NCEAS Product 25589

Froehlich, Halley; Runge, Claire; Gentry, Rebecca; Gaines, Steven D.; Halpern, Benjamin S. 2018. Comparative terrestrial feed and land use of an aquaculture-dominant world. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. (Abstract)


Reducing food production pressures on the environment while feeding an ever-growing human population is one of the grand challenges facing humanity. The magnitude of environmental impacts from food production, largely around land use, has motivated evaluation of the environmental and health benefits of shifting diets, typically away from meat toward other sources, including seafood. However, total global catch of wild seafood has remained relatively unchanged for the last two decades, suggesting increased demand for seafood will mostly have to rely on aquaculture (i.e., aquatic farming). Increasingly, cultivated aquatic species depend on feed inputs from agricultural sources, raising concerns around further straining crops and land use for feed. However, the relative impact and potential of aquaculture remains unclear. Here we simulate how different forms of aquaculture contribute and compare with feed and land use of terrestrial meat production and how spatial patterns might change by midcentury if diets move toward more cultured seafood and less meat. Using country-level aquatic and terrestrial data, we show that aquaculture requires less feed crops and land, even if over one-third of protein production comes from aquaculture by 2050. However, feed and land-sparing benefits are spatially heterogeneous, driven by differing patterns of production, trade, and feed composition. Ultimately, our study highlights the future potential and uncertainties of considering aquaculture in the portfolio of sustainability solutions around one of the largest anthropogenic impacts on the planet.