Aquaculture 2013: “Strike a Chord for Sustainable Aquaculture”

Amid the small talk at last night’s cocktail reception, I was asked, “How is it that you came to aquaculture through your interest in marine conservation when so many environmentalists are hostile to aquaculture?”

The full answer would require more than a single blog post, but the short version is, “I came to it naive, without knowing what, as an environmentalist, I was ‘supposed to know’.” As I’ve written elsewhere, when I started down this path several years ago I thought a fistfight might break out during the Q&A following an advance screening of the film “The End of the Line” when an audience member suggested that the film gave short shrift to aquaculture as part of the solution to the problem of global overfishing.

A couple of years later, I was pleasantly surprised during a screening of “Sushi: The Global Catch” to see aquaculture prominently featured as a beneficial component of any strategy to reduce the impact of sushi’s global popularity on bluefin tuna stocks.

Aquaculture 2013’s theme is “Strike a Chord for Sustainable Aquaculture.” Today’s keynote address by climate change expert Dr. Edward Allison of the University of East Anglia and the WorldFish Center (titled: “Aquaculture in a Changing Climate”) presented a much more nuanced picture both of the climate change debate and of the environmental friendliness of aquaculture than we are used to seeing from professional environmentalists. While he didn’t equivocate over whether climate change and sea level rise are real and have their roots in human behavior, he acknowledged repeatedly that the issues are complex, impacts are hard to predict, and “there will be winners and losers.”

“Aquaculture is a small contributor to global warming,” Dr. Allison said, adding that the biggest contributing factor is feed (the capture and processing of fish for fishmeal). So, the biggest factor in a small contribution to global warming is feed production – an impact that is completely addressable through existing and yet-to-be-developed means. When compared with other, more energy-intensive forms of livestock with much higher feed-conversion ratios, aquaculture starts to look awfully good.

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