|Faster Growing Salmon/Tilapia|
With global demands for animal protein on a steep upward climb, and most global fishers being harvested at or beyond sustainable limits, biotechnology has enabled development of an environmentally friendly solution for Atlantic salmon production that can be transferred to other species as well.
With economies growing even faster than the human population, the 9.1 billion people the UN Food & Agriculture Organization anticipates by 2050 will demand a diet with more meat than ever before (Global agriculture towards 2050). Fish are among the most efficient ways of delivering high quality animal protein, and they're already a major contributor to nutrition in much of the world. But the harvest of wild fish from "capture fisheries" has remained "relatively static" since 1980, while nearly two thirds of global fish stocks are classified as "overfished" (UN FAO, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016). Despite this "Growth in the global supply of fish for human consumption has outpaced population growth in the past five decades..." thanks to aquaculture.
But the dramatic successes of aquaculture are not without potential downsides. The conversion of coastal habitats to shrimp production has devastated large areas and reduced their ability to provide ecosystem services such as storm surge and flood protection. High density production of salmon in sea pens has been blamed for pollution and spreading disease via escapees (Farmed Salmon Decimating Wild Salmon Worldwide) though the harms have apparently been overstated in the service of special interest agendas (NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NWFSC-49, The Net-pen Salmon Farming Industry; In the Pacific Northwest A persistent ex-fish farmer discovers that if you want to understand what's really going on in the war against salmon farming, you've got to... Follow the Money).
There is a type of aquaculture that reduces or eliminates all the real or imagined threats to wild fish and the environment from sea-pen fish farms: land-based, closed circuit/recirculating production facilities. These hold such promise that the highly regarded Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program has ranked Atlantic salmon produced in such facilities with their highest endorsement as a "best choice" (Salmon Recommendation - best Atlantic salmon choice: indoor recirculating tank; It's seafood - but there's no 'sea' required).
Innovators have improved further on such land-based approaches with a biotech improved "GM" salmon that reaches market size in half the time it takes for conventionally farmed fish, and with 25% less feed. Opponents of modern breeding methods have raised a host of alleged safety objections, each of which has been examined in detail by regulatory authorities and found to be without merit (FDA Website on review of AquAdvantage Salmon).
Undeterred by authoritative refutation of their imaginary safety concerns, opponents claim biotech improved salmon threaten wild stocks, ignoring the facts that their land based locations make them highly unlikely to escape to wild habitats; they are sterile, and incapable of reproduction even if they were to escape; and they are ill-prepared to survive in the real world where they lack predator avoidance behaviors, and their constant growth phenotype would lead to starvation in the absence of food they would confront during their first winter (The story behind the well-funded opposition to block AquaBounty's sustainable GMO salmon).
After decades of regulatory review and analysis, the necessary approvals from regulators have been delivered and these salmon may reach the market in the next year or two. Meanwhile, similar improvements are being pursued in other economically important species including tilapia and catfish (Biotechnology and species development in aquaculture; Biotechnology as an Important Tool for Improving Fish Productivity).
And in an unexpected twist, this may also help compensate for negative impacts of climate change on wild fisheries (AquAdvantage salmon: climate-smart aquaculture).