Seafood could account for 25% of animal protein needed to meet demand

Policy reforms and technological improvements could drive seafood production upward by as much as 75% over the next three decades, research suggests. It could meet much of the increased demand for protein and nutrients.

The findings from Oregon State University are important because by 2050 the Earth will have an estimated 9.8 billion human mouths to feed, a 2 billion increase in population from 2020.

Seafood has the potential to meet much of the increased need for protein and nutrients, the researchers say in a statement.

Examining the sea’s primary food-producing sectors, including wild fisheries and the mariculture of finfish such as tuna and snapper as well as bivalves like clams and oysters, the researchers determined estimates of “sustainable supply curves” that take into consideration ecological, economic, regulatory and technological limitations.

The scientists framed those supply curves against future demand scenarios to predict how much food the ocean, which presently accounts for just 17% of the animal production industry, could supply as the global population swells.

“As mariculture technology improves and policies surrounding the ocean and its resources are reformed, food from the sea could increase by between 21 million and 44 million metric tons annually,” said marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco.

Producing more and more food from land-based crops is challenging because of declining yield rates and competition for land and water, Lubchenco notes, as well as various environmental and health concerns associated with large-scale agriculture.

And while land-derived seafood – freshwater aquaculture and inland fisheries – plays an important role in the global food picture, its expansion faces some of the same hurdles and causes some of the same problems.

The researchers describe four primary routes to sustainably increasing ocean-based food production: Better management of wild fisheries; reforms for policies governing mariculture; improvements in feeds used in mariculture; and shifts in demand to drive increased production from all ocean food sectors.

Seventy-five percent of mariculture production requires some feed inputs, like fishmeal and fish oil, derived from wild forage fisheries. But alternatives like terrestrial plant- or animal-based proteins, seafood processing waste, microbial ingredients, insects, algae and genetically modified plants are in the works.

Image credit: James Wei via Unsplash

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