Editor's note: Brian O'Hanlon is a pioneer in aquaculture. He is raising fish in the swift waters of the open ocean, eight miles off the coast in Panama. CNN's "The Next List" will feature the founder of Open Blue on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.
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To feed a growing population, 'bet on the ocean' and innovation
By Brian O'Hanlon, CNN
I once read an article in The Guardian that said this: Over the next 50 years humans will need to produce more food than all the food ever produced over the past 10,000 years combined. There is no disputing that our global food supply is stretched to the limit. We already use most of the farmland on the planet and have exhausted most of the world’s fisheries. Our ability to produce food, one of our great successes as a species, is rapidly depleting. If we do not innovate and seriously transform our methods for feeding the world’s population, we will soon find ourselves at a point where we can no longer feed our growing population.
A number of factors make aquaculture one of the most efficient forms of food production available, particularly open ocean fish farming. First, it’s important to understand that fish are cold-blooded, meaning they do not use lots of energy to warm their bodies, like chicken, pigs or cattle do. Fish use the water around them to support their bones while land-dwelling animals require large amounts of energy to support their bodies against gravity. Additionally, the water environment enables fish to occupy more space and grow in far larger quantities per square foot than any animal raised in a field. Simply put, fish waste less of our precious land. Let’s also not forget that land-raised protein, whether animal or crop, requires massive amounts of fresh water to grow. Aquaculture requires almost no fresh water for the fish to thrive.
While marine aquaculture typically involves growing stock on fish from the ocean, these feeder fish come from highly abundant fisheries and, if well-managed at the source, can be one of the greatest sources of renewable energy on the planet. Overall, marine fish farming has significantly less strain on our natural resources than just about any other form of food production. So, if we need to produce more food in the next 50 years than the last 10,000 years combined, I’m betting on the ocean.
In 1973, the ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau said: “With Earth’s burgeoning human population to feed, we must turn to the sea with new understanding and new technology … We must farm it as we farm the land.” We don’t farm our land-based crops along the coasts, in cities or out on barges in the middle of the ocean. So why would we farm our ocean-based crops in congested and sensitive coastal waters or crammed into big tanks onshore, potentially hundreds of miles from the ocean? The logical place to farm marine life is in our seas, far from shore, in vast open ocean environments where water is pure and there are no sensitive ecosystems. I see the open ocean just like U.S. pioneers of old saw the fertile plains of the Midwest; only I see blue, not green, with rolling swells, not hills; using boats, not tractors; and wetsuits, not overalls. To most people this is a foreign and challenging environment, but for me, and my team at Open Blue, it is one of the greatest challenges and opportunities of our time.