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Avoiding the ecological limits of forage fish for fed aquaculture

Nature Sustainabilityvolume 1pages298303 (2018) | Download Citation


Aquaculture is supporting demand and surpassing wild-caught seafood. Yet, most fed aquaculture species (finfish and crustacea) rely on wild-captured forage fish for essential fatty acids and micronutrients, an important but limited resource. As the fastest growing food sector in the world, fed aquaculture demand will eventually surpass ecological supply of forage fish, but when and how best to avoid this ecological boundary is unclear. Using global production data, feed use trends, and human consumption patterns, we show how combined actions of fisheries reform, reduced feed use by non-carnivorous aquaculture and agricultural species, and greater consistent inclusion of fish by-products in China-based production can circumvent forage fish limits by mid-century. However, we also demonstrate that the efficacies of such actions are diminished if global diets shift to more seafood-heavy (that is, pescatarian) diets and are further constrained by possible ecosystem-based fisheries regulations in the future. Long-term, nutrient-equivalent alternative feed sources are essential for more rapid and certain aquaculture sustainability.

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This research and H.E.F. were supported by the Science for Nature and People Partnership, a partnership of The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (SNP015). N.S.J. was supported by VILLUM FONDEN (grant VKR023371). T.C. acknowledges support by the Waitt Foundation.

Author information


  1. National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

    • Halley E. Froehlich
    •  & Benjamin S. Halpern
  2. School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

    • Nis Sand Jacobsen
    •  & Timothy E. Essington
  3. Sustainable Fisheries Group, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

    • Tyler Clavelle
  4. Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

    • Benjamin S. Halpern
  5. Imperial College London, London, UK

    • Benjamin S. Halpern


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H.E.F. conceived the initial study. H.E.F., N.S.J. and T.E.E. developed the research and methodology with critical input and insight from T.C. and B.S.H. H.E.F. and N.S.J. collected and analysed the data. All authors interpreted the results and implications. H.E.F. and N.S.J. made the figures. H.E.F. drafted the manuscript with significant input and revisions from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Halley E. Froehlich.

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    Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Tables 1,2, Supplementary Figs 1–4, Supplementary References 1–8

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