Food production is not only land-based. Seafood production also deserves an important place on the agenda for sustainable nutrition security. Around 70 percent of the world’s surface is water and a third of the animal proteins we consume have their origin in fisheries and aquaculture.
"Seafood is an important source of proteins, while offering significant advantages over many of its land-based alternatives, being rich in oil, omega-3 fatty acids and essential proteins, vitamins and minerals. Moreover, the efficiency of solar energy use is almost twice as high in aquatic food chains compared to land-based food chains.
The production potential of the sea was long thought to be limitless, and the harvesting of seafood has been a major source of human nutrition since the beginning of mankind. However, with many fish stocks in peril, we have come to realise that the sea and its resources need be managed much better if we are to feed a world population that is both increasing in numbers and shifting its diet preference towards animal proteins. Since 1970, the yearly per person consumption of seafood has increased dramatically from about 11kg/person/year to more than 17kg/person/year. This equals an increase of some 35 percent.
The annual production of seafood from capture fisheries has increased from 20 million tons in 1950 to 90-95 million tons today. The demand for seafood, however, is much larger, and cannot be met by fisheries alone. Controlled seafood production via aquaculture has been developed to provide the required additional seafood. Aquaculture is now a booming agribusiness, increasing its production volume by 8 percent a year over the last decade. Global aquaculture production capacity (mainly concentrated in Asia) has grown to almost 70 million tons a year. If the seafood supplies are to keep pace with the expected growth of the world’s population, aquaculture should increase its output by another 60 percent in the coming decade. It is expected that the share of sea-food (fisheries and aquaculture combined) in the global food production will further increase to more than 200 million tons per year.
Maximum sustainable yield
Fish production and consumption is now regionally divided, with Asia and Africa as net exporters and Europe and North America as net importers. This geopolitical market situation will change dramatically as fish consumption in Asia and Africa increases. The challenge is to realise this expanding production and market transition in a more sustainable manner. For fisheries this means an ecosystem approach reducing losses and with less impact on the ecosystem. Such an approach must be based on the principles of ‘maximum sustainable yield’, with a greater focus on fish for food instead of fish for feed (currently one third of fisheries production) and less consumption of fossil fuels when harvested with passive equipment such as traps and hook-and-lines. For aquaculture this entails a reduction in the dependency on fish proteins and an enhancing of production efficiency. An example is improving fish-to-fish conversion to <1, reducing water use and shifting cultivation from (predatory) finfish to herbivorous fish, (algae feeding) shellfish and seaweeds. Poly-cultures (fish, shellfish, algae) may not only produce food for specific nutritional values, but also bio-refines and energy content.
The latest technical innovations in fisheries are related to selectivity (prevention of bycatches), quality (from a food and environmental perspective), traceability and cost (oil) reductions. Aquaculture is becoming a mature specialisation of agriculture, under controlled conditions, with applications of knowledge from the livestock farming domain such as smart breeding, customised nutrition and preventive health care.
Dr Martin Scholten, in collaboration with the Wageningen UR marine scientists, is working on securing marine protein production for the coming generations by exploring the potential of the oceans. We combine our biological knowledge to devise new technical innovations as a contribution to the Blue Revolution. While fisheries and aquaculture are often treated separately, we sometimes explore innovations by combining the benefits of both. The essence of this Farm the Sea approach is to foster fish production near platforms and use passive and selective harvesting methods. These platforms can be either traditional smallholder rafts, as used in fishing practices in the Caribbean and Oceania, or modern high-tech installations for offshore energy production (oil, gas, wind, tides).
A better understanding and smarter use of the oceans’ production capacity will contribute to the challenge to feed the world within the carrying capacity of planet earth, now and in the future. While land-based agriculture phosphate is becoming running out, the oceans contain plenty of phosphates [LINK 4.2. recycling phosphate]. The type of yield gap analyses used in land-based agriculture [LINK 18.104.22.168, yieldgap] is needed to map the oceans’ potential for a maximum sustainable yield from controlled fisheries and aqua- culture, or the entire spectrum of ocean farming."