To feed a growing global population, food scientists and technologists are collaborating with other researchers to develop new sources of sustainable foods through aquaculture. As aquaculture systems become more common, food scientists have an opportunity to transform these sustainable sources of protein and other nutrients into healthful, value-added products with a minimal impact on the environment.
Although my home state of Maine is blessed with a long coastline and clean water, conventional fishermen are challenged by dwindling stocks and increasing fuel costs to pursue their quarries further from shore. I have been working with aquaculture researchers to assess the eating quality of aquatic foods ranging from sea urchins to oysters to finfish and, soon, seaweed (aka sea vegetables). Consumer perception will play a key role in the success of new aquaculture ventures and subsequent convenient products developed from these foods.
The website of IFT’s FutureFood 2050 initiative, FutureFood2050.com, has a series of articles highlighting how fish farming is improving and what new ideas are on the horizon. Josh Goldman of Massachusetts-based Australis Aquaculture, the world’s largest producer of barramundi fish, is the focus of one of the articles on the future of fish featured on the site. Goldman says closed containment systems are a key technology for the production of juvenile fish. At the Australis Aquaculture farm in Vietnam, fish are grown in land-based tanks for the first third of their life cycle and then they are placed in open marine net-pens to mature.
Scott Nichols, who directs Verlasso, an aquaculture operation based in Patagonia that is a joint venture between DuPont and AquaChile, is using technology to solve a problem with farmed salmon. Fish like anchovies and mackerel provide the main source of fish oils needed to raise salmon, but their populations are depleting. Instead of wild-caught fish, Verlasso uses DuPont’s yeast rich in the omega-3 fatty acid EPA to feed its farmed salmon.
Malcolm Beveridge, who recently retired from WorldFish, an international nonprofit research organization based in Malaysia, is another aquaculture expert featured on FutureFood2050.com. He says Egypt is leading the way for aquaculture in Africa, producing almost a million tons of farmed fish each year. A new, faster-growing breed of fish developed over the last 12 years is being used in Egypt, and there is a short chain between the producer and the consumer. Almost all fish there is bought fresh, on ice or alive. Beveridge says the next big challenge is to translate that success to other African countries such as Nigeria and Kenya. Another challenge will be to process the fish economically to enable transport in the hot climate.
In a fourth future of fish feature, chef Rick Moonen explains how his restaurant, rm seafood, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev., uses only sustainable seafood. That means he follows the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea-food Watch recommendations for sourcing seafood caught or farmed in ways that don’t harm the environment. His hope is to work within the food industry and through the media to make sustainable fish mainstream.
The website also includes a podcast featuring oceanographer Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, who has dedicated herself to marine conservation and improving the environment. Earle shares insights, accumulated from 50 years of ocean study, on smart, humane approaches to aquaculture.
Another sustainable aquaculture crop to consider is algae. Single-celled algae are being farmed to produce the omega-3 fatty acid DHA; other businesses are extracting oil for fuel from these simple organisms. Wild-harvested seaweeds are important foods in the diets of coastal cultures around the world, but the popularity of nori in sushi has spurred new interest in growing several types of seaweeds for consumption. Much needs to be known about seasonal changes in seaweed species’ nutritional composition, as well as energy-efficient means to process the plants for convenience. Integrated aquaculture systems recirculate water to feed sea plants, finfish, and shellfish, reducing effluent and costs. These land-based systems enable “fish farms” to be housed in inner cities, far from the ocean.
Food science and technology can aid these growing aquaculture ventures to distribute local, sustainable, safe, and nutritious aquatic foods for consumers. We have the opportunity to produce these foods while preserving wild populations and reducing greenhouse emissions associated with the harvest and transportation of wild-caught fish.
Mary Ellen Camire, Ph.D., CFS,
IFT President, 2014–2015
Professor, Univ. of Maine, Orono, Maine