PUBLICATION Journal article

Exploring sustainable aquaculture development using a nutrition-sensitive approach

Micronutrient deficiencies constitute a pressing public health concern, especially in developing countries. As a
dense source of bioavailable nutrients, aquatic foods can help alleviate such deficiencies. Developing aquaculture
that provides critical micronutrients without sacrificing the underlying environmental resources that support
these food production systems is therefore essential. Here, we address these dual challenges by optimizing
nutrient supply while constraining the environmental impacts from aquaculture. Using life cycle assessment and
nutritional data from Indonesia, a top aquaculture producer, we sought to identify aquaculture systems that
increase micronutrient supplies and reduce environmental impacts (e.g., habitat destruction, freshwater pollution,
and greenhouse gas emissions). Aquaculture systems in Indonesia vary more by environmental impacts (e.g.
three order of magnitude for fresh water usage) than by nutritional differences (approximately ± 50% differences
from mean relative nutritional score). Nutritional-environmental tradeoffs exist, with no single system offering a
complete nutrition-environment win–win. We also find that previously proposed future aquaculture paths suboptimally
balance nutritional and environmental impacts. Instead, we identify optimized aquaculture production
scenarios for 2030 with nutrient per gram densities 105–320% that of business-as-usual production and with
environmental impacts as low as 25% of those of business-as-usual. In these scenarios Pangasius fish (Pangasius
hypophthalmus) ponds prove desirable due to their low environmental impacts, but average relative nutrient
score. While the environmental impacts of the three analyzed brackish water systems range from average to high
compared to other aquaculture systems, their nutritional attributes render them necessary when maximizing all
nutrients except vitamin A. Common carp (Cyprinus carpio) ponds also proved essential in maximizing zinc and
omega n-3, while Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) cages were necessary in optimizing the production of calcium
and vitamin A. These optimal aquaculture strategies also reduce business-as-usual demand for wild fish-based
feed by 0–30% and mangrove expansion by 0–75% with no additional expansion into inland open waters and
freshwater ponds. As aquaculture production expands globally, optimization presents a powerful opportunity to
reduce malnutrition rates at reduced environmental impacts. The proposed reorientation promotes UN sustainable
development goals 2 (zero hunger), 3 (health), 13 (climate action) and 14 (life under water) and requires
concerted and targeted policy changes.5

Keywords: Aquatic foods, Development scenarios, Fish consumption, Micronutrient deficiencies, Nutrition-sensitive aquaculture, Optimization, Planetary health, seafood, Sustainable food systems

Shepon, A. J.A. Gephart, C.D. Golden, P.J.G. Henriksson, R.C. Jones, J. Zachary Koehn and G. Eshel. 2021. Exploring sustainable aquaculture development using a nutrition-sensitive approach. Global Environmental Change 69:102285.