Looking through your book, Ecological Aquaculture: The Evolution of the Blue Revolution, I have a sense that you think the blue revolution is in its infancy. Can you comment further?

Aquaculture is about 3,000 years old, but in terms of modern development, industrial aquaculture (high intensity developments) is relatively recent. The farms are poorly funded, so there is not a lot of research and development for public benefit. We don't know who benefits the social aspects of it, or about the multiplier affects, or if the product stays in the local communities versus being exported. Aquaculture, on the industrial side, has sold itself as giving benefits to local people by supplying jobs, income, and deposition of local product in communities. However the local benefits and the studies documenting them have really not been done.

Is aquaculture the solution to overstressed ocean fisheries?

Aquaculture will never be able to meet the global needs for sustainable protein sources. Seafood demands are going to be about 150 million metric tons and fisheries can be no more than 90 to 100 million metric tons. We need both fisheries and aquaculture. We need fisheries to be sustained over the long term. We can't define aquaculture's future growth, which we clearly need. We can't define that growth on the destruction of the world's capture fisheries. We need to sustain them; we need to restore and recover them. We need to see a greater relationship between aquaculture and fisheries for fisheries restoration, environmental restoration, and public or private benefits. To define the future of aquaculture on the destruction of the world's capture fisheries is an unacceptable alternative for the future sustainability of the world's oceans.

Could you speak more about the infancy of the blue revolution?

Aquaculture is 3,000 years old, but if you look at the last 200 years, it has evolved mainly in Asia. Asian systems have rapidly changed from low input systems to high input systems to meet the increasing need for seafood, both high quality and food for the rural poor. The evolution of the blue revolution is going to require that we have greater knowledge about who benefits. If the benefits are accruing to mainly the economies of nations, because we are getting a larger pile of fish to benefit the national economy and the balance of trade, then we should be developing plans that are oriented in that manner.

I find that when most of the developments of aquaculture are being justified on the benefits accruing at lower levels, the national governments, towns, regions, communities, to local areas, then we are talking about a different type of aquaculture evolution to meet the needs of local communities. We are talking about the sustainability of rural areas and providing benefits to rural areas where there are few other alternative employment opportunities. We are talking about planning for multiplier effects; we're planning for the development of feed mills, locally. We are not importing all of this feed coming from a distance, because feeds are 50 or more percent of the total annual operating costs. Feed industries are a big business, but oftentimes, with the large industrial scale aquaculture operations, feeds are being imported from a great distance. Why aren't these feed mills being planned and developed in the local areas if you are trying to provide a whole host of new job opportunities? Aquaculture can provide a ten to one multiplier effect to local communities.

I find a real problem with the planning of aquaculture for direct public benefits. We are not even planning, for example, for the transportation networks. You have to have feed, seed, and need in order for aquaculture to be a success. I want all of that to be planned at a local level. I want to keep people in rural areas that are going to ensure the survival of a working coast and the traditions and heritages of these people far into the future. Most of the aquaculture benefits that we see today are accruing to people far away from the sites. I'd like to see more of that localized and better planned. To me, that is the evolution of the blue revolution: accruing benefits locally, ensuring local sustainability, and sustaining rural development.

How would you define the blue revolution?

It's certainly not the green revolution, which were higher inputs of fertilizers and pesticides required to yield higher quantities of rice. We are not talking about that in the blue revolution. We are not talking about the need for transgenics; we don't need transgenics in the blue revolution. Most of the species that we deal with in the aquatic realm are not domesticated or they are in the infant stages of domestication. Conventional animal breeding for producing improved varieties of virtually wild species can provide tremendous bumps in production and in benefits to local producers. That is one part of the blue revolution: using well-known animal and plant breeding techniques. Aquaculture is not only animals it is also plants like seaweeds and sea grasses.

All that we need to do there is not work on molecular transgenics. We need to work on conventional animal breeding and then bring these into more sustainable farming systems. Many of these organisms that we can farm in the aquatic realm are very opportunistic in their food needs. We know so little about what they actually require. Many of the species that have great potential for aquaculture are fed with feeds that were developed for just a small handful of species and they're thrown at these new species for aquaculture. Cobia is one example. Cobia Aquaculture is growing worldwide, but it doesn't develop single-species type feeds that are acceptable for sustaining the marine environment over the long term.

How is the green revolution different from the blue revolution?

The blue revolution is all about the people who are benefiting. The green revolution was touted to be saving the world and giving greater nutritional benefits to millions of Asians, primarily who were eating rice. The blue revolution is all about sustaining the environment and bringing high quality foods to the world.

What is needed to fix the problems with salmon aquaculture?

We need many different types of aquaculture systems and fisheries systems working together in concert to provide enough protein to sustain the demand that we see for the future crowded coastal planet. We need salmon aquaculture. It can be changed and reformed. We can have large-scale industrial type ecological systems. Industrial ecology is a well-developed concept. We can use the concepts from systems ecology and industrial ecology to look at the future of salmon aquaculture.

There are two basic issues with farmed salmon, feeds and pollution. The feeds issue can be solved; it has been shown on an experimental basis that we don't need to use fishmeal and fish oils in salmon feeds. We can produce a vegetarian salmon. Some people compare this to feeding lemongrass to lions. I disagree. It's real clear that you can use agricultural protein sources to grow carnivorous animals. You can use agricultural oils to feed carnivorous animals that are grown in the aquatic realm. The taste and market for them is another issue. The fact is that is an organically grown product. It may not look like the red, artificially farmed salmon that we have today, but it will come from organic foods.

