Top 5 Aquaculture Trends of 2020

Line with blue mussel growth from offshore experimental farm site. (Credit: NOAA Fisheries)

By Kayla Matthews

Aquaculture is the fastest-growing food production sector in the world. The industry is experiencing significant changes due to several environmental, economic and social concerns.

As the global population grows, so too does the need to produce food on a large scale. Farm-grown fish and seafood products can fill this need. However, the looming threat of climate change, as well as economic and societal pressure, means aquaculture companies must seek out sustainable fish farming solutions to stay afloat.

The following are five developing trends in the aquaculture industry.

1. Climate Change-Resistant Mussels
Many species of fish are vulnerable to environmental changes. Rising water temperatures and changes in ocean acidity pose a threat to many species commonly raised in aquatic farms.

One way fish farmers can deal with this problem is by breeding resilient blue mussels. These mollusks can alter patterns in their genes to become resistant to environmental changes. Selective breeding increases the prevalence of this trait, increasing their survival rate.

By relying on these hardy mussels, aquaculture businesses can better withstand climate change.

2. Shift Toward Microalgae Oil
Similar to how people require omega-3 fatty acids in their diets, many fish need these oils to survive but don’t produce them. In the wild, larger fish get omega-3s from eating smaller species, which get it from aquatic plants. Traditionally, farms use these smaller fish to feed the ones in captivity, though this is an unsustainable practice.

An increasingly popular solution to this problem is feeding farmed fish with microalgae oil instead of traditional fishmeal. Food made from oil-rich algae doesn’t require aquaculture centers to buy or catch wild fish, so they don’t contribute to overfishing. Feeding with microalgae oil benefits aquaculture businesses and the environment.

3. Kelp Farming
Not all aquaculture deals with animals. The cultivation of aquatic plants, such as kelp, is a growing sector. Kelp farming can help with several environmental concerns, including the increased demand for algae oil.

Raising kelp is significantly more eco-friendly than other forms of aquaculture. Many ecosystems benefit from the presence of this plant due to factors such as nutrient content. It’s even a healthy food option for humans.

4. Increased Sea Urchin Production
Another less traditional species that aquaculture can benefit from is sea urchins. Like blue mussels, sea urchins are generally resistant to climate change, making them an ideal option for aquatic farmers in a rapidly changing environment.

While these creatures may not be a popular menu item for American consumers, they are valuable commodities in Japan and other international markets. Urchins are native to many areas along the U.S. coast, so raising them in American farms is minimally invasive.

5. Open-Ocean Aquaculture
The majority of aquaculture takes place close to the shore, but overcrowding of these areas can lead to concentrated waste in vulnerable coastal waters. Moving fish farms inland may solve some of these issues, although the process of doing so may be complicated.

With modern technology, open-ocean aquaculture can be optimally located and more effectively managed. Deep waters and stronger currents manage waste and keep it away from the delicate nearshore ecosystems. However, legal regulations regarding this practice are uncertain, and logistical issues are challenging since open-ocean waters are rough.

With time, research and technological development, open-ocean aquaculture will become a viable option. It may prove to be a more sustainable form of fish farming in a world where the future of aquaculture depends on environmental sustainability.

Kayla Matthews is a technology journalist and writer. Her work has been featured in WIRED, VentureBeat, InformationWeek and Computerworld. To read more from Matthews, visit her blog, Productivity Bytes.

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