Barry A. Costa-Pierce

By 2050 global food production will need to rise at least by 70% as the world’s population is expected to reach 9.6 to 12.3 billion (Gerland et al., 2014). There are severe resource constraints to expanding terrestrial food production. If humanity expands industrial terrestrial agriculture across the globe to feed this future population, the world will face a terrible conservation crisis. Only ~4% of human foods come from the ocean (FAO 2011) making the growth of aquaculture a future imperative. The real debate over the future of aquaculture is not will it grow, but how it will grow. Costa-Pierce (2010) argues that sustainable intensification on existing holdings will not be enough and that an expanded model of ecological aquaculture will be required.

Ecological aquaculture (EA) is a discipline that uses ecological principles and practices, ecological design, ecological engineering, and social ecological approaches to management to foster aquaculture development. Ecological aquaculture is a transdisciplinary area of scholarship and practice — a “pracademic” — that combines the social-ecological wisdom of aquafarming and fishing peoples with their science knowledge to provide added economic, environmental, and social profits from seafoods to their existing “working waterfronts”. Ecological aquaculture is also a “team science” that develops social-ecological partnerships of scientists working with fishermen, farmers, and civil society who, together, are central to the expansion of aquaculture. EA was adopted by the FAO as the “Ecosystem Approach to Aquaculture” and codified in FAO guidelines in 2013. Innovative technical approaches (the “EA Toolkit”) have been developed to integrate aquaculture production systems with capture fisheries that do not destroy or compromise the resilience of marine habitats and fisheries ecosystems; namely: carrying capacity, marine spatial planning, integrated freshwater aquaculture, integrated multi-trophic aquaculture, and ecological economics. Most importantly, all such approaches are overlain by the use of new social science methods in social-ecological systems and ecosystem governance. By using the EA Toolkit we can not only produce adequate seafoods for future humanity but also support the restoration of capture fisheries while protecting and enhancing marine ecosystems. We can also redevelop the world’s working waterfronts as premier examples of “blue-green economies”. Ecological aquaculture can enhance humanity’s responsibility to better steward aquatic ecosystems while also feeding a future world with nutrient-dense foods essential for human health and wellness.