Seafood in the Future: Bivalves Are Better

Feb 4, 2017 by

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By Jennifer Jacquet, Jeff Sebo, Max Elder –

The first animals we domesticated for food were sheep, around 9000 years ago, followed soon after by goats, cows, and pigs, and then, as recent as 2000 years ago, chickens. As human population expanded rapidly, these animals became part of a highly industrialized food system that destroys habitat, pollutes, and is unsustainable.

Now, humans are making similar mistakes in water that we made on land.

We are currently witnessing the fastest and most poorly thought out expansion of domesticated animals ever to occur—the expanding domestication of aquatic animals. Nearly 190 different countries now raise around 550 different aquatic animal species for human consumption.

Aquaculture—the farming of aquatic animals and plants for food—is the fastest growing food production system in the world. But it is growing in the wrong way. We are farming carnivores, like salmon, that need us to catch additional fish to feed them, which is putting additional pressure on wild ecosystems. We are also completely ignoring welfare concerns.

If done correctly, aquaculture could provide sustenance for our growing planet as well as reduce overfishing. But if we want to avoid repeating the same mistakes, we need to make changes now, including changing our diets generally to include more plants and fewer animals, and eating more bivalves—oysters, mussels, and clams—instead of fish, shrimps, and octopus.

We argue here for an expanded evaluation of aquaculture that would consider the industry’s broad range of ecological, social, and animal welfare impacts. If these issues were taken into consideration, we would make different decisions about whether or not we should domesticate and farm aquatic animals at all and, if we do, which species we should prioritize.

In 1974, farmed aquatic life only accounted for seven percent of the officially reported quantity of aquatic animals eaten each year. The remainder was caught in the wild. However, today, farmed aquatic animals represent roughly half of what we eat each year. That’s over 60 million tons, excluding aquatic plants such as seaweed.

While 253 aquatic animal species were farmed in 1986, by 2014 that number had more than doubled to 543 aquatic animal species, almost two-thirds of which are fish, that is, vertebrates (Table 1).1

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Source: Seafood in the Future: Bivalves Are Better – The Solutions Journal

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