It has become a truism that future growth of the supply of seafood will need to come from aquaculture. Yet only about 17% of the overall animal protein consumed worldwide in 2015 was from seafood (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2018). The greatest amount of animal protein consumed worldwide comes, of course, from terrestrial livestock production. What the future holds for the relative proportions of animal protein consumption between seafood and terrestrial livestock (or from lab‐cultured meat for that matter) is unknowable. What we can discuss is how aquaculture/seafood fits into our present diets.

Seafood is not a major part of the animal protein in diets for most people around the world. There are exceptions, of course, but for the majority of people, terrestrial livestock production supplies the majority of animal protein consumed each year. Domesticated animal production for food replaced that of wild game consumption long ago (with the exception of a few wilderness areas with relatively low population densities) and largely dictates choices available to consumers.

Seafood varieties available for consumption, however, continue to be driven mostly by capture fisheries in spite of the growing proportion of the total supply that comes from aquaculture. Hence, to discuss how aquaculture products fit into our diets, we need to first think about the wild supply from capture fisheries. What is striking about our seafood consumption is its amazing diversity in terms of the numbers of different species consumed. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data on global capture production, for example, show records of 626 different species of seafood caught in 1950, increasing to more than 800 species in the 1970s and then doubling to more than 1,700 species by 2016 (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2019).

The list of species consumed from terrestrial livestock production, however, is a very short list. Globally, it is difficult to come up with more than about 20 different domesticated species of animals raised for food around the world, even when including species such as guinea pigs, donkeys, and camels. As the supply of seafood continues to transition to aquaculture from capture fisheries, will we see a corresponding decrease in the number of species that ends in a very short list as is the case for terrestrial animal products? That may be the way of the future.

On the other hand, there is a fairly major difference between the development of aquaculture as a global contributor to overall animal protein consumption when compared to that of terrestrial livestock production. The difference lies in the timing. Aquaculture has begun to replace wild‐caught seafood on a measurable scale during a time frame that includes growth of a strong scientific research community worldwide. That research community has been very busy working to develop culture methods for increasing numbers of seafood species that have been targets of wild capture fisheries for decades.

This 50th anniversary year of the Journal of the World Aquaculture Society (JWAS) reminds us of the historical research record available through JWAS. In the first three JWAS volumes published (1970–1972), the average number of different species targeted by research per year was six. For the most recent JWAS volumes (2016–2018), the average number of species targeted by published research papers per year was 48. It is unlikely that all the species studied will become commercially viable options, but FAO data show that the number of species produced and sold from aquaculture has increased from 472 in 2006 to 598 in 2016 (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2018). Thus, there are hundreds of species of aquatic organisms being raised and sold (as compared to about 20 terrestrial animal species), and the trend appears to be that of increasing numbers of farmed aquatic species. 

It appears that seafood, while comprising a relatively small percentage of the animal protein that we consume, provides us with a tremendous variety and a large set of enjoyable choices for our diets. Seafood in restaurants and supermarkets is often promoted with “catch‐of‐the‐day” references, and consumer surveys often show a desire for variety in terms of the types of seafood species available. Will the supply of seafood (that eventually will come primarily from aquaculture) coalesce into a dozen or so main species such as salmon, shrimp, and tilapia? Or will the demand for seafood variety result in a trend more similar to that of produce markets that exhibit ongoing efforts to seek out new types of fruit, vegetables, and grains? Or does the future hold some combination of high‐volume commodity aquatic species, accompanied by a rich variety of other species as options?

Time will tell, but it is clear that a substantial benefit from aquaculture is that aquaculture makes it possible for us to continue to enjoy the wide variety of seafood products that we love. As world populations grow, it is the science of aquaculture that will continue to make more species and products available to us as consumers. JWAS continues to seek manuscripts that make substantive contributions to the growth and development of aquaculture worldwide. 

References

  • Food and Agriculture Organization. ( 2018). The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018 ‐ Meeting the sustainable development goals. Rome, Italy. Licence: CC BY‐NC‐SA 3.0 IGO.
  • Food and Agriculture Organization. ( 2019). FishStatJ database. Retrieved from www.fao.org