I was perusing the recent industry news in aquaculture and I came across this article by Fish 2.0 founder and executive director, Monica Jain. Fish 2.0 is an annual competition that brings the world's top entrepreneurs in the fish space together to compete for attention, mentorship, and prizes.
What stood out to me about this article was something we have been seeing as well, we are about to see a boom in land-based aquaculture. In fact, she predicts that this aspect of the industry will grow over 9x in the coming years. That's big news.
Demand for seafood has doubled globally since 1980. Our oceans are quickly losing our favorite species, and mariculture still brings its own host of environmental problems. In some ways, recirculating aquaculture to mariculture is what growing lettuce hydroponically is to growing it the traditional way in the ground. Both ways work to grow food, but the former in both cases puts the farmer 100% in the driver's seat with the capacity to control every parameter that can affect her crops or fish.
While this total control can be scary as it demands sound and precise system design, management, and daily regulation, it provides the industry a path forward into a future that is looking increasingly unpredictable.
Mariculture puts some control in the farmer's hands, specifically, stocking, feeding, and harvests, but the majority of the environmental factors rely upon the kindness (or wrath) of mother nature. Historically this has been a relatively safe bet as climate patterns were more or less stable. But that's changing in three major ways:
- Rising sea temperatures. As the planet warms, our oceans are the greatest absorber of this heat. It's leading the ice to melt, but also for the colder regions of the oceans to shift. This is currently and will continue to shift migration and feeding patterns of wild animals (sea lions here in the SF Bay are having to swim further out to see to feed in the cold, fish-rich waters). Luckily for them, they have the ability to move around and relocate to better climates as the shifts become more permanent. Unfortunately for fish in aquaculture, they cannot avoid these temperature swings. This is especially troubling for cold-water fish such as salmon, and it could make placing new mariculture sites more difficult in the future.
- Changing currents. Currents and temperature are closely related. When temperature patterns change in the water, it leads to currents also changing. Today's well-placed mariculture pens are located in areas with strong currents so that the fish waste will be distributed across a broader area and will not built up and create a "dead zone." Changing water temperatures, and therefore shifting currents could make some of these mariculture facilities far less suitable for fish farming.
- Ocean Acidification. This is a scary one. All of us who have enjoyed a carbonated beverage have tasted that acidic bite that adding CO2 to water creates. The same thing is happening in our oceans as we pump more carbon into the atmosphere. The global scientific community is working on pooling data on this currently, but today's studies indicate both that the pH in our oceans is falling and that lower pH levels lead to dramatic reductions in sea life. Should we not find a way to reverse course, this could have huge implications for not just mariculture, but our global ecosystem as a whole.
So for these reasons, it is understandable and good to see that the leaders in this field are predicting a dramatic rise in land-based aquaculture. We're certainly going to need it over the next 100 years.