Aquaculture 101: Part 1- Overview
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says “aquaculture broadly refers to the cultivation of aquatic organisms in controlled aquatic environments for any commercial, recreational or public purpose.” They further clarify that “the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of plants and animals take place in all types of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes, the ocean and man-made “closed” systems on land.”
The history of aquaculture is long and varied with some evidence going back as far as 6000BC in Victoria, Australia that suggests the farming of eels and 2000BC suggesting the Chinese farmed carp. Today aquaculture is seen as one of the most rapidly innovating and fastest growing industries. The aquaculture industry serves many purposes throughout the world including:
- Food production for human consumption.
- Rebuilding of populations of threatened and endangered species.
- Habitat restoration.
- Wild stock enhancement.
- Fish culture for zoos and aquariums.
- Rural Development
The aquaculture industry is now “farming” various types of freshwater and marine species of fish and shellfish. Typical freshwater aquaculture operations include trout, catfish, and tilapia. Marine aquaculture refers specifically to the culturing of oceanic species and has seen an explosion lately. Examples of marine aquaculture production include oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, salmon, and algae. Also, ornamental marine fish are now being bred in captivity for the aquarium hobby with breakthroughs happening nearly every month. Most of these fish couldn’t even be kept in captivity 30 years ago, and only a handful of marine species had ever bred in captivity until three years ago
While all of this is very interesting the part that excites us here at Nexus PMG is the fact that aquaculture is quickly becoming one of the most important food production forms in the world. As production from existing global fisheries has met its limits, aquaculture is becoming recognized as an effective form of meeting seafood demands for a growing population. Aquaculture already supplies more than half of the seafood consumed worldwide and more farmed seafood is being consumed than beef. As aquaculture production keeps growing at a steady 6% per year, seafood consumption per capita has doubled since the 1960s and now makes up 17% of the protein in people’s diets around the world. These upward trends show no signs of stopping as global demand for seafood is projected to increase by 70% in the next 30 years.
In the United States, marine aquaculture currently consists mostly of shellfish (e.g., oysters, clams and mussels), with 70% of aquaculture production in the U.S. made up of freshwater farming of catfish and trout. Also, a very small handful of U.S. farms grow marine finfish such as salmon, yellowtail and Pacific threadfin. Unbelievably, the United States imports 84% of its seafood with half of that sourced from foreign aquaculture facilities. Amazingly, this accounts for a $9 billion annual seafood import deficit (NOAA). Given the relatively low capital cost to design, construct and operate an aquaculture facility – we at Nexus PMG see great business opportunities on the horizon for US producers to enter the market and replace imported seafood which has been burdened with heavy logistics costs.
As the aquaculture industry continues to grow, many players have failed to adapt with technology that is ever changing. Some antiquated practices such as manual sampling, visual inspection, and non-digital records remain widespread in existing facilities and contribute to (among other things) high mortality rates. Without modern tools to help the industry thrive, aquaculture’s potential is being held back.
At Nexus, our flexible, adaptable and unique approach to project development uniquely positions us to custom build engineered solutions to fit the needs of the domestic aquaculture industry. In the next part of this series, we’ll talk about specific technology advances that are lowering the capital required to install aquaculture facilities and allowing for more automated operation of facilities that increase the localized production which results in reduced logistics costs for transporting seafood to consumers.