The balance between human resource needs and the environment’s ability to supply these – the environment’s supply threshold, is a critical matter with a somewhat unfortunate future: a balance is not achievable for the world’s current population combined with the state of the environment. But the good news is that innovation, coupled with the re-discovery of sustainable living, is showing us a brighter way forward. As we came to understand and grasp nature’s thresholds, new ways are found to satisfy human needs and demands, while protecting our valuable and often irreplaceable environmental resources. Aquaculture is one such example.
Aquaculture, the cultivation or farming of fish, saw its first baby steps in the 1950s, after which it spawned across the entire globe, filling fish tanks on all continents. This week, the New York Times announced the possibility that the majority of fish consumed during 2013, will be farmed fished. This means that human pressure on wild fish populations are getting less as markets start to rely on aquaculture and less on fish caught in the open water. And for specific seafood, the rate of aquaculture consumption is even higher: reports state that 90% of the shrimp consumed in the US, is aquaculture produce. In 2008, aquaculture production estimates indicated a 35% contribution to the world’s fish consumption. Due to its global exponential growth, from China to Africa, aquaculture rates the fastest growing food-producing sector across the globe.
Apart from relieving natural stock and contribution to food security, which in itself are major factors, aquaculture has added benefits of income generation, skills transfer, employment and economic development. Aquaculture is however not without environmental impacts and constraints, many of which are high intensity impacts. In aquaculture practices where the farmed fish remain in contact and near wild populations, known as mariculture, the risks of waste and pollution spreading to wild populations are significant. The economic side of aquaculture has caused a bit of gold rush, with unfortunate exploitation of coastal ecosystems that would have remained intact if aquaculture did not prove to be such a booming business. By design, it is particularly the sensitive nursing spots of wild populations that are often favoured for specialised aquaculture. Shrimp farming has caused significant degradation of mangrove forests.
Although environmental degradation and impacts accompanied the early phases of the aquaculture boom, considering aquaculture over the long-term, future term, it does illustrate sustainability: serving man by placing food on the table, providing economic benefits while conserving natural fish stocks. As we head into the serious aquaculture production phase, environmental protection should be the most critical deciding factor, or else the benefits of aquaculture will start to trickle down to a negative level.
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Photos: Some rights reserved by atmtx via flickr and chayathonwong2000 and worradmu via freedigitalphotos.net
Sources: The New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD):Aqualculture, 2008; The New York Times: Milestone Looms for Farmed-raised Fish, 5 February 2013