Tuesday, February 6, 2018

07/02/2018: Breeding diversity into the future of aquaculture

by Peter Bickerton, Scientific Communications & Outreach Manager, Earlham Institute

Aquaculture is expanding, especially in areas of sub-Saharan Africa that are home to stunning native biodiversity. How can research in genomics help us to increase socioeconomic output while protecting local ecosystems?


The livelihood of a staggering eight percent of the world’s population relies on fish, a resource that we have overexploited in the seas so much so that many fish stocks are expected to collapse entirely in the not-so-distant future. This situation is as unsustainable for the oceans as it is for people (the average person worldwide now consumes over 20kg of fish per year), with entire ecosystems and a way of life for hundreds of millions under threat from overfishing. However, fish is a nutritious and protein-rich food source with many clear health benefits, not to mention the positive socio-economic impact for millions of people worldwide. 

Thus, fish farming is becoming more and more widespread, not just on the coast but inland, too. However, with the drive towards aquaculture accelerating throughout sub-Saharan Africa, it is important that we ensure best practice and environmental sustainability long before the damage is done. What has spelt ruin for our oceans cannot happen in our freshwater systems, too. On the one hand, it is important that we produce fish requiring sustainable levels of feed, giving a positive growth ratio and economic benefit. At the same time, we must ensure that breeding programs are well managed, and that we ensure our freshwater ecosystems are not threatened by non-native, invasive species.

The African Great Lakes and river systems are a great example of some of the scientific and conservation efforts that are underway, which aim to increase the output and efficiency of aquaculture, while preserving some of the exquisite biodiversity already present in the lakes and rivers - especially among native fish.

There is also a great deal that we can add to scientific knowledge in the process.

Genomics for a more resilient food system
As with medicine, the same stands for our ecosystems: prevention is better than the cure.

Alas, along with the clear benefits of large scale farming, including greater productivity, better yields and reduced global malnutrition, we are also witnessing tremendous problems when it comes to the environment. Vast monocultures of crops leave little room for wildlife, other than the pests that we manage with insecticides, herbicides and fungicides, which reduce the loss of valuable food but also mean that wild insect numbers are on the decline, if not plummeting.

Our landscapes have been so manipulated by agriculture that formerly native ecosystems resemble nothing of the sort. Only now are we starting to appreciate what biodiversity brings us, not just in terms of maintaining a savoury environment, which our children and grandchildren might inherit, but also as a vital lifeline for the very crops that we require to feed a throbbing global population.

Read the full article, HERE.

The Aquaculturists
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