Circularity Principles to Transform Sustainable Aquaculture

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By Milthon Lujan

Main inputs and outputs of aquaculture systems and their potential environmental impacts on resource and receiving ecosystems based. Source: Chary et al., (2023)
Main inputs and outputs of aquaculture systems and their potential environmental impacts on resource and receiving ecosystems based. Source: Chary et al., (2023)

The circular economy is considered a path to reduce the environmental impacts of human activities by promoting more efficient resource use and material recovery, resulting in reduced waste and emissions compared to linear systems.

Through more efficient resource utilization and material recovery, this philosophy aims to minimize waste and emissions, in contrast to linear systems of production and consumption. However, its application in aquaculture, one of the most important sectors of the food industry, has been underestimated.

In this context, researchers from Wageningen University & Research (WUR), INRAE, the Institute of Marine Research, and Stockholm University published a study in which they apply and expand upon the ecological principles developed by Muscat et al. (2021) to guide biomass use towards a circular economy.

The researchers have expanded upon these principles and provide a review to (i) adapt them to aquaculture while identifying implications for the main species and production systems, and (ii) identify the main pathways to make aquaculture more circular.

The scientific review is organized into five sections, one for each principle proposed by Muscat et al., summarizing the main concepts developed in the five circularity principles.

Circular Aquaculture

The study reports that although some concepts of circular economy have been explored for modern aquaculture, these studies have focused on relatively few topics.

“The most studied concepts in circular economy for modern aquaculture include waste management, recycling of nutrients and by-products, new ingredients for aquaculture feeds, and the production of systems that reuse excess nutrients at the farm scale,” the researchers report.

However, no scientific publication has conducted a review of the state of the art of implementing circular economy concepts in global aquaculture and/or the main mechanisms accelerating the transition to a more circular aquaculture.

Ecological Principles for Circular Aquaculture

The five ecological principles proposed by Muscat et al. form the basis of this initiative:

  • Safeguard: Protect and maintain aquatic ecosystems to ensure long-term sustainability.
  • Entropy: Reduce the loss of energy and nutrients through the food chain.
  • Recycle: Promote the reuse of nutrients and materials in aquaculture production.
  • Avoid: Minimize negative impacts, such as pollution and biodiversity loss.
  • Prioritize: Focus on the production of species that promote food security and have low environmental impacts.

Priorities to Make Aquaculture More Circular

The application of these principles in aquaculture offers significant opportunities to reduce its environmental footprint and contribute to a more sustainable food system. Some key areas of focus include:

  • Increase Production of Essential Species: Concentrate on breeding species that are essential for food security and have a lower environmental impact.
  • Reduce Feed Loss: Implement measures to reduce feed losses at all stages of production and the supply chain.
  • Promote Nutrient Recovery: Develop nutrient recycling practices in aquaculture to minimize the release of pollutants and optimize resource use.
  • Adapt Fish Feed Formulations: Refine fish diets to improve feed efficiency and reduce the environmental footprint of aquaculture.
  • Consumer Education: Inform consumers about the benefits of consuming low trophic level species and other environmentally friendly aquatic foods.
  • Urgent Research: Address knowledge gaps to support the transition to a more circular and sustainable aquaculture.

Benefits of Circular Aquaculture

The application of these principles and priorities can lead to a more sustainable aquaculture industry aligned with the goals of a circular economy. In addition to reducing environmental impacts, this transition is expected to improve food security and promote more ethical practices in the industry.

Circular aquaculture is not only a key strategy for preserving aquatic ecosystems but also contributes to a more sustainable and equitable future in food production.

In summary, the circular economy offers a promising path to address environmental challenges in aquaculture. By adopting these principles and priorities, we can transform the way we produce and consume marine foods, reducing our environmental impact and moving towards a more sustainable future.

Killian Chary
Wageningen University & Research
P.O. Box 338, 6700 AH Wageningen
The Netherlands.
Email: killian.chary@wur.nl; killian.chary@gmail.com

Reference (open access)
Chary, K, van Riel, A-J, Muscat, A, et al. Transforming sustainable aquaculture by applying circularity principles. Rev Aquac. 2023; 1-18. doi:10.1111/raq.12860

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