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Time to rethink trophic levels in aquaculture policy


Cottrell, RS and Metian, M and Froehlich, HE and Blanchard, JL and Sand Jacobsen, N and McIntyre, PB and Nash, KL and Williams, DR and Bouwman, L and Gephart, JA and Kuempel, CD and Moran, DD and Troell, M and Halpern, BS, Time to rethink trophic levels in aquaculture policy, Reviews in Aquaculture, 13, (3) pp. 1583-1593. ISSN 1753-5131 (2021) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2021 John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd.

DOI: doi:10.1111/raq.12535


Aquaculture policy often promotes production of low‐trophic level species for sustainable industry growth. Yet, the application of the trophic level concept to aquaculture is complex, and its value for assessing sustainability is further complicated by continual reformulation of feeds. The majority of fed farmed fish and invertebrate species are produced using human‐made compound feeds that can differ markedly from the diet of the same species in the wild and continue to change in composition. Using data on aquaculture feeds, we show that technical advances have substantially decreased the mean effective trophic level of farmed species, such as salmon (mean TL = 3.48 to 2.42) and tilapia (2.32 to 2.06), from 1995 to 2015. As farmed species diverge in effective trophic level from their wild counterparts, they are coalescing at a similar effective trophic level due to standardisation of feeds. This pattern blurs the interpretation of trophic level in aquaculture because it can no longer be viewed as a trait of the farmed species, but rather is a dynamic feature of the production system. Guidance based on wild trophic position or historical resource use is therefore misleading. Effective aquaculture policy needs to avoid overly simplistic sustainability indicators such as trophic level. Instead, employing empirically derived metrics based on the specific farmed properties of species groups, management techniques and advances in feed formulation will be crucial for achieving truly sustainable options for farmed seafood.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:aquaculture, trophic levels, sustainability, feed, policy
Research Division:Agricultural, Veterinary and Food Sciences
Research Group:Fisheries sciences
Research Field:Aquaculture
Objective Division:Animal Production and Animal Primary Products
Objective Group:Fisheries - aquaculture
Objective Field:Aquaculture fin fish (excl. tuna)
UTAS Author:Cottrell, RS (Dr Richard Cottrell)
UTAS Author:Blanchard, JL (Professor Julia Blanchard)
UTAS Author:Nash, KL (Dr Kirsty Nash)
ID Code:143870
Year Published:2021
Web of Science® Times Cited:20
Deposited By:Ecology and Biodiversity
Deposited On:2021-04-07
Last Modified:2022-10-14

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