Evaluating the potential of aquaculture diversification (IMTA) to improve nutrition and ecosystem sustainability in the UK
Aquaculture provides nearly half of the world’s seafood, but it continues to struggle to grow in the EU. Despite the UK being one of the largest EU aquaculture producers, the UK’s salmon-dominated industry faces challenges from health and welfare, to the management of environmental interactions and social licence to operate. As diet and nutrition have an increasingly important role in tackling the rising burden of chronic noncommunicable disease in the UK, seafood production through aquaculture is in a unique position to contribute to healthy and sustainable diets, if the aforementioned barriers are adequately addressed.
Seafood is an essential component of a healthy diet, being the only animal-based source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), and a rich source of minerals, such as iron, iodine, selenium and zinc, and vitamins, especially B12 and D3. Notwithstanding, consumption of oily fish in the UK is less than half of the recommended intake and consumption is currently reliant on a handful of species.
Diversifying production and consumption, especially towards lower trophic species, has long been recognised for its environmental sustainability potential as well as bioremediation benefits, in particular when lower trophic species (such as seaweed or bivalves) are cultured in proximity of fed-species (such as salmon) in Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) systems. However, despite IMTA being often seen as the silver bullet by policy-makers and of the proven track-record in Asian countries, these systems have stuggled to take-off commercially in Europe. Bottlenecks to their commercial adoption by the industry in UK include, among others, uncertain profitable markets and limited market options for the co-cultured species, technical multi-operational complexity and logistical constraints, inadequate or unsupportive policies or incentives to industry, time to progress R&D and knowledge of production of novel species.
This project will address the challenges of health, sustainability and resilience within the UK food system by supporting the diversification of UK aquaculture and the transition towards IMTA systems. Diverseafood will investigate the contribution of IMTA systems to the nutritional value of produced seafood and to the reduction of negative environmental impacts, and explore options to address regulatory, consumer acceptance and business model challenges to the diversification of UK aquaculture.
The project takes a food systems approach to production and consumption of aquaculture products, with key questions simplified in the diagram below. Specifically Diverseafood will evaluate (i) the contribution of IMTA to total poly-unsaturated fatty acids budgets from aquaculture, (ii) the socioeconomic value of ecosystem services associated with IMTA, (iii) existing regulatory barriers to the adoption of IMTA and policy interventions to diversify UK aquaculture production, (iv) consumer acceptance of a diversity of seafood products from aquaculture within an increased sustainability context, and (v) existing and emerging business models that can disrupt the current business-as-usual situation in seafood production in the UK, so as to unblock existing barriers to the development of the sector.
To achieve this, the project will involve a range of producers, retailers and policymakers and is always looking for opportunities to widen its stakeholder network. If you are interested to participate or want to know more, please contact the project lead (firstname.lastname@example.org) or work package leads directly.