For the first time in history, the world is farming more fish than cattle. According to a recent report from the Earth Policy Institute, the output of farmed fish reached 66 million tons (60 million tonnes) in 2012, more than the 63 million tons of beef production.
This is not to say that meat production has slowed; it has actually increased by 600% since 1950 due to population growth. But more consumers are turning to healthier forms of protein, and fish farming, or aquaculture, has skyrocketed as natural fish reserves have declined. Meanwhile, rising soybean and grain prices needed to sustain cattle have contributed to meat’s decline. This year may be the first time that people eat more farmed fish than fish caught in the wild, according to the report.
China, which accounts for 62% of the world’s aquaculture, raises fish like silver carp, which can survive on cheaper inputs like grass and plankton. But farmed shrimp and salmon survive on fishmeal and fish oil from anchovies, sardines, and herring, which are greatly over-harvested from the seas. Our rising consumption of fish can’t continue, then, unless we find more sustainable ways to farm them.