Combatting poverty and hunger via sustainable aquaculture

Sustainable aquaculture is essential to combatting hunger, poverty and ecosystem overexploitation. Our research, which was supported by £1.3m of funding, has improved aquaculture efficiency across the world.

We have enhanced farm management in Europe, Latin America and Africa, which has led to increases in fish production, optimising the use of space and resources, and reduced the environmental impact from aquaculture.

tilapia swimming underwater

The importance of sustainability

Aquaculture – the farming of fish, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic plants, algae, and other organisms – is the fastest-growing food production sector in the world. Ensuring the practice is sustainable is vital to improving its efficiency.

Our research into the carrying capacity of aquaculture ecosystems has been an important factor in improving sustainability. Carrying capacity is the population of aquatic organisms that can be sustained at a steady-state within the production area.

Identifying the carrying capacity of each aquatic site, and ensuring it is not exceeded, makes sure the farming is efficient and has a minimal impact on the environment. This can also increase production through better use of resource – reducing hunger and poverty.

Making aquaculture sustainable

The University of Stirling Institute of Aquaculture’s research has helped improve and promoted examples of best practice of aquaculture efficiency across the world.

The main focus of the work has been researching and implementing carrying capacity within aquatic food production sites.

The Institute’s research into the aquatic food production site’s carrying capacity takes into account physical, ecological, production and socio-economic aspects of the environment.

The work has been supported by funding of more than £1.3m, which was awarded to Stirling from national and international funding organisations such as Irish Government and INAPESCA (Mexico), Darwin Initiative, the Leverhulme/Royal Society, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and EU H2020.

There were several key elements to the research, including using computer-based environmental models, developing a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO-UN) Technical Guidance report, spatial and carrying capacity modelling, and the development of a platform for new policy recommendations for aquaculture licensing through multi-partner collaborations.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations say Stirling research has being central to the development of carrying capacity thinking in aquaculture.

Impact on policy and regulations

Our pioneering work has instrumental in implementing the FAO-UN’s Code of Conduct and the Ecosystem Approach to Aquaculture. They described our research as being central to the development of carrying capacity thinking in aquaculture.

The research came from an initial approach developed in Mulroy Bay, Ireland, in 2003 which saw a novel computer-based model approach improve the Marine Institute in Ireland’s environment practice for aquaculture.

EU aquaculture, including the UK, produces 1.3 million tonnes of seafood, worth €4.4 billion, providing employment for around 39,000 people. Since 2008 there has been no overall increase in production, in part through poor licensing and regulatory frameworks.

The University of Stirling coordinated the EU H2020 TAPAS collaborative project (2016-2020), which developed guidelines and recommendations based around carrying capacity. These have been incorporated in the Updated Strategic Guidelines for the Sustainable Development of EU Aquaculture, produced by DG MARE, to implement future production strategies in Europe.

Guidelines from a Stirling-coordinated project have been incorporated into the Updated Strategic Guidelines for the Sustainable Development of EU Aquaculture, to implement future production strategies in Europe.

Fishing village in Ghana

Supporting economic and food security in Ghana

Ghana, in particular, has seen declining harvests in the fisheries industry since the 1990s, causing a seafood trade deficit of more than $300m since 2013. The country depends on fish for 60% of its dietary protein and 10% of the population work in the fisheries industry.

The Ghanaian government launched the Ghana National Aquaculture Development Plan in 2012 and created the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development in 2013 to rapidly and substantially increase aquaculture production.

Stirling research has allowed the initiative to successfully and sustainably develop the aquaculture industry. This has contributed to the economic security of 58,000 Ghanaians working in aquaculture and increasing food security for the equivalent of two million people, an increase of more than 450,000 people since our work in Ghana began.

Cage aquaculture management has been significantly improved and management zones have been implemented as a result of the Institute’s research at Lake Volta, improving sustainable farming, and improving food security for future generations.

Furthermore, our academics have trained more than 40 representatives from all major NGOs and government departments in Ghana, with 95% of participants finding the work to be beneficial to aquaculture development for the area. Ghana’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research also found the work contributed significantly to production.

Professor Trevor Telfer said: “Our work helped build a foundation for greater knowledge and understanding of cage aquaculture management and regulation in Lake Volta.

“A follow up questionnaire in 2019 found that 67% of the same stakeholders still use our tools and training for aquaculture management and practice.”

Stirling research has contributed to the economic security of 58,000 Ghanaians working in aquaculture and increasing food security for the equivalent of ftwo million people, an increase of more than 450,000 people since our work in Ghana began.

Supporting sustainable aquaculture expansion in Mexico

In Mexico, aquaculture production fell by 28% between 2000 and 2013, despite the Government’s aims to sustainably increase per capita fish consumption and improve rural health and economic wellbeing. Stirling research on carrying capacity has significantly contributed to reversing this trend.

Dr Antonio Campos Mendoza of the Biotecnología e Innovaciones Acuícolas y Pecuarias de Michoacán (BIAP) attested that the research has led to higher levels of awareness around key issues and tools used to manage sustainable aquaculture.

This increased understanding led to an additional 4,000 tonnes per annum of commercial tilapia production in five lakes, representing 7% of all tilapia production in Mexico. Local income has also been boosted by $9m annually.

lake with fish farm in Mexico

Looking to the future

The success of carrying capacity modelling workshops for the National Fisheries Department (INAPESCA) in Mexico has led to further Mexican government funding being released so work can continue to develop and enhance tilapia production.

The team is also working on a number of new projects in Europe and Africa, looking at further carrying capacity and site suitability research to ensure efficient and sustainable use of resources and its implementation into governance, regulation and certification.

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Related publications

Waterbody scale assessment using spatial models to identify suitable locations for cage aquaculture in large lake systems: A case study in Volta Lake, Ghana

Asmah R, Falconer L, Telfer TC, Karikari AY, Al Wahaibi M, Xia IF, Handisyde N, Quansah KE, Amoah DK, Alshihhi J & Ross LG (2021) Waterbody scale assessment using spatial models to identify suitable locations for cage aquaculture in large lake systems: A case study in Volta Lake, Ghana. Aquaculture Research, 52 (8), pp. 3854-3870. https://doi.org/10.1111/are.15230

Managing aquaculture in multi-use freshwater bodies: the case of Jatiluhur reservoir

Taskov D, Telfer T, Bengtson D, Rice MA, Little D & Murray F (2021) Managing aquaculture in multi-use freshwater bodies: the case of Jatiluhur reservoir. Environmental Research Letters, 16 (4), Art. No.: 044022. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/abe009

Use of geographic information systems for aquaculture and recommendations for development of spatial tools

Falconer L, Middelboe AL, Kaas H, Ross L & Telfer T (2020) Use of geographic information systems for aquaculture and recommendations for development of spatial tools. Reviews in Aquaculture, 12 (2), pp. 664-677. https://doi.org/10.1111/raq.12345

Heavy metal concentrations and sediment quality of a cage farm on Lake Volta, Ghana

Karikari AY, Asmah R, Anku WW, Amisah S, Agbo NW, Telfer TC & Ross LG (2020) Heavy metal concentrations and sediment quality of a cage farm on Lake Volta, Ghana. Aquaculture Research. https://doi.org/10.1111/are.14555

The importance of calibrating climate change projections to local conditions at aquaculture sites

Falconer L, Hjøllo SS, Telfer TC, McAdam BJ, Hermansen Ø & Ytteborg E (2020) The importance of calibrating climate change projections to local conditions at aquaculture sites. Aquaculture, 514, Art. No.: 734487. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquaculture.2019.734487