To farm fish, grow plants.
Prepared by VIDEO SHAMPOO for SCIENCE FRIDAY.
Global production of wildly caught fish remains at the same levels we saw it stagnate to in the 1980's. At the same time, we're eating more fish than ever before. That's because the production of farmed fish is increasing to meet that demand. In 1974, about 7% of fish for human consumption came from aquaculture. Today, more than half of all fish we consume is farmed, a trend that will continue to increase due to habitat loss, overfishing, and rising demand.
Dr. Kevan Main, the lead research scientist at MOTE Aquaculture Park in Sarasota, FL, has made it her life's work to make sure we have the tools to farm fish as ecologically friendly as possible. Her solution: aquaponics on a local scale.
Aquaponics is the marriage of both aquaculture fish production and hydroponic grow systems. The bio-waste from the fish feed the plants which then helps to improve water quality and fish health.
It's a simple premise that Dr. Main has spent the last 30 years of her life perfecting. She starts by identifying local flora along the coast that are edible as well as other useful plants like mangroves that can be used in habitat restoration. She pairs those plants with fish suitable for farming. Any solid waste left over is utilized for fertilizer in wetland plants. From one nutrient source an aquaponics system can produce 2-5 different food products and 3 income streams.
Dr. Main's aquaponic systems have proved that 100% water recirculation is not only possible, but sustainable as well. In 2016, she was awarded the “Champion of Change award for sustainable seafood” by president Barack Obama for her advancements in aquaponic systems.
A growing opportunity
Even with the increased cost of transportation, over 90% of the fish we eat in the United States comes from abroad, mostly China. That's largely due to the looser environmental standards that fisheries in China are allowed to operate within. It calls into question the quality of the food we import and the environmental impacts our appetites have abroad.
Dr. Main thinks there's a huge opportunity to grow our fish locally in a sustainable way. She's cracking the code and sharing her findings for adoption within commercial fisheries. It could mean big growth for the U.S. aquaculture industry which currently accounts for less than 1% of global production.
We visit Dr. Main at the MOTE Marine Aquaculture Park in Sarasota, FL to see her and her team's current efforts to perfect marine aquaponics. We ask her about what challenges she is encountering and how fisheries are implementing her findings.