by Dina Spector
Goodbye, tuna. So long, cod. Hello, pangasius and kelp!
These are the seafoods — and sea organisms — we are likely to be eating in the future.
(Shrimp, don't worry. You'll always be our No. 1.)
At the same time that ocean resources are hitting their limits because of climate change, pollution, and overfishing, consumer demand for seafood is increasing. To reconcile these opposing trends, we not only need to change which fish species we're eating but also how we manage wild-caught and farmed foods from the sea.
Traditional fisheries and aquaculture, a term for breeding and harvesting fish in the ocean or other bodies of waters, are built around large predatory fish, such as tuna and salmon.
Greenberg, a fellow at the Blue Ocean Institute, says we need to reorganize our "seafood pyramid" to promote filter-feeders such as seaweed and shellfish, which are easy to harvest, fast-growing, and help to clean the ocean by sucking up harmful pollutants.
Greenberg predicts that in 20 years a brown variety of seaweed called kelp will rank as one of the top 10 most consumed seafoods in America. "If I could buy kelp futures, I would," he says.
Certain species of whitefish that are better adapted for aquaculture environments, like tilapia and pangasius, will knock tuna and salmon down the list, especially as those fish become more expensive as stocks tank.
Aquaculture gets a bad reputation, mainly for environmental reasons, but it isn't bad if it's done right, says Greenberg.
That means moving away from large-scale aquaculture systems that pollute the open ocean and instead farming animals and plants that do well in small plots of ocean. That includes bivalves like clams, mussels, and oysters and edible seaweeds like kelp.
"If aquaculture were organized around this principle, then it would be good for the country," says Greenberg.
Bren Smith of Thimble Island Oyster Company, and owner of the second-largest kelp farm in the country, calls this type of ocean farming aquaculture 2.0.
Smith has pioneered an aquaculture system that "restores rather than depletes the ocean." Smith raises seaweed and shellfish together on a 20-acre underwater farm in Long Island Sound. Kelp and mussels are grown on floating lines that are attached to the sea floor by anchors. Below that are cages of oysters and clams.
This method requires very little gear (no trawls or pens) so it isn't environmentally destructive. The system is also self-sustaining because the kelp and shellfish feed themselves by straining food particles from the water. They also help the ocean by removing nitrogen — a nutrient that can lead to harmful algae blooms — from the water.
"In 20 to 30 years, kelp is going to be the cheapest food on the planet," says Smith.
Despite Smith's optimism, the expansion of kelp farming faces a couple of barriers. Although the superfood is coming along with Asian cuisine and increasingly served in salads and soups and sold in U.S. grocery stores as a dried or roasted snack, seaweed still isn't appealing to the American palate.
Smith is trying to change America's taste preferences by teaming up with restaurants in New York City to work kelp into foods that are already popular, including kelp butter and kelp fettuccine.