The Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and NERC have identified aquaculture as a priority research area in the delivery of the strategic objectives of the Global Food Security programme, and recognise the need for a Sustainable Aquaculture initiative that includes both biosciences and environmental sciences to build capacity and improve understanding in support of emerging national and international aquaculture research priorities.
This is a two-year interdisciplinary capacity-building programme jointly developed and funded by BBSRC and NERC in collaboration with partners including the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture (Cefas), Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and Marine Scotland. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and FSA in Scotland have also indicated that they will consider co-funding contributions on a case-by-case basis for projects that align with their policy objectives relating to food safety.
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In a warming, more populous world, greater diversity of use of the sea is both necessary and inevitable. As with hunting animals on land, the contribution of fishing is diminishing. Globally, the rapidly growing aquaculture - the farming or cultivation of organisms such as fin-fish (eg salmon, sea bream, sea trout), molluscs (eg oysters, mussels, scallops) and crustaceans (eg shrimp, crabs, lobsters) - in fresh and marine waters already in 2014 provides more human food than the capture sector, which has reached a production plateau. In the UK, the EU's biggest producer of finfish, the value of aquaculture is greater than £580 million per year and rising - of the same order as the value of wild capture fisheries at £770 million per year.
This paradigm shift in resource use requires underpinning by fundamental environmental and bioscience research to understand and manage the interactions between the ecosystem and the industry. This is required to protect natural capital and human health, to better understand the resilience of aquatic ecosystems to pressures from aquaculture, and to ensure that production can be increased sustainably to meet the growing need for highly nutritious protein and lipid, while also addressing societal environmental concerns.
Fish, molluscs and crustaceans represent about 17% of animal protein supply and 6·5% of all protein for human consumption, and some species offer low saturated fat contents, high omega-3 fatty acid contents and a range of important vitamins and micronutrients; even a small proportion of, specifically oily, fish in the diet can have large health benefits. However, there are also several risks associated with eating fish, molluscs and crustaceans, including contamination with algal toxins, metals (especially mercury), persistent organic pollutants and human pathogens. Aquaculture is the farming (or cultivation) of organisms such as fin-fish (eg salmon, sea bream, sea trout), molluscs (eg oysters, mussels, scallops) and crustaceans (eg shrimp, crabs and lobsters). This farming involves cultivating populations under controlled conditions, in contrast to harvesting from the wild.
Globally, aquaculture will overtake wild fisheries as the main source of aquatic human food in this decade and is the world's fastest growing food production sector. Aquaculture, therefore, has become a critical component of food security and is forecast to contribute 60% of fish for direct human consumption by 2030. However, its rapid expansion requires improved understanding of its environmental dependencies and effects on both ecosystems and human health. These uncertainties constitute risks both to food security and to the environment. Such risks require mitigation by fundamental underpinning of management and regulation by high quality and multidisciplinary environmental research.
This joint BBSRC-NERC Sustainable Aquaculture programme has seven priority areas for aquaculture research that have been identified with input from the BBSRC-NERC science and stakeholder communities:
- Mechanisms of disease (including parasites) infection and spread.
- Biology of health and disease resistance.
- Immunology of infection and protection, including vaccinology.
- Tools, methods and technologies for diagnostics, experimental resources, and environmental systems.
- New technologies for monitoring and predicting weather and climate-related hazards and risks to the expanding aquaculture sector as it moves into environments more exposed to wind and waves.
- Determining interactions between wild and farmed fish.
- Assessing the long-term environmental capacity for increased aquaculture production.
A specific overall objective of this joint programme is to build the capacity of both the environmental and bioscience research base by drawing in new researchers (eg remote sensing, human health, and physical and ecosystem modellers) to the aquaculture sector.
- The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (PDF, 8·2MB) - external link Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 2014
- Fish to 2030, Prospects for Fisheries and Aquaculture (PDF, 6·65MB) - external link World Bank, 2013
The Sustainable Aquaculture programme and the resulting call for proposals was developed in consultation with a multi-disciplinary working group comprising scientists from the NERC science community.
Can I apply for a grant?
No, the call for proposals is now closed.
This programme has a budget of up to £6 million funded by BBSRC, NERC, Cefas, AFBI and Marine Scotland. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and FSA in Scotland have also indicated that they will consider co-funding contributions on a case-by-case basis for projects that align with their policy objectives relating to food safety.