Image: From Northwest Fisheries Science Center

With up to 70 percent of the worlds fisheries threatened by overfishing, aquaculture is going to have to cast its net a lot farther. Indeed, according to a keynote address delivered on Saturday at the International Marine Biotechnology Conference in Townsville, Australia, aquaculture will need to triple or quadruple output by the year 2025 in order to meet the anticipated rise in demand for seafood. To that end, says Yonathan Zohar of the University of Maryland, biotechnology is playing an increasingly important role.

One noteworthy area of research concerns the filtering and monitoring of water conditions in tanks for growing fish. Currently most aquaculture takes place in ponds or netpens in open water. Thirty years from now, however, such farming will have to be contained, Zohar remarks. With the closed system approach, aquaculturists will avoid worrisome things like wastewater and the escape of genetically modified or non-native species. Moreover, closed systems enable optimization of growing conditions, which enhances the growth rates and overall health of the fish. He further notes that genetic engineering will produce fish that grow faster and convert feed to meat more efficiently. In Zohar's mind, such advances are a long time coming. "Seafood is the only commodity that is still at the stage of hunt-and-gather farming," he observes. "Compare it with chickens, and we are way behind the curve."