Aquaculture, and subsequently aquaponics, is a major market opportunity available for domestic seafood producers. According to the 2019 Fisheries of the United States Report, seafood accounted for a 16.8-billion-dollar trade deficit in the United States, which is second only to oil and natural gas. This shocking statistic reflects a lack of domestic fish production and an over-reliance on wild fish populations.
Fish consumption in North America is expected to increase by 20% in the next 20 years. Data trends illustrate a growing need to further develop and refine fish farming habits if the supply is ever to meet future demands. The Global Aquaculture Alliance predicts that "62% of food fish will come from aquaculture by 2030". Domestic fish production must increase to provide local and national food security, more sustainable food solutions, and healthier and more affordable protein options. Increased aquaponic system production can help empower local communities, provide educational opportunities, and promote healthier lifestyles.
Along with economic benefits, there are social implications of increased aquaculture and aquaponic production. Domestic fish production must increase to provide more food options to those who live in rural and urban food deserts. According to Julie Beaulac et al, food deserts are rural or urban areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food options. Food deserts typically occur in low-income communities with high levels of unemployment and inadequate access to transportation. People living in these areas are at a higher risk of developing health-related conditions such as cardiovascular issues and obesity.
Another social implication of increased aquaculture and aquaponic production is for national food security purposes. If supply chains with other countries become disrupted, everyone relying on that chain suffers, particularly those with economic challenges. Domestic companies such as Superior Fresh, which is the largest aquaponic producer globally, are attempting to close that trade deficit and increase locally grown food options. Increased domestic production will lead to decreased food deserts and improved national food security.
Similarly, there is a growing need for more sustainable food solutions. Fish are the most effective protein option to produce due to their 1:1 feed conversion ratio. Chickens are 2:1, pigs are 3:1, and cows are 8:1, meaning that 8 kg of feed converts to 1 kg of food. Aquaculture leads to a decreased reliance on wild fish populations. Most wild fisheries are already producing at their maximum sustainable yield. Aquaculture reduces pressure on wild stocks and helps those populations avoid collapse.
Furthermore, because aquaponics is entirely recirculating, there is limited water waste and pollution outputs. All of the efficient, large-scale aquaponic or recirculating aquaculture systems are above 95% water efficient. Finally, everything generated can be used -- the fish and plants as food and the wastewater, purge water, and fish refuse as fertilizer.
Aquaponic systems can empower and improve local communities by providing more sustainable and environmentally conscious food options. Growers raise healthy seafood options that are immediately available to residents of the area. Residents and consumers gain empowerment through knowledge. Consumers know exactly how the fish or crop was raised, how the item was processed, who the farmer is, and can have confidence that this is a fresh product.
Consumers who have options can decide which types of products to support. Growers are producing a high-quality product that people spanning all economic levels can afford. Local food production can bring people together from all ages, education levels, and socioeconomic statuses. Ultimately, locally grown food options empower surrounding communities with market information and the ability to make an informed food system decision.
Another way aquaponic systems can help communities is through increased education. Many producers are willing to provide tours of their farm, hire local help, and participate in outreach initiatives. Aquaponic systems can be used as a teaching tool in classrooms because they are interdisciplinary, meaning that multiple subjects converge to create a system. A biological perspective is required for fish and plant rearing as well as maintaining particular microbial communities. An understanding of chemistry is necessary for maintaining water quality. Physics and engineering viewpoints are needed for constructing the physical systems in a manner that aligns with producer needs. Producers and teachers can and have partnered to help train the next aquaculture workforce and inspire a love for aquatic farming. Currently, there is a shortage of workers who have formal aquaculture or aquaponic training. Producers interacting with the community have the opportunity to teach the next generation, improve local job outlook, and garner interest in younger people to consider this career path.
Overall, aquaponic systems provide countless benefits to local communities and national populations. Locally, farmers can alleviate food deserts, empower consumers, and help educate people of all ages. Nationally, increased aquaponic system production can help decrease trade deficits, prevent the collapse of wild fish populations, and preserve freshwater resources and pollutive outputs. Aquaponics is an ideal solution to food system issues because it addresses societal, sustainability, and economic concerns. Aquaponic systems are the future of farming and creating a healthier planet and population.