06 Jan 11 Fish farming’s new frontiers
Given the environmental issues that have dogged fish farming down the years – pollution, disease, the need for wild fish to feed to the farmed ones – how can the industry expand so far without creating major problems? And where are all the extra fish farms to go? On all fronts, aquaculture is searching for new frontiers.
Already, almost half of the fish we eat comes from farms rather than the wild ocean. And with the human population set to expand by about two billion people between now and the middle of the century, and with yields from fishing flat-lining as stocks decline, that proportion is set to increase dramatically.
Given the environmental issues that have dogged fish farming down the years – pollution, disease, the need for wild fish to feed to the farmed ones – how can the industry expand so far without creating major problems? And where are all the extra fish farms to go? On all fronts, aquaculture is searching for new frontiers. And the indications are that the industry of the future will farm different species, use novel integrated production methods, and explore new physical environments, from city centres to the open ocean.
“The forecast is that by the year 2050 there will be a shortage of land for food production,” says Patrick Sorgeloos from Ghent University in Belgium, an aquaculture adviser to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“And on top of that, freshwater will be a really precious resource that we will not be able to waste or use to expand freshwater aquaculture.
“So the FAO and other organisations are very much convinced that the future for aquaculture is much more in the marine environment – and with 70% of the globe covered by sea, we have a great opportunity to get more food produced there.”
Already, the bays and inlets of many coastlines are chock full of fish pens and floating platforms for shellfish.
Some companies have responded by moving to more far-flung locations – to uninhabited peninsulas or islands.
“In Canada already they’re in remote locations, with staff living on barges, and the same thing’s happening in Chile,” says Steve Bracken, business support manager for Marine Harvest.
This company – the world’s biggest producer of farmed salmon – is now looking at starting similar remote operations off the west coast of Scotland.
“The waters would be faster flowing, deeper, and ideal locations for farming salmon,” he says.
“But that brings a degree of remoteness – it’s likely we’d have staff living and working there, so they’d be some kind of residential fish farms.”
Marine Harvest has outlined plans for barge-based operations, each of which would entail a staff of six living and working on the farm, much as oil-rig workers or lighthouse-keepers do today.
But things could go further.