By the end of this year, the world is projected to reach an unheralded but historic milestone: Half of the fish and shellfish we consume will be raised by humans, rather than caught in the wild.
Reaching this tipping point is reshaping everything from our oceans to the livelihoods and diets of people across the globe. It has also prompted a new round of scientific and political scrutiny, as researchers and public officials examine how aquaculture is affecting the world's environment and seafood supply.
"Hunting and gathering has reached its maximum," said Ronald W. Hardy, who directs the University of Idaho's Aquaculture Research Institute and co-authored a study on the subject in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "We've got to grow more."
The drive to bring fish "from egg to plate," as Hardy puts it, has the potential to answer a growing demand for seafood worldwide, as well as reduce some of the imports that compose more than 80 percent of the fish and shellfish Americans eat each year. But without technological advances to improve efficiency, it could threaten to wipe out the forage fish that lie at the bottom of the ocean's food chain and potentially contaminate parts of the sea.