Fish Farmers of the Caribbean

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There are only so many fish in the sea. And our appetite for seafood has already stressed many wild fisheries to the breaking point. Meanwhile, the planet’s growing population will only further increase the need for animal protein, one of the most resource-intensive types of food to produce.With this in mind, a team led by researchers at UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and the Marine Science Institute (MSI) looked at the feasibility of fish farming, or aquaculture, in the Caribbean. The team focused specifically on offshore mariculture — ocean-based operations done far from shore — which offers a promising alternative to land-based and coastal aquaculture, where space is limited and environmental impacts are often high.
The group discovered that even under conservative estimates, the region could produce over 34 million metric tons of seafood per year. This potential yield is more than two orders of magnitude larger than the region’s current seafood production. The results appear in the journal Nature Sustainability.
“The Caribbean has a large potential for off-shore mariculture,” said Lennon Thomas, the study’s lead author, who serves as a project researcher at MSI. “And meeting this potential can be accomplished by developing mariculture in a relatively small amount of ocean space.”
The researchers’ model predicts the region could produce 40 million metric tons of seafood in less than 1.5 percent of its countries’ exclusive economic zones. This is roughly half of the current global wild fisheries catch, Thomas said. Under current market conditions, the Caribbean could match its current seafood production by farming in just 179 square kilometers, or a mere 0.006 percent, of its marine space.
The team used cobia as their model species to estimate the Caribbean’s potential for commercial mariculture. Cobia is a premium fish with high market value that is well suited to farming in warmer waters. By combining elements like …

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