A panel of researchers cites the advantages of fish farming at sea

Marine aquaculture not only increases the global supply of seafood, but also serves to temper or mitigate the effects of climate change, according to researchers who spoke at a congressional online briefing on June 29 presented by the American Fisheries Society and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The first and last word in aquaculture in the United States is ‘conservation’,” said Jesse Trushenski, scientific director and vice president of animal welfare at Riverence, the largest producer of rainbow trout. Sky and Rainbow Trout Farmed from the Americas.

A proposed Pacific Ocean AquaFarms project, led by the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and Long Beach-based investment group Pacific6 Enterprises, aims to produce up to 5,000 metric tonnes of yellowtail flounder per year in federal waters about four miles off Bird Rock.

“We are moving this project forward,” Hubbs-Seaworld President and CEO Don Kent said during the webinar, noting that the project is under review by the US Environmental Protection Agency. .

Southern California is “a huge seafood market,” Kent said. “If we can grow our seafood four miles from the sea and put it in our own processing plants instead of raising the fish in Australia and hauling it 7,300 miles to our market, that’s a huge opportunity that allows sustainability to move forward.

Matt O’Malley, executive director and attorney general of the environmental group San Diego Coastkeeper, which opposed the Pacific Ocean AquaFarms project, did not attend the briefing but told the La Jolla Light that “there is nothing sustainable about offshore fish farming except lasting damage to our environment. Offshore fish fishing operations pollute the ocean with fish waste, food and antibiotics, harm populations of wild birds and marine mammals including whales and sea lions, spread disease to fish indigenous peoples and threaten local fishing industries.

Kent told the webinar that “we are doing a wide range of environmental work in several different areas of study,” including research into the sustainable development of seafood.

“What has frustrated us over the years is this inability to transfer what we have learned to do with these different species into the commercial sector, where the real benefit can be realized,” said Kent.

“The world is hungry,” Trushenski said. “It is estimated that we need to produce around 60% more food by 2050” due to population growth.

“We could feed a few billion more people with more chicken, pork and beef,” but that would require more acres for crop production, she said.

“When we think of aquatic conservation, one of the most important variables is land use and its impact on watersheds,” Trushenski said.

With over 80 percent of fish stocks currently “either fully exploited, recovering from overfishing or sadly … still in decline,” she said, “aquaculture has emerged to fill this growing gap. seafood “.

Trushenski added that about half of the world’s seafood now comes from farms and that “there is more farmed fish and shellfish produced each year than we produce beef.”

“Aquaculture diverts harvest pressure that would otherwise be applied to wild fish,” she said. “Almost all fisheries are already at their limit and are likely to become increasingly vulnerable to overexploitation due to climate change and other stressors. Aquaculture helps by relieving this extra pressure, allowing us to meet this growing demand for seafood without decimating the fishery.

Climate change, marked in the oceans by less oxygen and more acidity, is leading to “smaller, less hardy fish,” Trushenski said.

She said that “aquaculture can help us produce the extra food we need with a reduced carbon footprint, less consumption of fresh water and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.”

Seth Theuerkauf, science coordinator for NOAA’s office of aquaculture for fisheries, said that “US marine aquaculture really presents a unique and truly significant opportunity in light of climate change.”

“Seafood has long been known to be one of the most traded commodities in the world, and because of this, supply chains can be complex, long and emission-intensive,” he said. -he declares. Aquaculture has the potential to shorten supply chains, thereby reducing emissions, he added.

Theuerkauf said the United States ranks 17th in the world for aquaculture production. “If we are able to increase our capacity to produce more seafood domestically through aquaculture, we are able to achieve these efficiencies in terms of reducing emissions,” he said.

Commercial seafood production, Theuerkauf said, also offers benefits such as “removing excess nutrients from water bodies, providing habitat for wildlife like juvenile fish and … possibly the mitigation of ocean acidification… through the cultivation of algae ”.

“In the Pacific Northwest, hatcheries have been able to adapt to increasingly acidic seawater by actually buffering seawater to increase shellfish survival in hatcheries,” he said. declared.

Rebecca Gentry, a postdoctoral researcher at Florida State University whose work focuses on the development of marine aquaculture, said most marine farms are in the ocean and “can have a significant direct impact on the environment. surrounding ”.

There could be “negative impacts such as nutrient pollution or the introduction of disease into wildlife,” she said. But there are also “positive effects such as carbon sequestration and nutrient uptake,” depending on where the farm is located, she added.

“We already have the data, models and decision support tools to make good decisions that can take these factors into account,” said Gentry. “Specifically, a scientifically informed site can identify potential locations for farms that are productive and profitable, have lower environmental impacts due to the characteristics of the site, and minimize conflicts with other uses of the ocean,” such as the army or fishing.

O’Malley told the Light that organizations like the San Diego Coastkeeper are not necessarily opposed to all types of aquaculture.

“Other forms of aquaculture, like kelp farming, can offer environmental benefits,” he said. “But fish farming at sea has proven to be harmful around the world. Instead, San Diego should support sustainable native and natural fisheries and our local fishing industry. “◆


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