Photograph by Danh Nguyễn
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Fishermen catch fish and shrimp using traditional nets in Bac Lieu province in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
Photograph by Danh Nguyễn

From Oysters to Kelp, the Evolution of Aquaculture

In 1992, Skip Bennett planted his first oysters in Duxbury Bay, about 35 miles southeast of Boston. After much trial, error, and sales from the back of his pickup truck, Bennett’s Island Creek Oysters, Inc. now employs 17 people and supplies 100,000 oysters a week to top restaurants around the country. This includes some selects grown to the specs of chef Thomas Keller and shipped via FedEx to his New York restaurant, Per Se, every day.

In case you were wondering, the “Blue Revolution” of aquaculture is here. The world now produces more farmed fish than beef. Aquaculture has expanded 14 fold since 1980. Farmers are growing everything from premium salmon to humble sea cucumbers. And last year, consumption of farmed fish exceeded consumption of wild fish for the first time, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

But we’re still grappling with how best to tame the underwater world to feed us without creating the pollution of a new feedlot industry in the ocean. Do we use self-contained pens on land, which burn a lot of fossil fuel? Do we let fish grow in big nets that float in the ocean, subjecting them to disease and escape? Do we encourage farmers to grow fresh-water shrimp among their flooded rice paddies? Probably some combination of all of the above. (See National Geographic‘s How to Farm a Better Fish.)

For some of the ways farmers are growing the aquatic plants and animals that feed us today, check out our Your Shot gallery of modern aquaculture.