This article was published on the Future Directions International website here
It was written by Matthew Curry, Research Assistant, Global Food and Water Crisis Research Programme
Wednesday, 27 August 2014
Aquaculture is rapidly expanding and showing promise as a means of decreasing poverty rates and improving food security globally. Australia’s world-leading aquaculture companies have demonstrated their potential to pioneer the advancement of this important industry.
Aquaculture – the breeding and harvesting of aquatic organisms – has grown substantially in recent decades. Despite this, long-term mismanagement of the world’s fisheries has led to a decline in world fish stocks, placing increased pressure on aquaculture to meet global demand. Fish consumption has been linked to improved nutrition and poverty alleviation; thus, sustainably managing this expansion is essential.
Seafood Intelligence – an independent international seafood market news and information service – has benchmarked Tasmanian salmon producer Tassal as the world’s top salmon farming company, based on corporate, social and environmental responsibility and sustainability. This report was accompanied by an Australian first: Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) accreditation for Tassal’s Macquarie Harbour farms. The award comes at a time of global growth in aquaculture, which is increasing the availability of fish as a safe and healthy food option.
Aquatic produce is a source of income and food security for more than 500 million people in developing states. Fish is high in protein and essential oils: vital components of a balanced diet. Low incomes restrict many people from accessing such essential sources of protein, however. Therefore aquaculture’s capacity to provide a source of protein and income for those living in poverty is invaluable to developing populations. That potential is complicated, however, by inherent sustainability issues.
Aquaculture, if poorly managed, can contribute to widespread environmental degradation. This includes reduced water quality, stock disease and damage to ocean ecosystems due to fish feed extraction. All of these negative effects must be addressed to ensure the successful expansion of aquaculture.
Although Australian aquaculture accounts for just 0.36% of global production, the high quality and sustainability of Australian products and production systems have made Australia an industry leader worldwide.
Developing alternative feed sources is vital to the expansion of agriculture. The Australian government and aquaculture industry leaders can assist in this area, through research and resource provisions. Aquaculture cultivates high value fish that are often carnivorous; they are fed smaller and lower value fish extracted from the oceans. This, however, can upset the ecosystems and food chains in the oceans. The Australian government is currently investing in a joint aquaculture research programme with Vietnam, to find alternative, sustainable feed sources. Solving this problem will require co-operation between all stakeholders, i.e. governments, policy makers, commercial farmers, smallholder farmers and subsistence farmers around the world. Programmes such as these are a step in the right direction for the industry’s future.
In developing countries, many aquaculture enterprises are only designed for subsistence farming. The strict food, health and safety standards required for exports, often bar smallholder farmers from gaining access to global markets, which limits their potential to improve their livelihoods. Australia’s extensive knowledge and expertise in health and safety standardisation could be applied to help develop these smallholder farms.
Aquaculture will continue to expand as the demand for fish increases; however, that growth will need to be sustainable. This is essential to uphold aquaculture’s promise in addressing food insecurity and poverty issues. Australia has the potential to contribute significantly to the sustainable development of global aquaculture, by assisting smallholder farmers in developing nations who lack the systems, skills and technology to gain broader market access. The collaboration of Australian firms with other countries and stakeholders can assist in achieving greater food security globally.