NEWS 2022-03-19

Freshwater aquaculture is key for global food security

Freshwater aquaculture dominates global aquaculture production, but its importance is often overlooked in global food-policy agenda and research. A new article published in Nature argue that recent research underestimates the production potential for freshwater aquaculture and inflates the importance of mariculture, or saltwater aquaculture, at the expense of consumers in low- and middle income countries.

Since the 1980’s marine and inland fishing have grown very little, while all sectors of aquaculture are increasing production and market share. However, all aquaculture is not equal. While mariculture has attracted the lion’s share of research funding and policy attention, freshwater aquaculture is the heavy lifter when it comes to producing fish that are available and affordable to low- and middle-income consumers globally.

Finfish mariculture is focused on farming expensive carnivorous species of fish for high end markets. Per capita aquatic food consumption in high-income countries, has plateaued since 2000. In their article, Beijer researchers Max Troell and Patrik Henriksson, together with leading author Wenbo Zhang and colleagues, expect that future increases in demand for aquatic foods will mainly come from the Global South, which is why developing low-cost freshwater aquaculture systems better meets future global demand.

“Freshwater aquaculture producers and consumers are underrepresented in the global aquatic food policy agenda, when in fact they constitute the ‘silent majority’” said Patrik Henriksson.”

This study responds to a paper published in the journal Nature in 2020 by Costello et al., which argued that mariculture has greater potential to expand than freshwater aquaculture. In contrast, the recent article highlight that freshwater aquaculture accounts for the majority (77%) of edible aquaculture production, while Costello et al. inflate mariculture production potential in several ways: they exclude crustacean production from their models; define brackish water agriculture as mariculture; conflate freshwater capture fisheries and freshwater aquaculture; and are overly optimistic about potential of future mariculture technologies.

“Balanced approaches to science, policy and investment that prioritize freshwater aquaculture development in addition to mariculture can contribute more to global food security than those favoring mariculture alone” says Max Troell.

He and his colleagues argue that freshwater aquaculture produces more food, with less expense than mariculture, and has potential to continue expanding through both small-scale and large-scale inland pond production. Furthermore, as farmed freshwater fish are often lower on the food chain than marine finfish, the food inputs are less expensive than those needed by species farmed in mariculture. The authors therefore suggest that greater investment in freshwater aquaculture research is key to creating global food security.

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