A scientific panel revealed today that rising global demand for healthy seafood has exceeded wild capture fisheries' ability to provide all fish meals demanded by consumers. Aquaculture -- or the farming of seafood -- is helping to fill the gap between sustainable wild supplies and the public demand for seafood. Research unveiled at the AAAS Annual Meeting demonstrated the enormous potential for sustainable growth of healthy farmed seafood production, notably through advancements in feed efficiency and the ability to expand production in marine environments.

"At a time when heart disease kills one American every 35 seconds and the overall health benefits of consuming seafood are evident, it is essential to educate the public about increasing their consumption of a lean protein such as fish," said Dr. Steven Otwell, a University of Florida professor and member of National Academy of Sciences' Seafood Safety Committee. "To meet the growing demand for healthy seafood, we absolutely must embrace and expand aquaculture."

Aquaculture is the fastest growing food supply in the world. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, global aquaculture production will need to nearly double by the year 2050 to meet consumer demand. As presented in the panel, scientific breakthroughs and new technology will be critical to continuing efforts to build a sustainable aquaculture community. From new methods of rearing farmed fish with smaller environmental footprints, to identifying new feeds, the scientific study of aquaculture is essential to providing affordable and healthy seafood for U.S. and international consumers.

"Whether from fresh or marine waters, be it catfish or cod, farmed seafood allows greater numbers of Americans to enjoy the health benefits of fish in an environmentally-friendly way," said Dr. Randy MacMillan, president of the National Aquaculture Association and AAAS panel organizer. "Aquaculture is a ‘relief valve' that takes the pressure off wild capture fisheries and helps promote sustainability of the natural ecosystem."

NOAA Fisheries Service statistics reveal that more than 80 percent of our nation's fish stocks are sustainable, but domestic fisheries alone are not meeting Americans' demands for seafood; therefore, the U.S. imports a significant amount of fish, both wild and farmed. Currently, over 70 percent of the seafood Americans enjoy is imported and at least 40 percent of those imports come from aquaculture farms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that in 2005, the value of U.S. aquaculture sales exceeded $1 billion.

Dr. Richard Langan, director, University of New Hampshire Open Ocean Aquaculture (OOA) Program added, "In the U.S, we now are at a crossroads; it is up to us to build a viable infrastructure for marine aquaculture and grow healthy fish here at home. Seafood farming in the open ocean is a frontier with enormous potential, but it also poses obstacles. Research efforts in our program have yielded extraordinary results, and future exploration will move us closer to increased commercial establishment of these farms."

Dr. Shaun Moss, shrimp department director at Oceanic Institute in Hawaii, revealed new data demonstrating the benefits of selective breeding programs to help control disease, improve growth of shrimp, and increase the efficiency of feed. "U.S. consumers represent the largest shrimp market in the world yet domestic production of farmed shrimp is low. Our research shows that selective breeding techniques for shrimp can help make this a more profitable venture and draw more farmers to grow shrimp in the U.S., thereby increasing food security and growing the domestic economy."

To ensure the health, productivity, and well-being of cultured aquatic stocks, it is occasionally necessary to use various therapeutic medicines regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dr. Scott LaPatra, director of research and development, Clear Springs Foods, Inc. in Idaho, presented cutting-edge research on a new DNA vaccine that would allow seafood farms to cut back on traditional use of antibiotics. DNA vaccines are relatively new therapies, yet this new research demonstrates their apparent efficacy in controlling and preventing disease in farmed fish.

Dr. Craig Tucker of Mississippi State University provided a broad assessment of aquaculture sustainability and used advances in pollution control as an example of effective fish farm management strategies.

Dr. Ron Hardy with the University of Idaho highlighted promising advances in the reduction of fish meal and fish oil dependency. Panelists also called for continued research in increasing feed efficiency, ensuring water quality and refining therapeutic treatments for aquatic disease -- all burgeoning areas of study that stand to stem ecological concerns around aquaculture as well as streamline production and increase profitability.

This article has been adapted from a news release by National Fisheries Institute