Almost every restaurant menus at least one fish or seafood dish. It’s a versatile protein; seafood lends itself well to a variety of preparations and flavors. It’s also regarded by many consumers as a healthier menu option, according to Technomic’s 2017 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report, powered by Ignite. Beyond its reputation for being healthy, seafood is becoming a go-to choice for some consumers. Technomic found that 53% of consumers eat seafood at least weekly, and 89% say they eat it at least once a month. None of this is expected to change anytime soon. With seafood’s rise in popularity, manufacturers and operators are working hard to keep up with the demand while ensuring the seafood they serve is safe, responsibly sourced and environmentally friendly. Wild-caught seafood is often regarded as the ideal, but this is often due to outdated beliefs about aquaculture, or farmed fish. In fact, according to NFI (National Fisheries Institute), four of the six most popular U.S. species by consumption (shrimp, salmon, tilapia and pangasius, a large shark catfish) are farmed. With farmed fish’s presence in the market, knowing more about aquaculture and how it has transformed over the past 20 years into a practice that’s reliable, responsible and safe can help operators communicate accurate sourcing and menu information to consumers.
Dispelling common myths
Before diving into aquaculture, it’s key to learn more about some of the myths surrounding it. Many consumers may not know all the benefits aquaculture offers—just that they’ve heard some unsavory information about it. Thankfully, those unsavory bits are backed up by false, outdated information. The current state of aquaculture is much different than it was 10 or 20 years ago. High Liner Foods dispels some of these pervasive myths.
Farmed salmon is unregulated.
Farmed salmon is regulated.
Salmon farming is worse for the environment than any other protein.
Salmon has reduced feed conversions (i.e., the amount of feed necessary for the desired output), making it a healthier protein source for the environment than other proteins.
Farm-raised tilapia requires a large amount of protein feed and thus is an inefficient fish to farm.
Tilapia are an omnivorous fish, which means they don’t need large amounts of fishmeal or fish oil in their diets. As a result, they are net protein providers when fed the proper diet.
Shrimp farming is destroying mangroves.
The Ramsar Convention, a treaty signed and made effective in 1971, helped put a stop to the practice of destroying mangroves for shrimp farming, as well as laid out guidelines for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. Since its signing, the treaty has encouraged an improvement in mangrove management in most countries.
Pangasius is grown in floating cages in the Mekong River.
Modern Pangasius farming takes place mostly in ponds near the Mekong River, not in the river itself. This enables farmers to better provide a healthy environment for raising fish and allows them to closely monitor the water quality and species health.
Types of seafood farming
Popular kinds of aquaculture include fish farming, shrimp farming and oyster farming, and there are a few different methods involved in aquaculture. Seafood is farmed in three main ways, according to High Liner Foods:
About half of consumers (51%) say they are more likely to buy fish that is farm-raised, compared to 66% who say they are more likely to purchase wild-caught. However, the No. 1 health halo surrounding seafood purchases is “natural”: Seventy-three percent of consumers say they are more likely to purchase seafood that is natural, according to Technomic. To that end, farmed fish is no less natural than wild-caught fish. To increase sales, operators can use this verbiage to appeal to more consumers who are looking specifically for a natural food.
“73% say they are more likely to purchase seafood that is natural”
The need for sustainable, farm-raised fish
In Technomic’s report, 30% of consumers say they have eaten more seafood over the past year, and that increase in popularity is part of what’s driving the need for farmed fish and shellfish. Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that about half of the world’s seafood is produced by aquaculture, and as of 2009—the most recent year data is available—Americans consumed a total of 4.8 billion pounds of seafood, which works out to about 15.5 pounds of fish and shellfish per person.
NOAA estimates that by 2030, two-thirds of seafood will need to be farm-raised to meet seafood consumption demand. Sustainability demands will also drive the need for aquaculture in the coming years. Technomic found that 41% of consumers say it’s important for the environment to not be negatively affected by the seafood they eat, and the sustainability benefits that aquaculture offers are key to ensuring those consumers are satisfied.
Benefits of aquaculture
There are numerous benefits that aquaculture provides, both from a consumer and operator standpoint. Practices in aquaculture have changed quite a bit in the past 20 years, resulting in safer, healthier products that are more eco-friendly than ever before.
From a consumer standpoint, aquaculture ensures that there will be a steady supply of the foods they want to eat. For instance, tilapia is one of the primary fish produced from aquaculture, according to NOAA. Farming this species is considered safe for the environment, because farmed tilapia’s waste and disease is contained rather than spread to the wild. In farming, the species itself is also contained.
From an operator standpoint, seafood entrees typically already tend to be slightly pricier than other entrees. Some aquacultured fish can be labeled as a sustainable protein, depending on the farm from which it is purchased. When a species of fish is purchased from a farm that promotes sustainability, menuing it can be a profitable venture for operators—Technomic found that consumers are more likely to purchase (67%) and pay more for (30%) sustainable seafood.
Aquaculture is beneficial for the environment as well. It has a lower carbon footprint than terrestrial proteins, and it uses fewer resources to produce a pound of protein, including lower feed and energy use. High Liner Foods reports that modern aquaculture involves farmers managing water quality and ensuring waste and contaminants are controlled, and no illegal antibiotics are permitted for use. In fact, harmful antibiotic use has nearly been eliminated; vaccinations are more common today. In some species, antibiotic use has been nearly eliminated as well, as vaccinations are more common today.
When it comes to consuming seafood, aquaculture is soon to be unavoidable. Without it, supply will not meet consumer demand. With the benefits of modern aquaculture, its continued growth ensures that future generations will have good food to eat, and that the economy surrounding the fishing industry remains strong.
Source: Technomic’s Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian Report, powered by Ignite