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Otautahi – Demand for blue food is expected to roughly double by 2050, which will have environmental and social implications.

The sustainability of blue food consumption will depend on which types of fish are eaten, and where and how they are produced.

The world will increasingly rely on aquaculture to meet a growing demand for blue food, which is likely to double by 2050. Like all food systems, aquaculture presents both opportunities and challenges, particularly around health, sustainability and equity.

The planet needs to embrace a diversity of blue foods and catalyse cross-sector collaboration in order to achieve truly sustainable aquaculture.

Blue food is fish, shellfish and algae that are caught or cultivated in fresh or saltwater according to the latest blue food assessment report. As the world’s demand for blue food increases, so do calls for food systems to be sustainably transformed to meet the growing need.

The New Zealand aquaculture industry has grown to a significant economic activity over the last 40 years generating important export earnings of more than $400 million by 2016 and employing an estimated 3000 people in 2018.

Salmon farming is big business in New Zealand and is expected to expand in the coming years. Most farmed salmon is produced in marine environments in the Marlborough Sounds and Stewart Island. The species farmed in New Zealand is the non-native chinook salmon, also known as king salmon.

There are also more than 600 mussel farms in New Zealand, and they cover thousands of hectares of marine space. But Aotearoa must establish a sustainable aquaculture future that fairly meets the growing demand for blue.   

With wild stocks fished near capacity, aquaculture will contribute most of the additional fish produced and consumed in the future.

Aquaculture presents resource and environmental trade-offs from potential habitat destruction, excess nutrients and pathogens, the use of antibiotics, and a reliance on feed produced from wild-caught fish and agricultural crops.

Blue food producers, especially in aquaculture, have already made strides toward environmental sustainability.

There are more than 2500 species or species groups of blue food wild-caught or cultivated for food, providing a rich and diverse array of protein and nutrients to support nutrition, sustainability and equitable livelihoods.

In the North Sea, early trials raising mussels on offshore wind turbines are testing the co-benefits of shared infrastructure for food and energy production. Unfed aquaculture of bivalves produces negligible emissions and can even improve water quality.

These mussels filter local waters and provide habitat structure, shoreline stabilization and livelihoods for coastal communities. Bivalves also contribute key nutritional benefits and have the potential to address the burdens of micronutrient deficiencies and malnutrition in its many forms.