A recent Time Magazine article by Bryan Walsh entitled 'The End of The Line' shines a heavy duty floodlight on rapidly declining wild seafood stocks. It points out that although we have long grown our fruits and vegetables and raised animals for meat and dairy products, 'fish are the last wild food'. And while wild stocks cannot be counted on for to satisfy the world’s appetite for fish, barramundi farmed in the US, Asia and soon the rest of the world, may prove a species of seafood saviour.
According to the UN, 32 percent of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited or depleted.
Fish farming in some quarters has garnered a reputation for doing more harm than good, polluting coastal waters and endangering what natural fish populations are left. But under the right conditions, fish farming is proving it works, yielding fish that taste good and are good for the other species on earth as well.
The worldwide catch seems to have plateaued at about 90 million tons a year since the mid-1990s. That's a lot of fish, but even if those levels prove sustainable, it's not enough to keep up with global seafood consumption, which has risen from 22 lb. per person per year in the 1960s to nearly 38 lb. today. With hundreds of millions of people joining the middle class in the developing world and fish increasingly seen as a tasty and heart-healthy form of protein, that trend will continue.
The inescapable conclusion: there just isn't enough seafood in the seas. 'The wild stocks are not going to keep up,' says Stephen Hall, director general of the WorldFish Center. 'Something else has to fill that gap.'
And Aquaculture has been heralded as the ideal filler.
Even the WWF hails aquaculture as the path to food security. 'We have to address the environmental and social issues,' says Jose Villalon, director of the WWF's aquaculture program. 'But aquaculture is a good tool to deal with food security.'
In Australia, Aquaculture is the fastest growing primary industry sector and continues to be an important part of Australian fisheries production. Over the decade to 2007-08 aquaculture production has doubled from 29,300 tonnes to 62,500 tonnes.
The gross value of aquaculture production in 2007-08 was $868 million with the most valuable aquaculture species being farmed salmonids, (salmon and trout).Together they accounted for 34 per cent of total production volume
The second most valuable aquaculture species was farmed tuna with the value of farmed tuna production in South Australia rising by $49 million to $186.7 million.
In the next 20 years, it is estimated that we will need an extra 37 million tonnes of fish to meet global demand. With limited room for expansion in wild catch fisheries most of the additional supply will have to come from aquaculture. The goal for the near future is to aim for 100 000 tonnes of finfish by 2015.
More than 95 percent of Australian aquaculture production is from marine waters.
Domestic demand for seafood is increasing in Australia. In the late 1930s, Australian seafood consumption was 4.9 kilograms per person, by 1998-99, annual per capita consumption had more than doubled to 10.9 kilograms, or about 10 percent of the country’s total unprocessed meat intake (ABS, 2000). Unfortunately, Australian caught or farmed fish accounted for less than half of this seafood consumption (3.6 kilograms per capita).
In addition to a rise in the demand for seafood, increasing affluence in countries such as China will see stronger demand for non-edible fisheries and aquaculture products such as pearls, crocodiles and ornamental fish.
Chair of the National Aquaculture Council, Pheroze Jungalwalla, says he deemed the Time magazine article 'balanced and interesting'.
'It was extremely well written and thought-provoking. But I would not use the word ‘crisis’ to describe the seafood industry, particularly not in Australia. The problem with these features is that the whole world gets put in the blender. We are not all in the same boat, or waters.
'The facts are we have an exploitable crop – the sea and aquaculture. Our waters are extremely well managed by Fisheries. We have access to the latest technology to monitor even the slightest changes in populations. I understand though, that in many parts of the world, yes, commercial fishing is unregulated or not capable of being regulated, and there are problems.'
The issue at the heart of the exponential increase in our appetites for seafood is affluence. As countries like China and India grow their wealth, so their taste for high protein, healthy fish grows.
'We as a society have to make a choice,' explains Mr Jungalwalla. 'Unless you can convince the increasing number of people in the world whose affluence is increasing that they should not aspire to access high quality seafood, then we must accept the beneficial role of fishing and aquaculture.' 'It goes without saying,' he adds, 'that these activities must be carried out in a regulated manner that does not compromise the long term sustainability of the very environment they depend upon.'
As Mr Jungalwalla explains, many of the hurdles to aquaculture becoming a viable, sustainable industry are being addressed. 'There is a lot of research going on internationally in to fish meal replacement to reduce the reliance on fish meal and fish oil, which come from fisheries in South America, South Africa and the North Sea. We are seeing advances in the use of vegetable oils and proteins. In Australia for instance there is a lot of effort going in to the use of lupin meal and soya meal as partial replacement for fish meal.'
Described in the Time article as the 'dream fish' offering grand solutions for the world’s food security, barramundi is well known to aquaculture proponents in Australia. 'It is a good fish,' acknowledges Mr Jungalwalla. 'Barramundi is able to convert to fish flesh using less protein, and that’s just one factor of many. It is farmed mainly in sea cages in Australia, and we are making attempts at using onshore recirculation systems. But in the US, they are taking it to a different level using intensive recirculation techniques.'
Locally, cold water species like Atlantic salmon and Tuna are the major focus. Salmon is the most significant species farmed by Australian aquaculture, produced in the vicinity of 35,000 tonnes per annum, says Mr Jungalwalla.
'There are some challenges farming warm-water species like Barramundi in Australia, including competing with South Asia production. Our production costs are higher because our regulatory, compliance, and labour costs are higher.'
Tuna farming is also a significant aquaculture industry in Australia. 'Licensed operators catch juvenile fish in the oceans within a strictly controlled quota, rear them in sea pens, then sell them larger and in peak condition. Closing the life-cycle of Tuna is an exciting new development pioneered in Australia, which has been achieved through ground breaking research and is considered a ‘Holy Grail of Aquaculture’.'
More at http://www.time.com Australasian Aquaculture Conference and Trade Show 2012
The National Aquaculture Council (NAC) is the peak body representing the aquaculture industry across Australia.
The Australasian Aquaculture Conference and Trade Show is the biennial event of the National Aquaculture Council of Australia and the World Aquaculture Society. In May 2012, the event will be hosted in Melbourne, featuring world renowned speakers, extensive programs of international and domestic presenters, exhibitors offering the latest in innovative technology and information, as well as the many unique networking opportunities and workshop ‘know-how’ made accessible to all attendees.
More at www.australian-aquacultureportal.com