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Reorientation of aquaculture production systems can reduce environmental impacts and improve nutrition security in Bangladesh


Aquatic foods are a critical source of human nutrition in many developing countries. As a result, declines in wild-caught fish landings threaten nutritionally vulnerable populations. Aquaculture presents an opportunity to meet local demand, but it also places pressure on natural resource inputs and causes a range of environmental impacts. Here, we examine whether current aquaculture systems in Bangladesh can be reoriented to address prevailing nutritional deficiencies while minimizing these environmental impacts. Current fish farming practices, even when optimized, cannot fully supply the same essential micronutrient densities of zinc, iron and calcium as wild-caught fish. However, when the proportion of highly nutrient-dense small indigenous fish species (SIS) was increased to at least 30% of the total output in any of the 14 aquaculture production systems analysed, these systems were able to meet or surpass the nutrient densities of average wild-capture fisheries. Extensive aquaculture systems that co-produce fish and rice had the lowest environmental burdens in six out of seven metrics examined when the composition of all aquaculture systems was modified to include 50% SIS. Nutrition-sensitive aquaculture that provides greater human health benefits and minimizes environmental impacts is a key societal challenge that requires targeted interventions and supportive policies.

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Fig. 1: Total dietary intake, for all age–sex groups, of five nutrients compared with estimated average requirements, and the contribution of farmed and wild-caught fish.
Fig. 2: Nutrient densities of fish types and aquaculture systems.
Fig. 3: Aquaculture production proportions and volumes that minimize environmental impacts.

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Data availability

The data used for the calculations and figures in this manuscript can be found in the Supplementary Data.

Code availability

All relevant code (in Matlab and R) is available from A.S. on request.


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A.S. and C.D.G. are supported by grants from The Nature Conservancy, Christopher Stix and Michelle Roman to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. J.A.G. was funded by the US National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center under funding received from the National Science Foundation DBI-1052875. P.J.G.H. is funded by FORMAS (2016-00227 and 2018-02318) and CGIAR Research Programs FISH and CCAFS. A.S. and P.J.G.H. thank the Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation for supporting the Beijer Young Scholars network.

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All authors participated in the writing and editing of the manuscript and have approved the final version. A.S. assembled the data, conducted the analyses, and wrote and edited the original manuscript. All authors had full access to the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. The corresponding author attests that all listed authors meet authorship criteria and that no others meeting these criteria have been omitted.

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Correspondence to Alon Shepon.

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Shepon, A., Gephart, J.A., Henriksson, P.J.G. et al. Reorientation of aquaculture production systems can reduce environmental impacts and improve nutrition security in Bangladesh. Nat Food 1, 640–647 (2020).

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