Sustainable farming sometimes seems like an unreachable glamorous idea. How do you feed almost 8 billion people in a sustainable way when we already know that habitats are being lost, species are going extinct, water resources are running out, etc. It seems like a fantasy.
But on a smaller scale, this may be possible. Using the ocean as a farming seascape is a great opportunity, but how do we make sure that we do not farm the sea in the same destructive way we have farmed the dry lands?
I recently worked on a project with the aim of intensifying fish and shellfish farms while improving animal welfare, all in an environmentally friendly way. This too seems like a glamorous idea. But with the help of local fishermen, scientists, software developers and, of course, you the consumer, this can be made possible.
Fundamentally, we need to realize that we do not function alone in this world, we are all part of a ‘bigger something’ that pulses and beats together, connected in one way or another. Two birds that communicate through songs, Blue Whales and Penguins that both eat krill, migrations, the metamorphosis and shedding of exoskeletons, the oxygen we breathe, the light we see, and the arms and legs that move us – we are all connected, and sustainability IS reachable is when we understand this connection.
Next 9th of December (1:00PM – 2:00PM GMT) the first seminar in the Big Fish Series, co-organized by GAIN partner University of Stirling, will take place. ALT seafood, plant-based, fermentation-derived and cell-based seafood, is emerging with the potential to help meet the growing seafood demand, but has attracted a mixed reaction by a range of stakeholders.
The format of these seminars is a short presentation of the key issues followed by an interactive discussion with a diverse panel of experts with opportunities for real time Q&A with registered participants.
This seminar will be co-hosted by WorldFish, a nonprofit research and innovation institution that conducts scientific research on aquatic food systems with transformational impact on human well-being and the environment. Its research data, evidence and insights shape better practices, policies and investment decisions for sustainable development in low- and middle-income countries.
As part of the preparatory work for the new aquatic foods program, WorldFish has conducted exploratory future-looking research on alternative seafood and its implications for food and nutrition security, livelihoods and the environment in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.
Aquatic foods are an integral part of the global food system that contribute significantly to food and nutrition security and livelihoods, particularly throughout low- and middle-income countries. The global supply of aquatic foods comes from capture fisheries and aquaculture, but there is concern about sustainability of the industry and its ability to meet future needs and demands.
WorldFish has identified priority research questions that need to be addressed to evaluate the alternative seafood sector and its potential implications, opportunities and challenges for food and nutrition security, livelihoods and the environment over the next decade in low- and middle-income countries.
The latest GAIN project developments on the impacts of eco-intensification innovations, found that novel feeds with commercially available emerging ingredients, could lead to farm profitability losses in most cases. This was especially true for diets combining different emerging ingredients, and in diets with smaller amounts of processed animal proteins (PAP) in addition to these new ingredients.
The most pronounced losses were found for seabream production. This was partly due to the decreased feed conversion rates when using novel feeds. The already high feed costs per kg of fish produced, when compared with trout and salmon, was also a factor in profitability losses. PAP feeds, however, were more promising from an economic point of view, especially for Atlantic salmon production.
These results illustrate the demand for more affordable alternative ingredients, such as the upcoming GAIN-developed by-products. Consumer willingness-to-pay for more sustainable grown fish might also play a significant role in order for producers to stay profitable or to reach break-even.
Room for improvement was also identified for the valorisation of fish and shellfish by-products, especially for species with lower production volume and market-share of processed products, such as carp. The costs and benefits of the next generation of novel GAIN feeds, focused in adding value to by-products and side streams will be addressed in the upcoming work within the project.
To produce a good seafood product according to ecological, welfare and human health aspects we also have to consider the economic side of the coin. The use of sustainable alternative feed, close monitoring of the production conditions or the valorisation of side-stream products is beneficial for a more sustainable production, but will also come at a cost. How high is this cost? Which production benefit or who (the consumer?) will compensate for these costs? What about the whole sector impact?
These are very important questions for farmers and the seafood industry in general, which we seek to answer within GAIN. In order to do this on farm-scale we use a so-called “typical farm approach” implemented by the agri benchmark network headed by the Thünen Institute in Germany. This is a micro-economic tool which allows to portray the typical production of a farmed species according to real costs, techniques and other inputs: all of it in great detail. In the end we can estimate, which market returns per kg fish should be achieved in order to stay (as) profitable (as before)!
Sustainable production methods themselves already benefit the farmer, resulting in better quality fish that needs less feed to grow to the same size, or achieving higher water quality which might also allow for higher stocking densities. However, such benefits do not always outweigh the full costs that adaptations towards sustainable production might involve. As long as follow-up costs of environmental impacts are not part of the market price (which is admittedly not an easy task to determine!), price differences are at the expense of sustainable products and need a transparent justification.
Originating from Germany, where public awareness and willingness to pay for more sustainable seafood products is higher than in other countries, I am convinced that a good market transparency is the way forward and I am excited to be part of this aim in combination with more sustainable seafood production within GAIN.
*The fish bought by the electro trashers band “Scooter” in the 1990’s and being the name giver for their song “How much is the fish”, cost 3.80 Deutsche Mark and supposedly lived for at least 18 years, which seems to be a quite good deal!
Walled City Brewery is an independent brewery in Londonderry which prides itself in providing patrons with a ’taste of the North West‘ by crafting local, authentic, premium quality, flavoursome beer and food. Inspired by Guinness’ suggested serving of oysters with stout, the challenge was laid down to the brewers to develop a beer using local Lough Foyle oysters and so Foyster Stout was born.
As with all great challenges, research was needed before jumping into the beer-making by looking to other breweries such as Maine’s ’Out-To-Sea‘ imperial stout in the USA or Dublin’s own Porterhouse’s beer, ’Oyster Stout‘.
A sustainably sourced supply of oysters was required for the beer and that’s why we selected the Lough Foyle Irish Flat oyster—the Loughs Agency, operated jointly by Ireland and Northern Ireland, has worked extensively on this species, as have members of the GAIN team. The oysters were sourced from licensed farmers—it is vital for us and for our customers that we use the best ingredients from sustainable suppliers.
The use of the oyster had a dual purpose in the brewing process. Firstly, the flesh was used in the mashing process which extracts natural sugars—the flesh gives a fantastic marine essence to these sugars. Secondly, the shells contain a high amount of calcium carbonate which is used as clarifying agent of the beer. This ensures every part of the oyster is used and nothing is wasted.
The Walled City Brewery launched the beer on 12th October, 2019 which was widely well received. It will be going on sale as a seasonal beer and Foyster Stout will be available in selected bars and restaurants in the city. We’re grateful to the Loughs Agency for their support in our development of this new beer which will help raise awareness for the Flat Oyster.