Aquacultured Species in South America (Part 1)
As mentioned in my previous post, aquatic and marine food production is quickly moving toward farmed and manipulated processes in various types of aquaculture and away from fished stocks. This is mostly the result of necessity for both food stability and security and for the maintenance and management of healthy marine and aquatic ecosystems.
In South America and the Caribbean region, this industry is quickly becoming an important economic driver and producer for affordable protein. According to the UN FAO, Chile is by far the largest producer at 713,241 tons produced in 2010, followed by Brazil at 480,129 tons, Ecuador at 271,919 tons, Peru at 89,021 tons, and Colombia at 80,367 tons. These four countries produced more than the United States (495,499 tons), Canada (160,924 tons), and Mexico (126,240 tons) combined and in fact almost doubled it. With the U.S. and other markets set to continue to experience growth in demand as native fisheries wane, the production of those four South American countries will become more important for food security.
A few examples of species cultivated in the area include:
Atlantic salmon have become a bread-and-butter crop for aquaculture operations in Chile, who have perfected offshore farms. The development of this industry has not been without controversy, however, as there is a concern about the inevitable escape of individuals from these farms, their possibility of interbreeding with local populations, the development of a controversial transgenic breed, and the spread of parasites from these farms to native populations.
The high probability of escapes is hard to completely eliminate, as storms and damaged nets can allow individuals to flee and interbreed with native populations of salmon. This is of particular concern with a fast-growing variety produced by AquaBounty, as hybrids with wild salmon have been shown not to have much vigor for survival in the wild. This could cause a crash in native salmon fisheries, which would reverberate through the aquatic and marine food webs and through tourism and commercial fishing interests. The company has assured that the fish would be sterile and grown inland, but there are other areas of concern for salmon aquaculture.
An additional concern, the centralization of fish parasites and the use of antibiotics in these offshore farms, can cause higher rates of infection in wild stocks and the development of stronger pathogens (as is happening with human pathogens). Farmed salmon are an important source of income and protein, but there is much development yet to do to mitigate the potential ecological risks.
Tilapia aquaculture is extremely important to South America’s economic output in this sector and has recently become more organized for marketing of its products in the United States and elsewhere. Tropical Aquaculture Products in Rutland, Vermont is the marketing arm of a cooperative between farms in Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil, and has been active in expanding its network of participating farms to guarantee the supply of tilapia and trout to U.S. consumers. Tilapia (or Mojarra) is a common fixture in restaurants around Colombia, as the majority of Colombia’s production is sold within the country.
The importance of these species in providing a stable worldwide protein source along with their importance to local economic growth and diversification in the Latin American economies cannot be denied.
Stay tuned for the next post about some interesting areas of invertebrate and algal aquaculture.