Underwater robots roving about as ranch hands of the sea, their electronic eyes recording the health, size and numbers of fish swimming in offshore corrals. Automatic feeders activated by the sound of hungry shrimp. Ultraviolet light, ultrasound and other drug-free treatments that keep salmon in the pink. These are just a few innovations making aquaculture one of the most intriguing corners of the food world — for entrepreneurs, investors, food purveyors and eaters alike.
Plenty of smart people see that, which is why fish farming innovations are moving rapidly from university labs to investor portfolios.
"But wait — isn’t farmed fish bad?" you may be thinking. That’s what literally everyone outside the seafood sector says when I bring up aquaculture’s potential. But that’s sooo 1990s, like thinking that coffee and dark chocolate can’t possibly be ethically produced or even good for us. All aquaculture can be sustainable, and some is actually regenerative (oyster farming (PDF), for one, cleans water and improves climate resilience in coastal areas). Raised right, farmed fish is good — good tasting, good for your health and in line with good resource management.
Aquaculture’s new age: A transformation is underway
Of course, farmed fish haven’t always been raised right, and some still aren’t. But what most people don’t realize is that aquaculture is a speck of an industry compared with agriculture. Aquaculture is growing, at a rate of 5.8 percent annually (PDF), and produced 80 million metric tons of food in 2016. Yet in the United States, agriculture uses 914 million acres versus marine aquaculture’s mere 213,000 acres. This is a ship that’s small enough for us to fully turn around and grow sustainably. We could increase production tenfold and still not use even close to 1 percent of the space U.S. agriculture requires.