Global meat consumption just hit a 40-year high. The global population is approximately 7 billion today, and it’s expected to rise to 9.7 billion by 2050. If our meat consumption rates stay the same, by 2050 we would need more than 500 million tons of animal protein to feed the population of the world. According to Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute, food shortages and sustainability issues could lead to a collapse in our society if we do nothing.

So what’s the solution? How do we address the meat consumption issue and fix our food production systems to achieve a sustainable future that most of us will see in our lifetime. Should the entire world go vegan?

Very unlikely.

People will continue to eat animal protein; it’s unrealistic to imagine even half the world’s population becoming vegan. One solution that is gaining attention is aquaculture (a.k.a. aquafarming). If you’re unfamiliar with aquacultures, they’re basically farms that grow and harvest aquatic organisms, such as fish, crustaceans, mollusks and aquatic plants. This contrasts with commercial fishing, which is simply the harvesting of wild fish.

Why even mess with aquacultures? Isn’t harvesting wild fish from the sea good enough and more natural?

It’s true that commercial fishing catches fish in their natural habitat. But global fisheries are already two-and-a-half times larger than what our oceans can sustainably support. Another problem with commercial fishing is that we know little about what an individual fish ate in its lifetime, or about its encounters with harsh environmental factors, such as whether it swam through the coastline of Fukushima. Aquacultures not only offer a solution to protein sustainability challenges, but they also give consumers a certain level of transparency by allowing them to know where their food is from. In addition, it is far more sustainable to farm fish over cows. Aside from insects, fish are the most sustainable animal protein meat source for feeding the larger population we anticipate in the coming decades.

We have made progress on the technology and safety practices of aquacultures, thanks to efforts to combat pollution, acidification and destruction of natural habitats. The Vietnamese province of Bình Định has started using biofloc technology to balance the carbon and nitrogen in the system for higher water quality and sustainability. BioMar and Whole Foods Market joined the cause by utilizing by-products from fish processing to feed farmed salmon in aquacultures.

It may take time for consumers to accept the idea, but farmed fish can be healthier than wild-caught fish. Aquaculture is slowly becoming recognized on a global scale as a transparent process for securing nutritious, sustainable meat protein. Only time will tell what changes we will see to aquacultures in the years ahead, but at least we are taking steps toward a sustainable and healthier future.

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