Aquaculture to the rescue in protein crisis

Aquaculture to the rescue in protein crisis

While we go about our lives, consuming our poached King salmon fillet and our fresh steamed Greenshell™ mussels, the aquaculture industry is hard at work in research labs and marine farms figuring out ways to feed a burgeoning world population with quality sources of protein. All without putting pressure on the planet’s natural resources.

How did we end up with a protein crisis?

According to The World Bank and the Global Aquaculture Alliance, the world population is forecast to grow to a staggering 9.6 billion by 2050. By this time, humans will be consuming two thirds more animal protein than we do today. It is estimated that more food will be needed in the next 33 years than has been produced in the preceding 8,000 years.(1)(2)

“The issue is that agricultural land, the production of food, and consumption, particularly of high quality protein, isn’t keeping up with population growth,” says Mark Burdass, Aquaculture Programme Coordinator and Tutor at NMIT.

Mark has an extensive background in aquaculture both nationally and internationally. He has also worked in food security, which, he says, will be a major issue for any country in the near future in terms of making sure that it is able to provide sufficient quality food.

Alongside population growth is a growing shift towards healthy eating. Consumers have switched on to the importance of diet. This, coupled with growth in the middle class in Asia, where people are switching from a carbohydrate rich diet to a protein rich diet, has led to an inexhaustible demand for more protein. To give you a rough idea, in the 1950s the amount of seafood eaten globally was approximately 10kg per person per year. That figure has now doubled to 20kg per person per year.

Aquaculture can bridge the gap between growing demand and limited wild supply

Aquaculture produces roughly 47% of seafood consumed globally by humans with production levels growing at a rate of approximately 6.3% annually for the past decade. Estimates suggest aquaculture will soon produce more seafood than wild fisheries which have remained static for the past 25 years.(3)

Mark says expansion and supply has had to come from aquaculture which, compared to other industries, is a much more sustainable way of producing meat-based protein. He says that, compared to other forms of livestock production, the efficiency with which aquaculture can grow fish is far higher than say cows or pigs or even chickens. “If you want to eat meat and you’re worried about availability and loss of energy then eating fish is the most sustainable form of meat production in the world.”

Fish now accounts for approximately 17 percent of the global population’s intake of protein. And it ticks all the boxes for human nutrition. Fish is low in saturated fats, carbohydrates, and cholesterol. It provides not only high-value protein but also a wide range of essential micronutrients, including various vitamins, minerals, and polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids.(1)

The main farmed fish in New Zealand is the Chinook salmon, or King salmon as it is often referred to. New Zealand is the single biggest producer of Chinook salmon in the world. This species has a much redder flesh and a much higher ore content, therefore a much higher omega-3 content. This is what the market demands, and from a health point of view, it is perceived as much better for you.

To be clear, most marine farmers in New Zealand are not leaping into the fray of ‘feeding the world’. The industry here is still small with a production rate of roughly 13 to 14,000 tonnes of Chinook salmon per year. By contrast, the global aquaculture industry is producing over 2 million tonnes of Atlantic salmon per year globally. Therefore the goal in New Zealand isn’t on volume. Rather, the goal is to produce high value, quality sources of protein in a sustainable way.

Aquaculture is shifting from fish-based feeds toward sustainable alternatives

To help boost the nutritional content in farmed fish, aquaculture specialists are looking at fish feed alternatives. Historically, one of the main ingredients has been fishmeal from the Chile fisheries off the west coast of South America. Fish oil is another. But the industry is moving away from fishmeal and fish oil due to cost and the issue of sustainability. In their place, different types of algae-based sources are being explored.

Of the main feed companies supplying to New Zealand, Skretting(external link) is actively engaged in algae-based alternatives to traditional feed with an aim on reducing marine dependency.(4) Skretting is a multinational company that produces fish food and corn food around the globe. They have developed a research facility in Okiwi Bay to look at nutrition, specifically in the New Zealand context.

This is of great interest to many in the industry, including the folk at Aquaculture New Zealand(external link). We got in touch with Environment Manager, Rebecca Clarkson, by email. She spoke of the potential of algae to replace fish-based sources of omega-3 fats. "There is also potential in the future to create fish feeds from a combination of algae (for the oils) and insects (for the protein)."

Rebecca highlighted that algae also have the potential to provide important levels of the antioxidant astaxanthin that salmon require for general health.

While we haven’t focused on oysters and mussels, it is important to mention that Greenshell™ Mussels contribute significantly to the needs of the protein-loving consumer. Mussels are high in protein and provide an important source of omega-3 and minerals. And they don’t require feeding. They harvest plankton straight from the ocean making them a self-sustaining source of protein.

Are you keen to become part of this sustainable growth industry?

Sustainability is a major factor in all aquaculture programmes at NMIT with ecology and conservation courses playing a significant role in the qualifications.

NMIT is situated in Nelson, which is central to the aquaculture industry, meaning you will become very familiar with both the industry and new innovations in aquaculture such as hatchery technology to spawn and grow salmon and mussels. You will see developments as they happen and talk to the people who are on the ground working to grow a unique and special product - whether that’s King salmon, Greenshell™ mussels or Pacific oysters.

Study aquaculture at NMIT and help feed the world with a sustainable, high quality protein.

Web Sources:

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Header image courtesy of Ōra King salmon.(external link)

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