Uncharted Waters: The Evolution of the Aquaculture Industry
Dietary trends come and go, but fish are generally considered a stable component of any healthy diet. Unsurprisingly, demand for fish products has outstripped the supply from wild catches over the past two decades. But a relatively new industry driven by this high level of demand is emerging: aquaculture.
Aquaculture is to water what agriculture is to land; it is the cultivation of aquatic organisms, such as fish or shellfish. As an industry, it has begun to fill the gap between supply and demand, adding a yield of 80 million tons per year to that of wild catches to reach a combined annual total of more than 180 million tons. Localized aquaculture is a very old industry in many parts of the world, well connected to local food supply chains. However, a vast increase in scale has created problems for global production chains as a whole.
Like any burgeoning industry, aquaculture still has a number of obstacles to overcome as it carves out its place in the global market. As in agriculture, there are growing concerns about aquaculture's encroachment on natural habitats and use of antibiotics and feeds of questionable quality. However, unlike agriculture, which has had centuries to develop, aquaculture has not yet fully adjusted to meet a global market, and it lacks a robust and stable production chain. Essential feed components are still harvested far from low-cost seafood producers, who in turn are located continents away from high-end seafood consumers. The logistical challenges of connecting each of these links into a smoothly functioning global industry remain so daunting that aquaculture's future, though promising, will also include many formidable challenges to overcome.
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