Farms under the sea could feed the world in 2050
This small mussel farm off the coast of California is a window into the future of feeding the planet. – You can feed a vast majority of the world’s populations on mussels alone. Earth’s population is growing so fast that we’ll need to produce more food in the next 50 years than we’ve raised in the last 10,000. – People are really actively looking towards the ocean for the future. Oceans cover more than two thirds of the earth’s surface. But right now, they produce just 2% of our food. – You can’t take any more fish out of the ocean. You’ve got to grow it. Phil Cruver is part of a new wave of entrepreneurs proving ocean farms can help feed the world without destroying the environment. I’m Erik Olsen. This is Quartz. – This is historic. It will be the first time we’ve had a harvest in U.S. federal waters in the United States in history. Phil Cruver started and sold several tech businesses before deciding to farm the waters off of Los Angeles. – The carrying capacity out here is just enormous. Right now, the mussels caught at the Catalina Sea Ranch are just a tiny 100 acre experiment. – We’re starting off with mussels as our cash crop because they don’t get disease, there’s a lot less risk factors, they grow faster. Currently, almost all the food we eat comes from the land, but that’s resource intensive. – 29% of the Earth’s surface is land and 40% of that arable land, we produce food on. That’s immense amounts of space for something that we could do in a much smaller amount of space in the ocean. Growing food on land is also a dirty business. Worldwide, livestock accounts for about 15% of human induced greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also very inefficient and expensive. – It requires anywhere between six to seven pounds of feed to get out one pound of cow, right. And so that requires an immense amount of water and land and other resources. So many are looking to the sea to help feed the world. But overfishing has left much of the oceans pushed to their biological limits. We are at a point now that scientists call ‘Peak Fish’. – So ‘Peak Fish’ means when did we get to a point where we no longer were able to take more out of the ocean. – But the amount of fish we’re catching is plateauing. The oceans aren’t getting any cleaner. We have enough fishing boats, we have way too many fishing boats out there right now. Most of the fish that’s farmed at the moment are finfish like salmon and carp. They’re fed with a diet of fish lower in the food chain, which means more fishing is needed to feed the fish we eat. Nearly one-third of the global marine fish catch goes to feed farmed fish. – Right now, they’re getting it at as low as one to one. So one pound of feed for one pound of fish. That’s a lot better than land animals, but mussels can do even better. You don’t have to feed them at all. They just filter their food from the water. – Mussels are good to farm for a variety of reasons. First, a lot of the things you associate with bad farming on land — cramped quarters, use of questionable foods, use of different chemicals — you don’t need that for mussels. Mussels like tight spaces, they don’t need a lot of antibiotics, and they don’t need any food. They can also clean up the water. Ryan Bigelow runs operations for Seafood Watch, a Monterey Bay Aquarium program that promotes sustainable seafood. He says aquaculture, especially with shrimp and salmon, has had a bad reputation for pollution spreading disease and other environmental impacts. In some countries, these remain big problems, but new companies are showing it can be done well. – Fish farming is by no means a perfect business. There have been issues in the past with everything from escapes to pollution, to the destruction of mangroves. And some of those things still do happen. But the difference now between aquaculture, even 15, 20 years ago, is that they’re our best performers. And aquaculture has a lot of room to grow in the U.S. – So right now, 90% of all aquaculture happens in Southeast Asia. China is 60% of that production. Norway and Chile are some of the largest finfish producers in the world for Atlantic Salmon. A big reason is regulations. The U.S. hasn’t allowed aquaculture in federal waters. Until now. Phil thinks that means there’s a huge opportunity here. Several companies are already planning to open aquaculture farms in California, waiting to see if he’s successful. Today’s harvest is small, just 1000 pounds. Back at the pier in Los Angeles Harbor the mussels go directly to a seafood distributor and then to fish markets around Southern California, ending up on people’s plates. But for this kind of farming to feed the world, it has to overcome another challenge. – People have to want to eat mussels. And especially in the U.S. they don’t really. – Perception, a lot of people asked they said, “What is it for, bait?” They don’t understand the nutrition and the tastiness of mussels. So it’s gonna be a big branding challenge. We need Leonardo DiCaprio to eat a pizza with mussels on it, rather than sausage, showing the sustainability. But even without Leo, tastes may be changing. – At least in the last I’d say 12 to 14 months, customer requests for mussels, like these, have almost tripled. Mike Ungaro is selling Phil’s mussels at his market. – So we are now seeing a huge increase in the demand, and to have a locally sourced product like this that’s high quality and literally right off the coast, I think customers are going to go crazy for it. Feeding the planet’s next two billion people will mean changing where we farm and how we farm. It will require new technology and better tools, and an open mind to trying new food. Hey, I’m Preeti Varathan with Quartz. So, are you ready to eat more mussels to save the environment? Let us know in the comments, And subscribe to the Quartz channel for more videos like this one.