Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Agriculture can help aquaculture become greener


Aquaculture, the farming of fish and seafood, is recognized as a highly efficient system for producing protein for human consumption. In contrast, many terrestrial animal protein production systems are inefficient, impacting land use and exacerbating climate change. Humankind needs to adopt a more plant-centric diet, the only exception being fish consumed as both a source of protein and essential dietary nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids. Here we consider the implications of such a transition, and the challenges that aquaculture must overcome to increase productivity within planetary boundaries. We consider how agriculture, specifically crops, can provide solutions for aquaculture, especially the sectors that are dependent on marine ingredients. For example, agriculture can provide experience with managing monocultures and new technologies such as genetically modified crops tailored specifically for use in aquaculture. We propose that a closer connection between agriculture and aquaculture will create a resilient food system capable of meeting increasing dietary and nutritional demands without exhausting planetary resources.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Salmon farming in Shetland.


  1. 1.

    Willett, W. et al. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Lancet 393, 447–492 (2019).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Tubb, C. & Seba, T. Rethinking Food and Agriculture 2020–2030 (RethinkX, 2019);

  3. 3.

    Calder, P. C. Very long-chain n-3 fatty acids and human health: fact, fiction and the future. Proc. Nutr. Soc. 77, 52–72 (2018).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Hamilton, H. A., Newton, R., Auchterlonie, N. A. & Müller, D. B. Systems approach to quantify the global omega-3 fatty acid cycle. Nat. Food 1, 59–62 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020: Sustainability in Action (FAO, 2020).

  6. 6.

    Troell, M., Jonell, M. & Crona, B. The Role of Seafood in Sustainable and Healthy Diets: The EAT-Lancet Commission Report Through a Blue Lens (EAT, 2020);

  7. 7.

    The Continuing Importance of Fishmeal and Fish Oil in Aquafeeds (IFFO, 2018);

  8. 8.

    Gatlin, D. M. et al. Expanding the utilization of sustainable plant products in aquafeeds: a review. Aquacult. Res. 38, 551–579 (2007).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Turchini, G. M., Ng, W. K. & Tocher, D. R. (eds) Fish Oil Replacement and Alternative Lipid Sources in Aquaculture Feeds (Taylor & Francis, CRC, 2011).

  10. 10.

    Shepherd, C. J., Monroig, O. & Tocher, D. R. Future availability of raw materials for salmon feeds and supply chain implications: the case of Scottish farmed salmon. Aquaculture 467, 49–62 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Aas, T. S., Ytrestøyl, T. & Åsgård, T. Utilization of feed resources in the production of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) in Norway: an update for 2016. Aquacult. Rep. 15, 100216 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Tocher, D. R. Omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids and aquaculture in perspective. Aquaculture 449, 94–107 (2015).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Naylor, R. L. et al. Feeding aquaculture in an era of finite resources. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 15103–15110 (2009).

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Ytrestøyl, T., Aas, T. S. & Åsgård, T. Utilisation of feed resources in production of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). Aquaculture 448, 365–374 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Sprague, M., Dick, J. R. & Tocher, D. R. Impact of sustainable feeds on omega-3 long-chain fatty acid levels in farmed Atlantic salmon, 2006–2015. Sci. Rep. 6, 21892 (2016).

    ADS  CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Sprague, M., Betancor, M. B., Dick, J. R. & Tocher, D. R. Nutritional evaluation of seafood, with respect to long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, available to UK consumers. Proc. Nutr. Soc. 76, E38 (2017). (OCE2).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Tocher, D. R. Metabolism and functions of lipids and fatty acids in teleost fish. Rev. Fish. Sci. 11, 107–184 (2003).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Tocher, D. R. Fatty acid requirements in ontogeny of marine and freshwater fish. Aquacult. Res. 41, 717–732 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Montero, D. & Izquierdo, M. in Fish Oil Replacement and Alternative Lipid Sources in Aquaculture Feeds (eds Turchini, G. M. et al.) 439–485 (Taylor & Francis, CRC, 2011).

  20. 20.

    Tocher, D. R. & Glencross, B. D. in Dietary Nutrients, Additives, and Fish Health (eds Lee, C.-S. et al.) 47–94 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015).

  21. 21.

    Houston, R. D. et al. Harnessing genomics to fast-track genetic improvement in aquaculture. Nat. Rev. Genet. (2020).

  22. 22.

    Mehrabi, Z., Gill, M., Wijk, M., Herrero, M. & Ramankutty, N. Livestock policy for sustainable development. Nat. Food 1, 160–165 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Herman, E. M. & Schmidt, M. A. The potential for engineering enhanced functional-feed soybeans for sustainable aquaculture feed. Front. Plant Sci. 7, 440 (2016).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Domergue, F., Abbadi, A. & Heinz, E. Relief for fish stocks: oceanic fatty acids in transgenic oilseeds. Trends Plant Sci. 10, 112–116 (2005).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Tocher, D. R., Betancor, M. B., Sprague, M., Olsen, R. E. & Napier, J. A. Omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, EPA and DHA: bridging the gap between supply and demand. Nutrients 11, 89 (2019).

