Regenerative aquaculture to avoid seafood shortage by 2050

Planet Tracker calls on investors to support regenerative aquaculture, warning of potential supply gap of up to 50 million tonnes by 2050.
Stocking of kelp at the combined Cermaq and Folla Alger marine site in Steigen. Photo: Folla Alger PM.
Stocking of kelp at the combined Cermaq and Folla Alger marine site in Steigen. Photo: Folla Alger PM.

Investment in regenerative aquaculture is essential if we are to meet the growing global demand for seafood, according to a recent study.

The research, conducted by Planet Tracker, highlights a potential supply gap of up to 50 million tonnes by the year 2050 if the industry continues on its current trajectory.

Planet Tracker's report, titled "Avoiding Aquafailure", presents a sobering analysis of the industry. Even under the most optimistic scenario of improving current aquaculture practices, a supply gap would still persist, necessitating urgent change.

The report suggests that innovations such as offshore aquaculture and land-based fish farming could provide an additional 5 million tonnes of seafood by 2050. However, Planet Tracker argues that investing in regenerative aquaculture is essential to meet the growing demand, potentially producing an extra 45 million tonnes of seafood.

Regenerative aquaculture shifts the focus away from monoculture of seafood species to cultivation of several species within the same facility, for example combining bivalves with seaweed, also achieving ecosystem benefits in water filtration and carbon sequestration.

Report recommends shift from fish monocultures

The report emphasizes the risks associated with what it describes as a "business-as-usual" approach, in which aquaculture producers typically utilize concentrated fish monocultures. Monocultures, the authors warn, pose various biodiversity risks, including nutrient pollution and displacement of native species, resulting in financial losses for the industry.

According to Planet Tracker's analysis, the global aquaculture industry is increasingly concentrated, with the top ten seafood-producing countries accounting for 89% of the total production. This is further compounded by farmers concentrating on very few species, with over 75% of listed aquaculture companies primarily focusing on farming salmon, shrimp, or pangasius.

Planet Tracker identified 57 publicly listed companies which actively derive income from direct aquaculture production. China, Japan, Norway and Thailand accounted for 88% of the combined revenue of these 57
companies, and 80% of their combined market capitalisation, with salmon and shrimp the dominant species.

Minimum investment of USD 55 billion needed for regenerative aquaculture transition

François Mosnier, Head of Oceans Programme at Planet Tracker, warns "Unsustainable seafood production will not feed the world by 2050, but the good news is that an aquaculture industry that is resilient, productive, and environmentally sustainable can be built."

Planet Tracker's findings indicate that a capital expenditure from USD 55 billion to USD 134 billion will be required to finance this transition, given the predicted global population increase to 9.7 billion people by 2050. However, a significant proportion of the industry lacks the means to finance such investments.

"Given the limited self-financing abilities of many sub-sectors, with salmon as a notable exception, we found that investors and lenders will likely need to finance the majority of these solutions," the report states.

Amongst its recommendations, Planet Tracker calls for investors and lenders to recognise the increasing risks of pursuing non-regenerative approaches, demand transparency and traceability, support diversification of species and improving geographic distribution of aquaculture production, encourage the development of environmentally-friendly offshore and RAS facilities, and to offer affordable capital, possibly through sustainability-linked bonds.

While government regulations are also necessary, the private sector has a key role to play, the report argues: "Even without regulatory intervention, investors and lenders can and must help aquaculture companies transition. A business-as-usual demand gap of 50 million tonnes with worsening environmental impacts is too big a burden to bear by 2050."

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