Transformational blueprint for a blue economy on UK terrestrial farms: integrating sustainable shrimp production in a changing agricultural landscape

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Biosciences

Abstract

Terrestrial farming is the greatest driver of biodiversity loss, a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution, and faces its most transformational reform in 50 years to improve both environmental and economic sustainability. The new Agriculture Act, 25YEP, has commitment to net zero carbon emissions and policies to enhance environmental stewardship, sustainability and support the production of public goods. This project aims to demonstrate the socio-economic benefit of a world-leading 'terrestrial blue economy', contributing multiple public goods to reform UK agriculture.

Combining high value shrimp aquaculture with farm-based renewable energy will provide a novel home-grown output with considerable but poorly understood economic and health potential. The public goods benefits of a switch from beef/sheep production to shrimp include lower greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and land use, freeing land for other public goods such as trees, biodiversity, biodiversity net gain, and recreation. Furthermore, co-locating self-contained, indoor shrimp production units with UK farm anaerobic digesters (AD) will maximise use of their (otherwise wasted) heat energy, enhancing sustainability and circularity of both industries. Extra income will also boost the farm-based renewable energy sector, helping the UK meet emissions targets.

Shrimp is a healthy seafood with high protein, low calories, low fat, rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, promoting brain and heart health. Warm water shrimp is already highly popular seafood in the UK, with 22,852 tons (UK retail £319M) imported annually from Central America and SE Asia. However, traditional overseas production is vulnerable to climate/disease crises, has high transport-related CO2 emissions, and often uses environmentally unsustainable practices, e.g., destroying up to 80 % of nations' mangrove forests which absorb and trap more CO2 than any other of Earth's ecosystems. They also provide coastal protection against storms and coastal erosion. There is also the problem of illegal use (or just misuse) of chemicals such as pesticides and antibiotics resulting in contaminant residues in some of the shrimp exported to the UK, EU and US that can cause health issues.

This proposal aims to completely avoid these problems and ensure a risk-free, healthier and sustainable supply chain of this heart- and brain- healthy seafood for UK-consumers, by facilitating a major expansion of UK's shrimp RAS production sector which currently supplies equivalent to <1% of imports. We aim to co-locate RAS production with renewable energy sources on UK terrestrial farms. We conservatively estimate that if only 20% of the UK's current Anaerobic Digestor (AD) plants were adapted for shrimp farming, we could sustain 960 shrimp production units and harvest 5,520 tonnes of shrimp per year (~25 % of current UK warm water shrimp imports). With the rapid growth of AD plants across UK farms (10-fold increase since 2010), there is clear potential for truly sustainable, healthier, home-grown shrimp to provide the majority consumed in the near future, in addition to enhancing environmental stewardship, sustainability and supporting the production of public goods from UK agricultural practices. Importantly, this project will generate data to evaluate the true potential of sustainable UK shrimp production using renewable energy technology, as well as providing this shrimp industry with the necessary world-class scientific support. This project will therefore address 3 goals to transform the UK Food System:

1) increased environmental sustainability of farm practices (e.g., sustainable use of existing waste heat from ADs),

2) economically sustainable expansion of UK land-based aquaculture production & employment,

and

3) establishing the UK as a leader regarding capability, expertise and innovation in co-reforming agriculture and aquaculture.

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