Climate Change

Study predicts 4 outcomes for aquaculture industry amid COVID-19 impact

The relatively young industry suffers curb in exports, layoffs, reduced demand and production because of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 10 July 2020

Aquaculture — a fast-growing industry that farms fish and other marine life — can have a major role in providing nutrition to the world, especially once the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is over, pointed out a recent study.

For aquaculture to survive as an industry that provides multiple, rich sources of essential nutrients and supports equitable access to safe and culturally acceptable diets, the study discusses four different outcomes in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One scenario discusses the outcome of the world moving towards further economic globalisation and boundless economic growth.

The industry develops intensive production systems with limited environmental regulation. Global supply chains are relied on, along with low labour costs for processing and sourcing feed ingredients internationally.

This outcome results in the production of only a few species that are highly traded and spread rapidly, similar to the dominance of four species, including chicken, in the global meat market. Such an outcome would rely on policy interventions to help nutritionally vulnerable populations.

If the world embraces sustainable growth and strengthens environmental governance, however, low trade barriers will enable low seafood prices and a relatively high inland and marine seafood production and a moderate global species diversity.

Access to seafood in urban areas and areas with transportation infrastructure connections and electricity for refrigeration will increase in this outcome.

If countries adopt sustainable production but look inward, then global production will be relatively low and focus on small-holder production. Countries that retained their history of small-scale aquaculture, in this context, will see an increase in their production systems, with women likely to play key roles. Nutritional benefits flow directly to the most vulnerable as well.

Such a system will, however, need to be supported by government-backed schemes and extensions, according to the study.

If countries turn inward for economic growth, they end up supporting national industries to meet their seafood demands. Countries with mature aquaculture systems that supply diverse production technologies, species and product types will only be able to meet some nutritional needs and have a narrow range of consumers at increased cost.

The diversity in these countries will, thus, decline overall.

As the world’s food supply chains become damaged because of the pandemic, it is important to examine aquaculture, said the Scenarios for global aquaculture and its role in human nutrition study published by researchers from the American University July 9, 2020.

The industry is relatively young and yet produces half of all seafood consumed by the world. This becomes important because the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food systems remains unknown, said the study.

The aquaculture industry has not remained immune to the crisis: Exports have stopped, workers laid off, demand reduced and production units have incurred significant losses. Some countries have even reconsidered their reliance on foreign seafood, according to the study.

This is a challenging task for the aquaculture industry because the demand for seafood — keeping historical trends in income, population growth and diets in mind — will increase significantly by 2050.

“Seafood is essential to meeting global food and nutrition security goals,” said Jessica Gephart, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of environmental science at American University.

“Under what circumstances and policies can we maximise aquaculture for its nutrition benefits and sustainability for all who rely on seafood?” she asked.

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