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World - Farming Fish in the Sea Will Not Nourish the World

Recent literature on marine fish farming brands it as potentially compatible with sustainable resource use, conservation, and human nutrition goals, and aligns with the emerging policy discourse of ‘blue growth’. We advance a two-pronged critique.

First, contemporary narratives tend to overstate marine finfish aquaculture’s potential to deliver food security and environmental sustainability. Second, they often align with efforts to enclose maritime space that could facilitate its allocation to extractive industries and conservation interests and exclude fishers. Policies and investments that seek to increase the availability and accessibility of affordable and sustainable farmed aquatic foods should focus on freshwater aquaculture.

Introduction

A rapidly growing and high-profile science and policy literature presents marine aquaculture as the forefront of environmentally responsible food production1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Futurologists and aquaculture advocates have long promoted ‘farming the seas’ as a technological and spatial fix for apparent constraints to terrestrial food production. We identify a ‘new wave’ of marine aquaculture literature that diverges from this narrative in three important ways. (1) It replaces ad hoc claims about the potential of marine aquaculture with a coordinated set of narratives. In combination, these rebrand marine finfish farming from an ecologically damaging and inequitable activity, to one potentially compatible with sustainable resource use, conservation, and human nutrition goals. (2) It locates the future of marine aquaculture in offshore waters; a vast zone previously beyond the bounds of existing technology, now positioned as a new frontier for expansion8,9,10. (3) It is advanced by new coalitions of actors, including conservation NGOs and fisheries scientists which previously tended to oppose marine aquaculture.

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