Sustainable aquaculture and selective breeding

Aquaculture plays a critical role in meeting the world’s future demand for animal protein for human consumption. Genetically improved stocks of aquaculture species are critical for the development of a profitable aquaculture production with better utilization of limited feed, land and water resources.

The maximum wild capture fisheries has been reached causing aquaculture to become the fastest growing food production sector in the world. There is potential for producing considerably more aquaculture products to meet the needs of a rapidly growing world population, but sustainable development depends on more of the aquaculture production being based on herbivorous species and genetically improved stocks. 

Well-designed breeding programs have revolutionized the biological efficiency of plant and livestock production through the development of genetically improved, high yielding seed stocks. 

Aquaculture generally lags far behind with respect to uptake of this technology. Many fish and shellfish producers still use wild stocks or production stocks kept only a few generations in captivity and thus do not benefit from the use of high yielding stocks.

Selective Breeding

Efforts have been made to speed up the development of genetically improved aquaculture stocks by using genetic engineering techniques to change the genetic material artificially. Some of these “genetically improved organisms” (GMOs) have demonstrated considerable genetic superiority as compared to wild, unselected animals, but public concerns about the potential negative effects on human health, animal welfare and to the environment have restricted the use of this strategy in aquaculture. 

Conventional selective breeding, i.e. the intentional breeding of organisms to produce offspring with desirable and improved characteristics is based on natural processes and hence not controversial.

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As with natural selection, best-suited individuals to their “environment” (specified in the breeding objective) get higher reproductive success leading to a gradual improvement of desired genetic qualities.

Even relatively simple and low-cost individual (mass) selection programs can be highly effective for improving traits recorded on live breeding candidates (e.g. growth), but long-term efficiency strongly depends on the implementation of effective inbreeding control. 

Family-based selective breeding programs, which enable effective selection for all types of traits including those that require destructive tests (e.g. carcass quality) or disturbing tests (e.g. disease challenge), is now established as the industry standard for genetic improvement of aquaculture species. 

The accuracy of selection can be further improved in family-based breeding programs by implementing information of “quantitative trait loci” (QTLs) or genomic similarities (i.e. genomic selection).

Manit Farm
"A selective breeding program works! Decades of experience in plant and livestock production on land have provided numerous testimonies to the vital importance of well-designed and effective breeding programs." Read The Success of Selective Breeding in Aquaculture

Family Based Breeding

Family-based breeding programs are relatively costly to implement and operate, since they require complete pedigree information and advanced statistical analyses to estimate breeding values. Investments in effective breeding programs give very high long-term returns, since selection responses of all targeted traits are cumulative and permanently integrated into the breeding population if selection pressure is maintained.  

Efficient dissemination schemes, including a central breeding center and regional multiplier stations, will assure high return of investments in aquaculture breeding programs, usually benefit/cost ratios in the range of 8-400 depending on the target production sector.

Grow Out Unit Miami Hideoshy Segovia
The long-term sustainability of aquaculture sectors critically depends on the development and use of genetically improved stocks for cost-effective production, and selective breeding is recognized as a main driving force for the development of resource effective and sustainable production.
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