Blue Revolution" has come at a critical time because, as he put it:

"Between 1950 and today the total landed catch from open- and inland-sea fishing almost quintupled, from around 20 million to about 95 million metric tons. Both higher demand from rising world incomes and higher supply from more powerful fishing vessels contributed to the surge. So, too, did large and misguided subsidies to fishing fleets, reflecting the political power of geographically concentrated fishing communities and industries. The world put itself on a course to gut ocean ecosystems, with devastating consequences."

It is certainly the case that aquaculture has come a long way since the early 1950s when it first became widely used. Yields have surged from around 2 million metric tons in 1950 to 50 million metric tons today, and recent studies have shown a marked improvement in its efficiency and an increase in the range of species that can be domesticated (106 out of the more than 400 farmed species).

Yet aquaculture is not without its faults, a fact that Sachs readily admits; nor is it the only solution to the problems facing our oceans. The main concern is, of course, the massive scale of habitat destruction wreaked by the displacement or cutting down of coastal ecosystems to create new areas for farming (particularly for shrimp). The significant amounts of catch needed to feed the farmed organisms and the release of excess nutrients and antibiotics, which can lead to eutrophication, also act to further exert tremendous pressure on the oceans.

Nevertheless, Sachs is encouraged by signs of rapid improvement in the current aquaculture technologies and believes that, with the right incentives (i.e. prizes or funding), further research could be done to continually polish them. It goes without saying that we wholeheartedly agree with his arguments that subsidies for unsustainable fishing should be eliminated and that devastating practices such as bottom trawling on seamounts should be outlawed.

People often forget that the oceans account for close to 70% of the planet's surface. It's about time we find viable, long-term solutions to utilizing their resources. A more environmentally friendly form of aquaculture, in addition to more sustainable fishing practices, is a step in the right direction.

Via ::The Promise of the Blue Revolution (magazine)

See also: ::You and Me, ::Happy Shrimp Goes Local in Rotterdam, ::New Zealand Bans Bottom-Trawling, but..., ::The TH Interview: Mark Powell, Vice President in Charge of Fish Conservation at The Ocean Conservancy

Tags: China | Fishing

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