By Chris Maloney

June 9, 2018

By now we’ve all heard the foreboding statistics and daunting circumstances around our domestic and worldwide seafood supply.  Landings for popular seafood species are flat-lining, seafood demand is increasing, population will be at 9+ billion by 2050,  90+% of US seafood is imported, and hence there is a US Seafood deficit of $14 billion.  Not very cheery facts.  
 
In light of this information, aquaculture continues to rise.  Roughly 50% of the worldwide seafood supply is now procured from the aquaculture sector and aquaculture has been the fastest growing food production sector for the last several decades. 
 
With all this in mind, somehow, the general public still knows very little about how fish make their way to dinner tables.  Even more so, the general public knows very little about aquaculture.  However, with an increasing interest in understanding where our food comes from, there is some increasing interest and attention given to aquaculture.  
 
Aquaculture is not new.  The Romans grew oysters and Mullet, the Egyptians grew Tilapia, the Chinese grew Carp (and still do as it’s the number one species under commercial culture worldwide).  However, aquaculture is still sometimes referred to as a new science or “The Wave of the Future.”  Until recently, given the past relative abundance of natural fisheries, the public’s consumption habits and a lower population, aquaculture was not on people’s radar.  Ironically, all indications are that seafood will have to be coming from, in large part, the aquaculture sector simply out of sheer numbers of people to be fed.   This coupled with an ever increasing sophistication and an emphasis on producing safe, sustainable seafood products, aquaculture is finally starting to be recognized as a viable if not necessary source of seafood.
 
One sector of aquaculture production, shellfish, and specifically bivalves, is responsible for the top two U.S. marine aquaculture species cultured, oysters ($173 million) and clams ($112 million) in 2015.  Atlantic salmon ($76 million) was third in a year that produced $1.3B worth of seafood.  Other commercially important bivalves include mussels and scallops.
 
Contemporary shellfish aquaculture, at least in the US, is arguably about 50 years old.  Yes, shellfish beds in places like Long island or the Chesapeake Bay area have historically been strategically harvested for a very long time, but hatchery supplied shellfish operations have really hit their stride in the last several decades.  As a result, there are various forms of commercial operations and methods for growing shellfish.  And for good reason.  Shellfish aquaculture is arguably environmentally benign if not beneficial when executed correctly, there are obvious economic benefits to the growers and the surrounding communities where shellfish are grown, and perhaps most importantly, the products cultured are nutritionally excellent and depending on your particular pallet, taste great.  
 
As with all forms of aquaculture, prudent and conscientious methods of culture should be used.  In the case of shellfish aquaculture, there are potential environmental pros and cons.  But shellfish aquaculture has been recognized as having potentially a lesser negative impact on the environment as compared to other forms of aquaculture.  Having said that, producers should be mindful and respectful of their surroundings.  And with increasing regulatory oversite, for good reason, entities will be forced to be mindful and respectful, even if that was not their first choice.  
 
All indications are that aquaculture in general will continue to grow.  This certainly includes shellfish, and more specifically, bivalves.   Shellfish aquaculture is an important sector of production without which this important seafood would be sorely lacking in availability worldwide.  The sustainability aspects coupled with the nutritional benefits make shellfish farming an appropriate and necessary method of producing a wonderful and healthy seafood product.  Eat more bivalves!