By C. Greg Lutz
We hear over and over how it will be up to aquaculture to fill much of the animal protein gap in the human diet as our population continues to expand. Sounds great, right? Job security and all that. But many industry observers, including myself and many of you reading this magazine, have never really pondered how we might realistically make that expansion of our industry happen.
Fish (and shellfish, and crustaceans, and generally any other miscellaneous aquaculture products) are great in terms of nutritional benefits. Everyone (well, among us aquaculture enthusiasts anyway) also knows that many types of fish and other aquatic species can convert foodstuffs to edible protein far more efficiently than traditional livestock animals.
But there’s the rub. If we are going to grow all those additional fish (and crustaceans, at least), where will we find the feed? There are already a number of forward thinking researchers and businesses looking for answers to this question. Several of the articles and columns in this issue touch on this point, and eventually we will all have to be cognizant of the very real implications.
Now… if you are what you eat… doesn’t it follow that what you eat is what IT eats? Several decades ago, U.S. catfish farmers faced a tremendous uphill battle countering the perception that their product was a “bottom-feeder” while they were expanding their markets. Can we win over consumers in the coming years with products that have been raised on insect larvae, fermented grain, microbial sludge (you can bet some self-serving anti-aquaculture “activist” will use a description like that sooner or later) and similar innovative feed ingredients? Not without finding a better way to make the general public familiar with the real issues. And this won’t happen by itself.
These questions tie in with issues raised very eloquently by Dr. Aaron McNevin in his column “The Long View.” Most people have no first-hand exposure to this thing called “aquaculture.” And as long as the critics are getting more press and more time on the airwaves, this situation will probably not get any better. There is no understanding among the public, or most policy makers and elected officials, of the potential benefits our industry will have to offer as the human population continues to expand and the planet’s capacity to support us becomes more and more strained.
I, for one, am not sure I would be all that excited about eating a fish that was raised on maggots or microbial sludge… can someone please convince me? Because sooner or later, the argument will probably have to be made.
Dr. C. Greg Lutz has a B.A. in Biology and Spanish by the Earlham College at Richmond, Indiana, a M.S. in Fisheries and a Ph.D. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science by the Louisiana State University. His interests include recirculating system technology and population dynamics, quantitative genetics and multivariate analyses and the use of web based technology for result-demonstration methods.