Aquaculture key for feeding warming world

Fraser BartonAAP
An Australian study says aquaculture will be vital for food supply, as the global population grows.
Camera IconAn Australian study says aquaculture will be vital for food supply, as the global population grows. Credit: AAP

Marine aquaculture could be the key to feeding people in a warming world according to a study co-authored by an Australian scientist.

Through the expansion of 'mariculture', scientists believe the industry will be vital to feeding a growing global population by the end of the century.

Dr Reniel Cabral from James Cook University says the oceans' ability to affect supply chains for food in the future is expected to be challenged by rising demands.

"The human population is expected to increase by three billion by the end of the century, with a rise in affluence and demand for meat. Climate change will further challenge the ability of the ocean to provide food," he said.

One area to address is overfishing and transforming wild fisheries to account for climate change, but even that in itself won't be sufficient to feed the growing population, Dr Cabral said.

"Our study suggests that by reforming fisheries and expanding sustainable mariculture, current per capita seafood production can be maintained or increased up to the end of the century, except under the most severe climate change scenario," said Cabral.

"But cultivating finfish and shellfish may just be the answer to this looming food security challenge."

By ensuring the health of wild fisheries, mariculture will continue to expand and minimise the gap it has to fill in seafood production.

But the real effect of a warming world will be felt in tropical countries, where Cabral indicated global ocean warming and acidification will disproportionately impact fisheries.

"Supporting mariculture in these countries would mean addressing several of the bottlenecks from governance, ensuring equitable access, conflicting ocean uses, and infrastructure challenges such as developing fish cages that can withstand typhoons," Dr Cabral said.

That means for the mariculture industry to positively contribute to sustainability moving forward, it is imperative the developing world is on board.

And that comes from investments in innovation, prioritising developing countries as well as diligent planning to reduce any potential environmental threats from mariculture.

"The small space requirement for mariculture (less than one per cent of the global ocean area) leaves ample room for careful planning to minimise environmental impacts and conflicts with other ocean uses," lead author of the study Steven Gaines said.

Their new study can be found in the science journal, Nature.

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