Juvenile salmon in a hatchery in Russia. Photo: Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images

New research charts out how improvements in aquaculture and sustainable fishing could significantly increase food production from the sea by midcentury.

Why it matters: Global demand for food and particularly protein is projected to rise in step with human population growth. With little new land available to be sustainably opened for farming, our best bet may be the oceans — provided we can better manage that resource.

What's new: In a paper published Wednesday in Nature, researchers led by Christopher Costello of the University of California, Santa Barbara, argue that the right policies could increase annual global production of food from the sea by up to 44 million tonnes by 2050.

  • That would account for a quarter of the increase in all meat required to feed a projected 9.8 billion people by midcentury.

Background: Costello's projections may sound surprising, given years of reports that overfishing would essentially empty the oceans over the next several decades.

  • But he says that while seafood may indeed collapse if we "fail to implement sound mariculture policies," the world is trending toward improved fishery management. If those trends continue, we can both produce "substantially more food than today" and do so in a more sustainable fashion.

While right now most ocean seafood comes from wild-caught fisheries, Costello foresees a shift toward mariculture — fish farming at sea.

  • That will require diversifying the diet of farmed fish away from other fish species — which is contributing to overfishing — and toward sustainable sources like insects, algae and microbes.
  • Consumers will also need to diversify their taste preferences, meaning less salmon and tuna fillets and more oysters and mussels.

The bottom line: If the future means more steamed mussels with white wine and garlic, I'm all for it.

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