If the global demand for animal protein doubles in the coming decades as it is expected to, our society will face tremendous challenges with food provision. What role will the sea play in meeting this increased demand for animal protein? SFG’s previous work suggests that the maximum potential gains from wild fisheries are modest relative to the significant projected increase in demand. Aquaculture, on the other hand, is the world’s fastest growing food sector, and marine aquaculture, known as mariculture, has the potential to supply the growing global population with the protein it demands. SFG is currently working on several research projects that are helping us fill our aquaculture knowledge gaps and improve our understanding of sustainable mariculture and its tradeoffs with wild fisheries.
Mapping Marine Aquaculture
While experts agree that mariculture will play a major role in providing animal protein in the coming years, we still lack basic knowledge about where mariculture production occurs. Fortunately, with the advent of remote sensing, it is now possible to map Earth’s ecosystems in high resolution at a global scale. Big data techniques are now commonly applied to spatial analyses and offer the possibility of automating the detection and monitoring of various uses of marine space. SFG is working to compile the first high-resolution global map of marine aquaculture by integrating remote sensing, suitability modeling, crowdsourcing, and machine learning techniques using Earth Engine, Google’s cutting-edge GIS platform. A global map of mariculture will fill a critical knowledge gap and greatly improve our ability to study the tradeoffs and sustainability of seafood production systems.
Tradeoffs with Wild Fisheries
While experts agree that mariculture must play an expanded role in providing animal protein in the coming years, the ecological and economic impacts of this expansion are not well understood. Aquaculture and capture fisheries interact in numerous ways--spatially, ecologically, and in markets. Therefore, SFG is working to evaluate the tradeoffs between an increase in sustainable mariculture production, ecosystem health, and fisheries productivity and employment. For the purpose of this project, we are summarizing the current state of knowledge on the interactions between mariculture and capture fisheries and identifying opportunities where fisheries management can play an important role. Additionally, mariculture can be a viable alternative livelihood for many fishers currently engaged in overfished small-scale fisheries, and we are developing market-based approaches to facilitate this transition.