Aquaculture and Mariculture: Scarcity Breeds Abundance

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Earth Journalism Network, Washington, DC

If we return to the central infographic that fisheries analysts use as their benchmark, the rate of seafood exploitation over the last 70 years as produced by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the most notable trend aside from the rise and eventual plateauing of the total wild catch is the rise of aquaculture (products grown in a freshwater environment) and mariculture (products grown in a saltwater, marine environment). For the purposes of simplicity we will refer to them both as “aquaculture” throughout the remaining text since that term is commonly applied to both environments in popular and scientific literature.

The dark blue portion of the graphic represents farmed marine product grown on a global basis. It’s instructive to note that it first begins to surge just as world capture fisheries begin to level off. This is no coincidence. The world’s population continued to grow even as the total wild capture from the ocean’s reached its limit. By the time modern aquaculture was born in the late 1970s, there literally was nowhere else for us to turn if we wanted to continue to eat from the sea. But just as with the surge in fishing from 1950 to 2000, the boom in aquaculture often came at considerable environmental cost. Any journalist covering the ocean today needs to understand the dynamics of those costs and to be able to discuss the tradeoffs between fishing and aquaculture in a coherent way.