Aquaculture surpasses cattle ranching as a food source
As expected, aquaculture reaches a production milestone. Aquaculture is now poised to surpass cattle ranching as a food source
Senior Biologist and Certified Fisheries Professional
Fisheries Technology Associates, Inc.
According to a recent news item in the Global Aquaculture Advocate, aquaculture is now poised to surpass cattle ranching as a food source. As growth in world aquaculture has continued unabated for the past three to four decades, we have seen a shift in people’s eating habits and have reached a milestone. The news article states, “Over the last century, the world relied heavily on two natural systems–oceanic fisheries and rangelands–to satisfy a growing demand for animal protein. But that era is ending as both systems are reaching their productive limits….Additional production of beef or seafood now depends on placing more cattle in feedlots or more fish in ponds.”
The explanation continues, “At this point, the efficiency with which cattle and fish convert grain into protein begins to reshape production trends and thus our diets. Cattle require some seven kilograms of grain to add one kilogram of live weight, whereas fish can add a kilogram of live weight with less than two kilograms of grain.”
As it turns out, fish use less water than cattle as well (that is, less water to raise the grain to feed them), even when you factor in the water in which fish are raised. The author concludes, “In a world of land and water scarcity, the advantage of fish ponds over feedlots in producing low-cost animal protein is clear.”
To most of us, this is either old news or no surprise, and you may be–as I like to say–underwhelmed. But I liken this to other expected events or those that we anticipate (such as the coming of a new year or, dare I say, an inauguration), but are momentous none the less. This is a real achievement for our profession! I view it as nothing less than validation of a philosophy and approach to food production that has come of age. We should all take time to note this achievement and congratulate ourselves for a job well done.
The progress doesn’t stop there, and I was equally gratified to read two other news briefs about protein sources for fish feeds. Two companies have successfully developed technology to use waste methane from the production of natural gas for the continuous production of protein. The process if so efficient that the protein requirements for an adult human can be met for as little as US$0.10-0.20 per day. Fish and other livestock will be the first targets for the use of these protein products. Indeed, a Norwegian company has been producing so-called bioproteins from natural gas waste since 1998, and plans to direct these new feed ingredients to the production of Atlantic salmon.
These articles represent two more nails in the coffin of aquaculture critics who complain that aquaculture robs Peter to pay Paul–the notion that aquaculture is inefficient and depletes increasingly scarce marine and terrestrial resources. It’s simply not true. The pollution argument (one that disregards simple mathematics and blames coastal pollution on aquaculture) is equally absurd and overblown, as recently pointed out by Ron Hardy in Aquaculture Magazine.
Without a doubt, progress in developing innovative sources of protein for fish and people will continue, as our dependence on less-efficient forms of terrestrial production is naturally and rightfully relegated to a diminished role. It’s difficult to imagine how aquaculture will change in the future, and how it will change all of our lives. But I do know this: we are taking our lessons of the past decades to heart and making sustainable aquaculture production a keystone of our future.
Annual aquaculture production is scheduled to meet or exceed 50 percent of the total for all fisheries products (wild and cultured) by the year 2025. I have no doubt this goal will be met, and probably in a manner as matter-of-fact as surpassing total production of cattle.
Aquaculture milestones and progress come without sonic booms or fanfare. But they come now with increasing frequency and significance. Take a bow.