Farmed fish are not your grandfather’s livestock

  • Vaun Cummins

When North American shoppers think of farmed seafood, if they think of it at all, they probably think of farm-raised salmon, catfish or tilapia. They might not be very familiar with the word “aquaculture”. They may even think of it as a novelty, something they are unsure of. As they look at the labels in the seafood case they may think of negative and positive messages they have heard about farm-raised fish. Should they buy it because it is preserving wild fish populations or should they avoid it because it is polluting our waters? Most of us still have a lot to learn about aquaculture.

Industry experts gathered for the Aquaculture session at Alltech’s REBELation today. Vaun Cummins, Alltech’s senior aquaculture technician covered some of the milestones that have been hit over the past 50 years by an industry that, in actuality, represents a major segment of the global agriculture and food industries.

Here are a few things that will probably surprise you about aquaculture and the traditional fishing industry:

  • Fishing is the last significant form of hunting and gathering. However, the annual global wild catch hit its apparent limit in the early 1980s. Each year more of our seafood demand is met by aquaculture (which is just another form of agriculture).
  • Nearly 90% of aquaculture production is in Asia, where carp are very popular. In fact 6 of the top 10 global aquaculture species are carp.
  • In the early 1970s, the total quantity of farmed fish produced in the world was about 3 million tons, a tiny fraction of worldwide meat consumption. Now aquaculture is the fastest growing animal food production activity and in 2012 global aquaculture production reached 66 million tons, surpassing global beef production by 3 million tons.
  • Over the last 50 years the supply of seafood has grown at about 3.2% per year, twice the rate of world population growth. For many people fish is more plentiful than ever before.
  • Aquaculture, like any form of agriculture, can be practiced sustainably or unsustainably. Many producers are currently using methods like recirculating systems, aquaponics, multi-trophic or offshore systems to minimize environmental impact.