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The value of salmon farming extends far beyond the socio-economic benefits to Scotland and the UK.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the United Nations agency dedicated to defeating hunger and improving nutrition and food security, estimates that the global population could grow to 9.7bn by 2050.
That’s an additional 1.9bn mouths to feed in less than 30 years.
The clock’s ticking in terms of ensuring we have the food production systems in place to ensure no-one goes hungry, be they meat-eaters, pescatarians, vegetarians, vegan, beegan or flexitarians.
If we are to meet this increased demand, then realistically we must first increase our capacity across each of these different diets – a need that’s not without its challenges.
According to the FAO, agricultural land accounts for just 38 per cent of the earth’s total land surface: two-thirds of which is used for grazing livestock and just one-third for growing crops.
The world’s wild fish stocks are under similar pressure. In the 1970s, they provided 93 per cent of all fish for human consumption. Decades on, with demand for fish outstripping supply, they provide roughly 50 per cent.
The remaining 50 per cent is now provided by aquaculture: finfish, shellfish and aquatic plants that are commercially farmed as opposed to wild caught.
Indeed, many people believe that aquaculture has a key role to play in terms of helping satisfy the nutritional needs of a growing population and, in doing so, helping prevent over-exploitation of our marine resources.
“The world’s appetite for fish and fish products shows no sign of slowing.”
The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020, FAO
Compared with centuries-old land farming methods, aquaculture is still a relatively young sector.
In the case of salmon farming, it’s thought the earliest farms were established in the 1960s, with production on a commercial scale only really beginning in the 1980s and 1990s.
As such, global volumes are still relatively small in comparison with other protein-producing sectors.
Scottish farmed salmon volumes are even smaller:
Young and small the sector may be, but salmon farming has been found to punch above its weight when it comes to its environmental credentials:
These strong sustainability credentials were reiterated as recently as September 2021 by the Blue Food Assessment, an international initiative that brings together over 100 scientists from more than 25 different institutions.
It found farmed salmon to be preferable to chicken, having a more favourable impact on most environmental metrics, including freshwater use and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a better nutrient profile.
“Farmed salmon, trout, fed carps, catfish and tilapia performed similarly or better than chicken – often considered the most efficient terrestrial animal – across the considered environmental stressors.”
Environmental performance of blue foods, Blue Food Assessment 2021
Strong foundations but we’re not stopping there.
At both company level, we’re working hard to further minimise any impact from our activities on the environment: from repurposing hatchery waste into nutrient-rich agricultural fertiliser and extracting valuable oils from fish mortalities, to adopting hybrid power to reduce the use of diesel and reducing our use of polystyrene packaging.
Is there much still to be learned about salmon farming? Absolutely, as is only natural for any relatively young sector or initiative.
Are there challenges to be overcome with regards to farming in the marine environment and future-proofing food security in the face of climate change? Without doubt.
But as with the generations of land farmers before us, we cannot simply give up in the face of adversity. Lives and livelihoods depend on it. So, with each new challenge we face, we look for the lessons to be learned and we try even harder.
“Fish and fish products are recognized not only as some of the healthiest foods on the planet, but also as some of the least impactful on the natural environment. For these reasons, they are vital for national, regional and global food security and nutrition strategies, and have a big part to play in transforming food systems and eliminating hunger and malnutrition.” The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020, FAO