What is Aquaculture?
For the last thirteen years (wow, it's been that long?) I've worked in the field of aquaculture. What is that exactly? Well think of it as farming with water. The 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year type of farming. The true definiation is:
The farming of marine and freshwater plants and animals.
I always like to remind people that this includes marine organisms (tropical fish, conch, clams, etc), freshwater organisms (apple snails, tilapia, catfish, shrimp), and also plants (microalgae, ornamental plants for ponds and aquauriums, seaweed).
Ever eat ice cream? Brush your teeth? (I hope the answer is yes to that one!) Well, marine microalgae are often used as a binding agent in these types of products, and most of that is cultured in tanks. The agar plates used to test for bacteria (strep throat for example)? Those are made of an algae extract too and it's the same algae I sometimes feed to my conch!
What about seafood? About 50% of the seafood you eat has probably come from an aquaculture facility. All of the tilapia, most of the shrimp, catfish, and clams on the market are now cultured. Of course that varies by geographic location, but if you're in a land-bound state or country....chances are you eat an aquacultured product the majority of the time.
How do you know? Well, in the U.S. all seafood now has to be labeled WILD CAUGHT or FARM RAISED and the Country Of Origin has to be identified. So next time you go to the store or market, check your labels - you might be surprised at just how much of your seafood is now cultured.
And why is that? Well, to put it quite simply, we can't get any more production out of our oceans. Many popular species (grouper, cod, conch, lobster - to name a few) have been overfished, and we can no longer get the same kind of landings out of them that we could a few decades ago.
This graph shows that wild captures are leveling off and how aquaculture is necessary to make up for the increased seafood demand growing every year with the world population. Seafood is a great source of protein, but with over SEVEN BILLION people on this planet...our oceans can't keep up.
Aquaculture is the answer and despite some of the concerns people have, U.S. aquacultured seafood is safe to eat, it's healthy, and most importantly it's sustainable! So treat yourself to some shrimp cocktail, or a nice piece of cultured fish and think about all of the good you're doing for our oceans!