Information from Grist.org:
If you’re like many other Americans, at some point this week unless you are a vegetarian, you will probably be eating some sort of red meat like beef or pork. In fact, you might be having it for dinner later this evening. However, a significantly smaller amount of the people reading this might have recently had a meal of seafood. As of 2012, the average American consumed 71.2 pounds of red meat a year, compared to only 14.4 pounds of fish and shellfish, according to the annual report Fisheries of the United States 2012.
This might not seem like a huge deal today, but something to consider is our planet’s growing population. Over the next 40 years, we will have 2.3 billion extra people, 2.3 billion extra mouths to feed and not a whole lot of extra space for producing food. Looking to the future, it is crucial that we think about efficiency and sustainability to maximize the amount of food we can produce with the resources we have. And we have to start thinking about the idea that the amount of red meat currently being produced might not be the most effective way to do that.
To feed a cow, it needs to be supplied with grass to graze on. A lot of grass, actually. A cow needs calories not only to grow but to produce heat and stay upright. Pound for pound, a cow needs 8.7 pounds of feed for every pound of meat it provides. Pigs, while a little more efficient, still need 5.9 pounds of feed per pound of pork. A large percentage of our crops grown go straight into feed for animals that provide much less than they take. This sounds pretty inefficient compared to just eating the plants and vegetables ourselves and skipping the energy-burning middle man. However, this is not to say that livestock is a bad thing – they provide many benefits to agriculture like consuming resources not edible to humans and providing natural fertilizer in the form of manure. Non-edible parts of the animals are used in many things from food glue to train brakes. Eliminating livestock is not the answer, but perhaps switching our focus to farmed fish is.
Farmed fish is not to be confused with fisheries. Both are highly inspected and provide us with food with great health benefits as discussed in our blog post “The Benefits of Seafood Consumption.” However, there is a distinct difference between the two. Farmed fish are grown in cages or monitored areas and fed regularly, similar to livestock on land. Fisheries catch fish in the wild and use a little more energy in the process. There are likely very few new areas for fishing left to be discovered, and already there is a limit to how many fish we can catch so that the fish population can keep up. So while fisheries are also important, a focus on fish farming, where we can still grow, is important.
Unlike a cow or any other warm-blooded livestock, a fish does not need to spend energy to keep warm and stay upright. In fact, a farmed fish can provide a 1 to 1 ratio of feed to weight. This feed comes from other low-value fish, and research is being conducted for even cheaper alternatives such as insects or flax. Shellfish actually don’t require feeding at all, taking their nutrients through filtering and cleaning the water. Some people have a negative view on farmed fish after some pretty unregulated and chemical-infused fish farms of the 1980s showed the practice in an unflattering light. However, practices have changed dramatically since then, and as the industry evolves, newer and cleaner methods are being developed every day. Salmon, once the face of “bad fish farming,” are now being certified sustainable for the first time.
Using fish for a larger amount of our protein is key to sustaining our food supply to meet a growing need. Farmed fish provide a very efficient source of protein that could lessen the demand for much less-efficient red meats, freeing up more resources and allowing us to feed more people. It might take a conscious effort at first; a salmon might not be a desirable replacement for a steak dinner for some, especially in our country. We’re already making progress; as of 2012, more farmed fish was produced than beef. With enough people on board, we can begin making the change today and help to feed the people of the future.
Aquaculture and Aquatic Resources Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources Extension
The Benefits of Seafood Consumption The Education Store, Purdue Extension Resource Center
A Fish Farmer’s Guide to Understanding Water Quality, The Education Store
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fish Farming But Were Afraid to Ask, Grist.org
Basic Questions about Aquaculture, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries
Aaron Doenges, Assistant Web Designer/Videographer
Purdue FNR Extension