Guyana’s agriculture industry may be best known for the production of rice and sugarcane, but did you know the country also has a thriving aquaculture sector? Over the last two decades, Guyana’s government has been making important investments in aquaculture, aiming to increase food production and security, generate local employment and improve incomes, attract investors, and boost the country’s exports.
Financial institutions are also getting in on the act. For example, GBTI, Guyana’s first indigenous bank and the largest lender to Guyana’s agricultural industry, offers loans tailored toward aquaculture-based businesses, with quick approvals and preferential interest rates.
But even though aquaculture is becoming an increasingly important element of Guyana’s agricultural sector, many people are still unsure about what exactly aquaculture is or why it’s important. If you have questions about aquaculture, read on to get some answers.
What is aquaculture?
The technical answer to this question is that aquaculture is the use of controlled conditions and processes to cultivate aquatic organisms, usually for human consumption. In other words, it’s essentially the same practice as agriculture, except that the end products are fish or shellfish rather than plants or livestock (this similarity is the reason why aquaculture is often referred to as “fish farming”).
While aquaculture might seem like a relatively new or high-tech concept, the reality is that people have been exploring ways to control and raise fish for food for thousands of years. One of the most famous works on the subject, The Classic of Fish Culture, was written in China in the 5th century BCE.
How does aquaculture work?
Aquaculture is practiced all over the world in a variety of environments, including coastal ocean waters, freshwater ponds and rivers, and even on land, in advanced recirculating systems. In recent decades, the technologies, systems, and practices involved have developed rapidly, making modern aquaculture a highly efficient and productive industry that delivers fresh fish and shellfish from farm to table.
While the exact methods used in aquaculture can vary depending on the type of fish and the place they are being raised, there are generally four stages along the production chain.
First is the hatchery. This is where the fish are bred, eggs are hatched, and where young fish are reared through their very early life stages. When the fish are mature enough, they travel to the second stage: the farm, or aquaculture facility. This is where they grow until they are big enough to harvest. While at the farm, the fish are given food produced at feed mills, aquaculture’s third stage. Finally, the harvested fish are transported to a processing facility, where they are prepared and packaged for sale to food retailers and grocery stores.
What can be produced through aquaculture?
Amazingly enough, aquaculture is currently used to produce more than 200 different species of aquatic animals. Everything from finfish to mollusks to crustaceans can be reared at an aquaculture facility.
Globally, the most popular types of farmed seafood include salmon, shrimp, and mussels. In Guyana, the aquaculture industry is focused on tilapia, a popular, mild-tasting freshwater fish; pacu, a type of freshwater fish native to South America that is related to the piranha; and shrimp. According to the World Bank, just over half (52 percent) of the world’s seafood supply comes from aquaculture operations; by 2030, that figure is expected to rise to 62 percent.
What impact does aquaculture have on the environment?
The environmental impact of aquaculture hasn’t always been positive, but in recent years, the global aquaculture industry has made a significant effort to improve its practices and produce fish and seafood more sustainably.
Today, aquaculture facilities are more carefully sited in order to reduce the problem of nutrient and effluent buildup. Meanwhile, the use of antibiotics is declining, and what’s more, antibiotics are being replaced by safe and effective vaccinations for the farmed fish.
New technologies such as underwater cameras allow growing areas to be more carefully monitored to prevent fish from escaping into the surrounding area. In addition, more and more aquaculture facilities are exploring other natural ways to offset their environmental impact. For example, filter-feeders like shellfish can actually improve water quality by eating excessive nutrients found in the water, so they are often integrated into the farming of other species to reduce nutrient buildup naturally.
Why do we need aquaculture?
While the world’s population—and its appetite for seafood—continues to grow, experts estimate that wild harvest fisheries have already reached their maximum sustainable yield. To fill this gap, and to satisfy the expected 52 percent increase in demand for animal protein by 2050, we will need to make use of alternative approaches, such as aquaculture, to feed the world in a healthy and sustainable way.
In addition, aquaculture brings many benefits to our food production system. For example, aquaculture has a much lower rate of greenhouse gas emissions than other types of farming, and the seafood it produces has the highest protein retention in comparison to beef, pork, and even chicken.