Already, more than 50% of all fish consumed worldwide originates from aquaculture. Smart, tailor made breeding programs are needed to support further growth of aquaculture in a sustainable manner. This was the main message of the inaugural address of prof. Hans Komen, personal chair at the Animal Breeding and genomics group of Wageningen University & Research on June, 1st
Aquaculture, a source of healthy and nutritious food from the oceans
Seventy percent of the world surface is covered by water. Yet, only two percent of our food is coming the oceans. Already, more than 50% of all fish consumed worldwide originates from aquaculture, the culture of fish in tanks, cages and ponds. Worldwide more than 300 species of fish are cultured. The most cultured species are carps, tilapia, shrimp and Atlantic salmon. Fish are a healthy and nutritious source of food for a large part of the world population. However, aquaculture is facing new challenges from climate change which can cause disease outbreaks and mortality due to elevated temperatures.
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According to prof. Komen, increasing aquaculture in a sustainable manner (blue growth) means that we have to focus on breeding of resilient fish that can copy with the consequences of climate change and that fit into the principles of a circular economy. “we need to breed healthy and efficient fish that can grow well on new plant- or algal based ingredients”.
Breeding programs for fish
Nowadays, only 15-20% of all fish produced in aquaculture originates from breeding programs. Dedicated breeding programs will increase productivity of these species. In his research, prof Komen will focus on the development of balanced breeding programs for fish species such as seabass, seabream, and tilapia. In addition he will work on the design of breeding programs for new species such as barramundi, sole or yellowtail.
More than growth
Research by prof. Komen shows that selection for growth rate in fish can result in genetic gains of more than 10-15% per generation. This makes breeding programs for fish highly profitable. Selecting only for growth however, does not result in an increased production efficiency or a reduction in the emission of nutrients. This requires new tailor made breeding programs that combine genomic information with new phenotypes related to immune response, cardio-respiratory health and feed efficiency.
Integrated systems and new traits
A circular aquaculture can also be realised by developing breeding programs for integrated aquaculture systems, for example shrimp with tilapia. Such systems can be highly efficient in terms of resource use efficiency and reduction of mortality due to diseases. Finally breeding programs can focus on new traits that are derived from valuable ingredients that can be extracted from fish carcass waste.