The second issue is pollution. Having net pens in the coastal ocean that are producing pollution comparable to about 60,000 people per salmon farm is clearly not acceptable. Poor site selection and poor flushing are responsible for this. If you have excellent food conversion ratios with good feed in salmon with the use of agricultural feeds, you will be producing pollution that is mostly fish feces. What better waste to put in the marine environment? These feces could be used by a whole host of other marine organisms. These salmon structures of the future could be looked at as almost artificial reefs. However there are a lot of issues about site selection. You cannot have them in enclosed, poorly flushed bays that are amidst a crowded coastal environment with recreational with boats zipping back and forth and commercial people complaining about their operations.

What ever happened to a model of rural aquaculture development that provided direct benefits to local communities? Ones that didn't only say, "All you get is our pollution." Because that is what we are saying to them, right? We are saying to them, "Here's an industrial model, it doesn't employ your people and uses feeds from other countries." What kind of sustainable model is that? We can reform this practice; we can move these salmon farms out of the coastal zone; we can use sustainable feeds and we can provide many more benefits to local communities where salmon are raised. This is not all theory. This can happen, but who's going to take the risk? Who will produce the first organic salmon coming to the U.S. market?

What about the diversity of aquaculture?

It is not just salmon and shrimp. There are agricultural aquaculture like shellfish and then there is fed aquaculture. Aquaculture is just as diverse and large as agriculture and can provide just as many benefits to the world as agriculture. Aquaculture is not just aquatic animal husbandry. It involves seaweeds, etc. To change this viewpoint, we must move these farms out of crowded coastal areas. That seems to be the evolution of aquaculture. The primitive, surface net pens, or gravity pens, where there is a floating superstructure and a net bag underneath that to slosh around in a two to three meter wave then end up on the shore with fish all over the place. The world has no place for those in the future. Highly engineered net pen structures or cage structures that are submersible, which engage in using acoustics to prevent escapes, is readily available technology.

I would advocate offshore aquaculture. It is a tremendous future, but should be unlike the coastal pens. There should be planning to structure it like agriculture and have little impact on capture fisheries. They should consider a plan for coastal zone management. Some newly engineered net pens are submersible and at a moments notice can be submerged below a storm and be up off the bottom in a higher energy environment. The fish feces can be organic and distributed well in the open ocean to act as artificial reefs, or FADs, Fisheries Aggregation Devices. One of the most exciting projects like this is off the island of Oahu. They are growing a low trophic level species, moi, with little environmental impact. The expense is greater, but so is the market price.

Is this a positive direction in which the blue revolution is going?

Most of global aquaculture is species low on the food web, low trophic level species. This is dominated by Asia and China. There is reason for this. Feeds are less expensive. The world should take this as an example. Instead of just Tilapia and Cobia, they should develop high potential, locally appropriate, highly marketable, and acceptable species over the long term. They should raise indigenous species that are cheap to feed. The salmon and shrimp aquaculture weighs heavily on the public's conscious as well as the scientific community. Too much research has been focused on these fish at the expense of the local, indigenous species. There are 20,000 or so marine species and we know of a mere 100 or 200 of them. Species like parrotfish eat seaweeds and detritus.

We are not taking the evolution of the blue revolution in the long term indigenous way, but rather we're taking the short term, green revolution approach which grabs improved varieties using pesticides and chemicals to churn out higher production. The blue revolution is more grassroots. It asks what is important to the local communities and species, in including what the species eat. The blue revolution will happen with the expansion of the production and support systems, the feeds, seeds, the markets, and transportation systems. All that is required for sustainability. It is the height of irresponsibility to develop grow-out production systems in an area where you don't know where the seeds or fish fry or fingerlings will be coming from. Hatcheries should be developed locally with community planning that doesn't degrade society or the environment.

Will aquaculture need too many forage species one day?

The sustainability of the fishmeal and fish oil fisheries should be of concern to anyone who follows the future of resource management. There is a true need to take the pressure off of fishmeal and fish oil fisheries. This industry is being used maximally. It is of great concern that every gram of fishmeal is going to be removed from the ocean for human use, whether it is for pigs, poultry, rabbits, or salmon. This is similar to those who want to take every drop of water from the Colorado River, thinking it must all be used. We have to be better stewards of the global ocean ecosystem so that we can leave enough of the ocean's food web to sustain the ecosystem for our children, grandchildren and beyond, for 1,000 years. We have to plan for nature in addition to human needs.

The industry that is out there getting the resource will tell you it is an economically driven commodity item. Anchovy oil is cheap. If we expand into the future, especially in Asia and China, they are going to want more fish, poultry, and swine. There will not be enough fishmeal and oil for humans and nature. However you can grow all of the agricultural fish, Tilapia, Catfish, etc. with zero fish oil. There are issues of palatability. Fishmeal and oil can make the feed more palatable, but more research is needed. We must also consider the market. Tilapia is successful. It is a top, white tablecloth fish. Why aren't more people growing it? They are not aware of its marketability.