Aquaculture Roles in Society, Technological Advancements, and Future Prospects
This is the first of a several part series I will be doing on aquaculture, its current role in society, technological advancements, and future prospects.
Aquaculture is quickly becoming a major tool for providing a good source of protein to rapidly-expanding populations worldwide. As global fisheries collapse and competition for oceanic food resources increase, aquaculture will continue to fill a much-needed gap. In the Western Hemisphere, this industry has become a boon to many economies in Central and South America, especially in Chile, Ecuador, Brazil, and Colombia. There are many methods for farming fish, invertebrates, and seaweed, and I hope to explore some of these in the following posts.
Different methods and their impacts:
Aquaculture can happen on a small, indoor scale, as in saltwater Asian sea bass production in western Massachusetts and saltwater shrimp production in Michigan, and systems are being developed which make it a far more profitable business than it was previously. Obviously, a closed system, one in which wastes are primarily taken up by plants in an adjacent aquaponics system, is far more feasible for inland aquaculture. Other onshore production of freshwater fish and intertidal production of invertebrates tends to be very land-intensive and results in a large area that is inundated to provide protected habitat for the animals as they grow to market size. Onshore farms in tropical areas have their particular impact on the environment, and in intertidal operations mangroves have been suggested as a prudent course of action for waste uptake.
A open water net system used in offshore fish farming of salmon and tuna is far more common amongst large producers. The advancements of this technology and availability of resources have allowed areas such as Chile to develop highly productive aquaculture industries.
Concerns about the methods we use for fish and invertebrate cultivation vary based on the setup. The large offshore operations (and all aquaculture operations) often have a high incidence of escapees and can be a way to centralize parasite loads that can attack wild populations. This can also be a concern if we are aquaculturing a genetically modified organism, as the hybrids with wild relatives are often not able to compete well.
As with other large operations that produce protein, concerns exist regarding the use of antibiotics to strengthen the fish, which can also produce stronger bacteria by selecting for those that can fight against the antibiotic. This can lead to human health issues if these “superbugs” are allowed to reach the human population.
The thought remains, however, about our potential to provide high-quality protein sources without the advancement of this industry. Fine-tuning can help minimize the negative effects of aquaculture and continued observation will have to accompany the inevitable consolidation that will happen within this industry.
Next post: Aquacultured Species in South America
Photo: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons