‘The future of fish farming lies out in the oceans’

A group of scientists has mapped the global potential for marine aquaculture. They see enormous potential in offshore farming.

Marine aquaculture presents an opportunity for increasing seafood production in the face of growing demand for marine protein and limited scope for expanding wild fishery harvests, the eight scientists wrote in the scientific magazine Nature.

Great potential

The scientists mapped the biological production potential for marine aquaculture across the globe, using an innovative approach drawing on physiology, allometry and growth theory. They found vast areas in nearly every coastal country suitable for aquaculture.

The development potential far exceeds the space required to meet future seafood demand, according to the scientists. The current total landings of all wild-capture fisheries could be produced using less than 0.015 percent of the global ocean area – a surface area smaller than Lake Michigan.

By 2050 the Earth will have to feed 10 billion people. According to the findings of the scientists 11.4m km2 of the ocean surface is potentially suitable for farming fish and 1.5m km2 for shellfish.

Hundred times the current seafood consumption

Nearly every coastal country has high marine aquaculture potential and could meet its own domestic seafood demand, assuming no other limiting factors, typically using only a minute fraction of its ocean territory.

The scientist also identified the most suitable locations for fish farming. If all of those locations are developed into aquaculture zones, the world will be able to produce 15 billion metric tons of fish every year, over a hundred times current seafood consumption.

Environmental problems

It is the first time the best potential areas for fish farming have been mapped. Earlier research focused on areas already involved in farming fish, such as Norway, Chile, China or Vietnam.

Fish farming has so far mostly been practised in bays close to the coast and at farms on land, causing a lot of environmental problems, the scientists write. This could be solved by moving the farms to open sea. That way the emissions from the farms will spread and dissolve much better.

However, not every area is suited to fish farming. The scientists see most potential in tropical areas in countries like Indonesia, India and Kenya.

In spite of all the potential of fish farming, recent years have seen hardly any increase in the number of fish farms on a global scale. The scientists think this is due to lack of investment capital and restrictive regulations in the countries with most potential.

“For example, regulatory inefficiency and uncertainty has contributed to limited marine aquaculture development in the United States, a country with high growth potential and large seafood markets mostly served by imports. While recent strides have been made to improve the permitting process in federal waters, significant social, economic and governance hurdles remain.”

“Suitable space is unlikely to limit marine aquaculture development and highlights the role that other factors, such as economics and governance, play in shaping growth trajectories. We suggest that the vast amount of space suitable for marine aquaculture presents an opportunity for countries to develop aquaculture in a way that aligns with their economic, environmental and social objectives,” the scientists wrote.




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