    CAS  Article  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Petrie, J. R. et al. Development of a Brassica napus (Canola) crop containing fish oil-like levels of DHA in the seed oil. Front. Plant Sci. 11, 727 (2020).

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Betancor, M. B. et al. A nutritionally-enhanced oil from transgenic Camelina sativa effectively replaced marine fish oil as a source of eicosapentaenoic acid for farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). Sci. Rep. 5, 8104 (2015).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Han, L. et al. High level accumulation of EPA and DHA in field-grown transgenic Camelina—a multi-territory evaluation of TAG accumulation and heterogeneity. Plant Biotechnol J. (2020).

  29. 29.

    Betancor, M. B. et al. Oil from transgenic Camelina sativa containing over 25 % n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids as the major lipid source in feed for Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). Br. J. Nutr. 119, 1378–1392 (2018).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Ruyter, B. et al. n-3 Canola oil effectively replaces fish oil as a new safe dietary source of DHA in feed for juvenile Atlantic salmon. Br. J. Nutr. 122, 1329–1345 (2019).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    West, A. L. et al. Postprandial incorporation of EPA and DHA from transgenic Camelina sativa oil into blood lipids is equivalent to that from fish oil in healthy humans. Br. J. Nutr. 121, 1235–1246 (2019).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Lim, K. C., Yusoff, F. M., Shariff, M. & Kamarudin, M. S. Astaxanthin as feed supplement in aquatic animals. Rev. Aquacult. 10, 738–773 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Breitenbach, J. et al. Engineered maize as a source of astaxanthin: processing and application as fish feed. Transgenic Res. 25, 785–793 (2016).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Park, H. et al. Towards the development of a sustainable soya bean‐based feedstock for aquaculture. Plant Biotechnol. J. 15, 227–236 (2017).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Nogueira, M. et al. Engineering of tomato for the sustainable production of ketocarotenoids and its evaluation in aquaculture feed. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 10876–10881 (2017).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Clarke, J. L., Waheed, M. T., Lössl, A. G., Martinussen, I. & Daniell, H. How can plant genetic engineering contribute to cost-effective fish vaccine development for promoting sustainable aquaculture? Plant Mol. Biol. 83, 33–40 (2013).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Simon, J. C. & Peccoud, J. Rapid evolution of aphid pests in agricultural environments. Curr. Opin. Insect Sci. 26, 17–24 (2018).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Barrett, L. T., Overton, K., Stien, L. H., Oppedal, F. & Dempster, T. Effect of cleaner fish on sea lice in Norwegian salmon aquaculture: a national scale data analysis. Int. J. Parisitol. 50, 787–796 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Jones, S. W., Karpol, A., Friedman, S., Maru, B. T. & Tracy, B. P. Recent advances in single cell protein use as a feed ingredient in aquaculture. Curr. Opin. Biotechnol. 61, 189–197 (2020).

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Arru, B., Furesi, R., Gasco, L., Madau, F. A. & Pulina, P. The introduction of insect meal into fish diet: the first economic analysis on European sea bass farming. Sustainability 11, 1697 (2019).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Ringø, E. et al. Effect of dietary components on the gut microbiota of aquatic animals. A never-ending story? Aquacult. Nutr. 22, 219–282 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    European Food Safety Authority. Scientific opinion on the efficacy of Bactocell (Pediococcus acidilactici) when used as a feed additive for fish. EFSA J. 10, 2886 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Ringø, E., Olsen, R. E., Gonzalez Vecino, J. L., Wadsworth, S. & Song, S. K. Use of immunostimulants and nucleotides in aquaculture: a review. J. Mar. Sci. Res. Dev. 2, 104 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    de Freitas Souza, C. et al. Essential oils as stress-reducing agents for fish aquaculture: a review. Front. Physiol. 10, 785 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Napier, J. A., Haslam, R. P., Tsalavouta, M. & Sayanova, O. The challenges of delivering genetically modified crops with nutritional enhancement traits. Nat. Plants 5, 563–567 (2019).

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


Rothamsted Research receives grant-aided support from the BBSRC. J.A.N. and R.P.H. were partially supported by BBSRC ISPG Tailoring Plant Metabolism (BBS/E/C/000I0420). J.A.N., D.R.T. and M.B.B. were partly supported by BBSRC IPA, Evaluating novel plant oilseeds enriched in omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids to support sustainable development of aquaculture (BB/J001252/1), and BBSRC IPA Novel omega-3 sources in feeds and impacts on salmon health (BB/S005919/1). R.-E.O., J.A.N., D.R.T. and M.B.B. were also partly supported by Research Council of Norway HAVBRUK Program grant no. 245325, Transgenic oilseed crops as novel, safe, sustainable and cost-effective sources of EPA and DHA for salmon feed.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Johnathan A. Napier.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

J.A.N. is listed as an inventor on patents (granted and pending) relating to the production of omega-3 LC-PUFAs in transgenic plants (patent GB1206483.8 and subsequent family members).

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Food thanks Sachi Kaushik, Surinder Singh and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Napier, J.A., Haslam, R.P., Olsen, RE. et al. Agriculture can help aquaculture become greener. Nat Food 1, 680–683 (2020).

Download citation


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing