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Fishing the Future: The Need For Aquaculture

Ronald Hsu


Aquaculture, or seafood farming, may be the best solution to dwindling food supplies. Its development is urgently needed because:

  • overpopulation has exceeded Earth’s capacity to feed us
  • fisheries have been exploited to a dangerous level
  • aquaculture is a reliable, safe, and inexpensive source of food

July 2001

More than six billion people now live on Earth, according to a recent census study by the United Nations. These men, women, and children may not share cultures or environment, but they all share three pressing needs: habitat, water, and food.

Land crops can’t meet food demand because there are fewer farms.

Kuruma shrimp in an aquaculture observation tank in Taiwan. Photographer: James P. McVey; image source: NOAA

It is the need for food that has fueled the expansion of humankind and the global demand for food will only intensify as populations increase. Where will this food come from? I am concerned, as many people are, that too many farmlands may disappear in the future, limiting our food supply. In this day, farms are under siege from a variety of dangers, including urban expansion. (The irony is that these farms themselves expanded at the cost of Earth’s natural ecologies).

Overfishing is depleting wild seafood.

Since land is finite, and human hunger is not, we will have to rely more and more on the oceans. The oceans contain millions of billions of tons of seafood that is a plentiful source of protein. However, the established method of harvesting seafood — by constructing massive fleets of fishing trawlers to harvest specific species — is dangerous. Overfishing by these fleets depletes wild fish stocks and jeopardizes an ecosystem that supports a diversity of other species.

Aquaculture: a solution for dwindling farmland crops

Aquaculture is a successful billion dollar business.

The best alternative to fishery overharvesting is aquaculture. This kind of farming allows for a consistent harvest of seafood under controlled conditions. Aquaculture typically is practiced in coastal waters or on land whenever regular crops are not being raised.

Within the US, aquaculture is now a $1 billion industry, and globally, it is valued at $40 billion, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA).

Aquaculture’s many small successes have been proven. For example:

  • The oyster industry in Chesapeake Bay has been rebuilt using federal research dollars.
  • In New England many local fisherman have taken up opportunities in shellfish aquaculture.
  • In India, fish farming is encouraged because it improves the soil and increases rice yield in the next season.
  • Even the salmon you eat has a high probability of coming from an aquaculture farm.

Can aquaculture become a viable industry?

In spite of the successes, much remains to be done to make aquaculture a viable industry:


Farmers need to know about fish stocks and diseases.

Farmers need to be educated on:

  • the proper species to raise
  • environmentally friendly techniques of preparing the land and raising the stock
  • the diseases that afflict fish stocks and their remedies and these remedies should be made readily available to farmers
  • governments should provide incentives for farmers to be good stewards of the environment


Aquaculture can rival land farming in the future.

Although I believe aquaculture will be successful, it is more likely to grow in small steps because more research is needed to bring it to the same level of development as land farming, especially since, for some species, the amount of marine protein used to feed them is greater than the amount produced by aquafarming. These small steps will occur as more research reveals such factors as:

  • the optimal growing conditions (especially diet)
  • most suitable conditions for reproduction
  • survival rates
  • genetically engineered aquaculture species

For example:

  • My own research, which I conducted at the Florida Institute of Technology’s Aquaculture Labs, focused on how varying the fatty acid content in the diets of certain marine species affected their growth and survival rate.
  • In Japan, a leading aquaculture research country, DNA was introduced last year into marine invertebrates. This could lead to the design of seafood that has more protein, tastes better, matures faster, and other qualities important to growth and consumption.


Scientists are worried about some of the disrupting consequences of aquaculture on local environments.

Aquaculture planning must consider the environment.
  • The effluent of the fish stocks themselves can stimulate growth of fecal coliforms or various pathogenic bacterias.
  • We could see the alteration of coastal habitats as the aquaculture or mariculture industry grows. Shrimp farming, for example, often destroys mangrove areas and it is only productive for a few years.
  • There is the possibility of introducing non-indigenous species, which can result in massive damage to ecosystems.
  • Few governments in the world (the U.S. included) have defined a strong policy on aquaculture operations. Global policies are urgently needed.

In conclusion

Conclusion: Aquaculture can diffuse the chaos when traditional food sources become scarce.

Without a viable and concentrated effort to increase protein (food) harvests by aquaculture, the Earth will soon reach a limit on how many humans it can support with land resources. According to a recent National Geographicstudy, we have less than five acres of productive land available per person worldwide to sustain us.

History has shown that when food supply is scarce, humans resort to violent means to resolve the problem. Today, there are already regional examples around the world where war and violence between factions vying for control of farmland has left thousands dead. My hope is that aquaculture will provide the means to feed the Earth’s future human population cheaply, reliably, and safely.

Ronald Hsu is a sophomore at West Shore Jr./Sr. High School in Melbourne, FL. For his entry into the Westinghouse Science and Technology Competition, he worked in the Florida Tech Aquaculture Labs under Dong Zhang and Dr. Junda Lin. There he studied relationships between highly-unsaturated fatty acid levels in diet of marine species and their growth. (Update: In 2003, Hsu was honored as a 2003 Presidential Scholar by the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars.)

Fishing the Future: The Need For Aquaculture

Trends in food supply and demand

General information about food, fisheries, and aquaculture.


Site for aquaculture and aquatic resource management, maintained through the collaborative efforts of Stirling Aquaculture (University of Stirling) and Aqua TT Ltd.

Aquaculture statistics

Statistics on aquaculture species and the potential for growth.

Basic Tutorial For Controlling Aquatic Pollution

Simplified on-line help for people with aquafarms, backyard ponds, or aquariums. The second link provides information about how to interpret water analysis test results.

For Educators: Classroom aquaculture system

Learn how to create your own Inexpensive Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) for Classroom Use.

Beach cleanups

Find out how you can keep coastal areas clean and pollution free with information from the American Littoral Society.

Aquaculture activities

Contains complete modules with activities, power points, and support materials.

Going Global

Goal: To increase student’s awareness of global food needs and solutions such as aquaculture.

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  • » Martin, Richard W. “Fish farming: Does it have a future?” August 1996.Sea Technology. Pg. 77-81.
  • » “Sustainable aquaculture: Food for the future?” Proceedings of the 2nd International Symposium. Oslo, Norway. Nov 2 - 5, 1997.
  • » “Aquaculture and economics.” NOAA/SDIA. Dec. 27, 2000. 1/21/2010 Link no longer available.
  • » “NOAA’s aquaculture policy.” Dec. 27, 2000. NOAA.
  • » “We leave more than footprints.”National Geographic, July 2001.
  • » “We leave more than footprints.”National Geographic, July 2001.


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