The world’s oceans possess vast, untapped potential for sustainable aquaculture, say UCSB marine scientists.
Covering 70 percent of Earth’s surface, the world’s oceans are vast and deep. So vast, in fact, that nearly every coastal country has the potential to meet its own domestic seafood needs through aquaculture. In fact, each country could do so using a tiny fraction of its ocean territory.
So finds a study led by scientists from UC Santa Barbara and including researchers from the Nature Conservancy, UCLA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Their research, published today in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, demonstrates the oceans’ potential to support aquaculture. Also known as fish farming, the practice is the fastest-growing food sector, and it’s poised to address increasing issues of food insecurity around the globe.
“There is a lot of space that is suitable for aquaculture, and that is not what’s going to limit its development,” said lead author Rebecca Gentry, who recently completed her Ph.D. at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. “It’s going to be other things such as governance and economics.”
According to the study, among the first global assessments of the potential for marine aquaculture, the world’s oceans are rife with aquaculture “hot spots” that provide enough space to produce 15 billion metric tons of finfish annually. That is more than 100 times the current global seafood consumption.
More realistically, the researchers note, if aquaculture were developed in only the most productive areas, the oceans could theoretically produce the same amount of seafood that the world’s wild-caught fisheries currently produce globally, but in less than 1 percent of the total ocean surface — a combined area the size of Lake Michigan.
“There are only a couple of countries that are producing the vast majority of what’s being produced right now in the oceans,” Gentry said. “We show that aquaculture could actually be spread a lot more across the world, and every coastal country has this opportunity.”
The United States, for example, has enormous untapped potential and could produce enough farmed seafood to meet national demand using only 0.01 percent of its exclusive economic zone, Gentry noted. Given that the U.S. imports more than 90 percent of its seafood, aquaculture presents a powerful opportunity to increase domestic supply and reduce the nation’s seafood trade deficit, which now totals over $13 billion.
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