Did you know that the production of one standard hamburger emits as much greenhouse gas as a car journey of 320 kilometres?
This was the stunning finding of a Japanese study by the National Research Institute for Agriculture which also estimated the production of that same burger will consume 3000 litres of water! Surely we can try as a species to be a little more efficient in producing our food. Anyway, we soon might not have a choice.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just released a rather disturbing report on humanity’s failure to fight climate change by refusing to re-think how we grow crops and raise livestock. The stark facts are that global agriculture contributes up to 37% of greenhouse emissions, uses almost 75% of the world’s ice-free surface area and wastes a quarter of the food produced.
We are now entering a destructive spiral where available arable land is shrinking due to climate change, deforestation and pollution while the planet population races towards the 9 billion mark by 2050.
We are farming this planet to death and the land-based solutions to this challenge are limited. A fundamental shift away from meat consumption and our dependence on thirsty methane-belching cows is unlikely to be achieved by humans switching to a plant based diet when fresh water is in short supply.
But, ironically, water might well be the solution rather than the challenge.
Our oceans cover over 70% of the planet’s surface and yet only 16% of global animal protein consumption by humans comes from fish. Yes, traditional wild-caught fish stocks are depleted but there is vast potential to scale up the commercial scope of aquaculture.
A research paper by Rebecca Gentry and her team at University of California suggested a tiny fraction of the ocean’s surface at maximum depths of 650 feet could move the dial significantly on seafood production.
For illustration, the scientists’ calculations show that an area of water about the size of Lake Michigan( 1/67th of 1% of the ocean) could produce 110 million tons of fish and shellfish each year. That’s about the same amount of seafood caught annually by commercial fisherman.
It certainly sounds promising but aquaculture does have its own challenges and costs as farmed fish need to be fed from existing wild fish stocks and land-based vegetable feeds.
Good planning is essential and Norway leads the way.
Norway exports more than €10 billion of seafood each year. For context, and possible irritation, Ireland’s seafood industry in total generates just over €1 billion with exports accounting for €650 million of that amount in 2018.
It’s not just Norway showing us up. Denmark with a smaller coastline and roughly similar population exports €4 billion worth of fish and seafood and Holland with an even smaller coastal footprint exports €3.5 billion worth.
Food for further thought.
Asia’s growing population and demographic shifts will account for more than 60% of the global middle class by 2030 and drive demand for increased quantities of quality protein in daily diets.
Unsurprisingly, Asia already leads the way in aquaculture.
China and Indonesia already cover more than 70% of global aquaculture production and that level of farming is 3-4 times greater than commercial fisheries production in those countries.
By contrast, only one fifth of EU production comes from aquaculture.
As a coincidence, Ireland’s territorial ocean waters are more than ten times the land mass of our island and account for 22% of the entire EU fishing waters. Are we missing something? One hopes there are a few sharp minds out there looking at where food and climate trends are going.
There is now no doubt the food-climate space will become hot (sorry!) and one suspects there will be plenty of capital to fund the urgent production shift required.
Ireland has a number of natural maritime advantages which possibly requires greater government support.
The timing couldn’t be better as this week we witnessed 10 year Irish government bonds trading with negative yields ie lenders are paying our government to borrow from them.
So, why not ask the same lenders to pay us to invest in aquaculture?