Mariculture: An opportunity for donors and developing nations

Divers survey one of the submersible cages used to farm Cobia by Snapperfarm Inc. off the coast of Puerto Rico. Photo by: Snapperfarm/National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Numerous factors are converging for the $50 billion global mariculture market to emerge as a major industry for developing nations. Worldwide, half the fish consumed by humans are now produced by fish farms. Harvesting the sea is the fastest-growing form of food production in the world. Many developing nations have vast coastlines. And, seafood is a significant source of protein for people in these countries.

Global consumption of fish has doubled since 1973 and 90 percent of this growth stems from developing countries that are overfishing their once bountiful coastlines. The result of this demand for wild fish, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, is that “the maximum wild-capture fisheries potential from the world’s oceans has probably been reached.” Over-fishing is also shifting the food web towards smaller organisms and reducing the food supply for larger commercial edible fish. Logic dictates that here are only two ways to keep the oceans full of food for the future: take less or make more.

Regulating “taking less” will be difficult. The demand for “making more,” however, promises a mariculture Blue Revolution as dramatic as the agriculture Green Revolution that transformed food production during the 1960s and ’70s. With the farming of ocean animals and crops, enhanced with 21st century genetic engineering, the Blue Revolution may relegate super corn and soybeans into 20th century annals.

Thus, an overcrowded terrestrial planet will soon be exploiting its underwater frontier for feeding a future population of 9 billion. Since 70 percent of the Earth is covered with potential ocean farmland, future generations will wonder how their ancestors fed today’s 6 billion on a mere 30 percent.

Water represents the wellspring of life on earth. By 2025, nearly two-thirds of the world’s countries will be water-stressed. This means that 2.4 billion people will face absolute water scarcity – the point at which a lack of water threatens social and economic development. Seventy percent of the world’s water use is devoted to agriculture. Worldwide, an average of 60 percent of the farmers are women. Water will play a significant role in the future for feeding the hungry, empowering women, and protecting the environment.

As a source of animal protein, farmed fish are a godsend in a grain-limited world. The estimated amounts of rice or wheat needed to produce a ton of product are far more economical for fish than for beef or pork and on par with that of chicken. Whereas seven kilograms of grain are required for each kilogram of beef, and four for each kilogram of pork, only two kilograms of grain are needed to produce one kilogram of either fish or chicken. Moreover, 1,857 gallons of water are required to produce a pound of beef; 756 gallons for pork, 469 gallons for chicken.

No precious and finite water resources are required for farming fish from the ocean.

Billions of people in poor countries today are malnourished by not getting enough protein, fat, important minerals and essential vitamins in their diets. A rising standard of living, coupled with education and communication, will lead denizens from developing countries to seek more protein in their diets. Furthermore, there is a growing global awareness of the health benefits from fish foods rich with omega 3 fatty acid content.

The above factors are creating the “perfect storm” for the emergence of mariculture in developing nations. Mariculture, the farming of ocean fish and plants, has advantages over traditional farming. Since the fish are kept in a relatively controlled environment, it is easier to predict the outputs or harvest. Also, harvesting is easier and the quality is consistent, resulting in lower costs and higher profits. Moreover, when properly designed, mariculture is sustainable for the restoration of marine habitats and fish stocks.

An innovative concept is the construction of “mariculture parks” providing advantages for vertically integrating operations from breeding to processing and packaging within a community-based marina zone. Tax holidays and tariff relief programs within the zone would attract foreign and local investment capital and the involvement of fisherfolks would create jobs within the designated zone. Mariculture parks would also foster commercial development with economical access to infrastructure support, ice plants, research facilities, and accessibility to input supply and export markets.

Mariculture parks would provide developing countries a competitive edge in the fastest-growing global food industry while relieving strain on natural marine and agriculture water resources. This innovative concept would also increased employment, income generation, women empowerment, exports, and foreign exchange.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Devex.

About the author

  • Phil cruver

    Phil Cruver

    Phil Cruver is a social entrepreneur and president of KZO Education, which specializes in developing media-rich platforms for social networking and online training and collaboration. KZO Education is a subcontractor for the ED-LINKS $90 million USAID program to assist education in Pakistan, and has recently partnered with an interdisciplinary team of international scientists, ocean engineers, and educational professionals to introduce sustainable mariculture training and pilot projects in developing countries. Phil is also developing a pioneering project for restoring the native Olympia oyster into bays and estuaries along the Southern California Coast.