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Study says aquaculture may be viable source of food, if done in the right areas

In a yearlong study, UCLA researchers found ocean farming could alleviate a large portion of global hunger, promote biological diversity and minimize the impact of carbon emissions from land farming. (Nicole Anisgard Parra/Illustrations director)

By Amira Patrawala

May 28, 2019 1:11 a.m.

Ocean farming may provide a solution for global hunger and climate change, UCLA researchers found.

A yearlong study published in the journal Marine Policy by researchers with the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA found ocean farming could alleviate a large portion of global hunger, promote biological diversity and minimize the impact of carbon emissions from land farming.

Aquaculture, or ocean farming, is the cultivation of marine life for human consumption under controlled conditions.

Ian Davies, the paper’s lead researcher and a graduate student at the University of Washington, said increasing the global rate of ocean farming could sustain world fish demand and lead to the aforementioned benefits.

The study analyzed data from 144 countries. Researchers looked at each country’s gross domestic product, current regulations in place and gross potential index, said Davies, who received his bachelor’s degree in environmental science from UCLA in 2015.

GDP was used as a measure of financial feasibility, while the country’s current laws were assessed to determine the government’s ability to mediate environmental damage. GPI collects information on oxygen levels and temperature, which was used to measure how environmental conditions promote fish growth.

Following analysis of these factors, researchers placed the countries into three groups: ideal “goldilocks” producers, at-risk producers and nonoptimized producers.

Sixty-seven countries, including Nigeria, China and India were deemed “goldilocks” producers, Davies said. These nations have the proper biological, legislative and fiscal conditions for raising and harvesting fish.

Twenty-four countries, such as Norway and those bordering the Persian Gulf, were identified as nonoptimized. These countries have waters that lack the proper GPI for fish farming. Additionally, these countries may not have appropriate regulations regarding aquafarming.

The final 77 countries were classified as at-risk producers. At-risk producers do not have the necessary conditions and are harming the environment with their current level of fish production, Davies said.

Peter Kareiva, a researcher and director of the institute, said government regulation is vital to the protection of marine ecosystems.

Davies said he agrees that regulation is essential, but that overregulation can be a problem as well, noting that Ireland’s previous fish harvesting licensing process discouraged potential farmers because it was time-intensive.

Sarah Bryson, a marine community ecologist and UCLA alumna, said she thinks regulation is necessary in some areas of ocean farming, as legislators must find ways to ensure harvesters do not disturb ecosystems when removing fish from their habitats to place in captivity.

“I know we often worry about overfishing, but it’s also necessary to understand how any sort of modification of existing ecosystems affects the niches organisms have made for themselves,” Bryson said.

Davies said the novelty of ocean farming makes it unclear what the risks and opportunities of the practice are.

“It’s a relatively new technology, growing fish out in the ocean, and we’ve seen a lot of the harm from traditional agriculture on land,” Davies said. “We are very serious about where aquaculture is happening … and how things can be done in a sustainable way.”

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Amira Patrawala
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