An informed thought experiment exploring the potential for a paradigm shift in aquatic food production

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Kuempel, Caitlin D
Froehlich, Halley E
Halpern, Benjamin S
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The Neolithic Revolution began approximately 10,000 years ago and is characterized by the ultimate, nearly complete transition from hunting and gathering to agricultural food production on land. The Neolithic Revolution is thought to have been catalyzed by a combination of local population pressure, cultural diffusion, property rights and climate change. We undertake a thought experiment that examines trends in these key hypothesized catalysts of the Neolithic Revolution and patterns of today to explore whether society could be on a path towards another paradigm shift in food production: away from hunting of wild fish towards a transition to mostly fish farming. We find similar environmental and cultural pressures have driven the rapid rise of aquaculture, during a period that has now been coined the Blue Revolution, providing impetus for such a transition in coming decades to centuries (as opposed to millennia). However, we also highlight the interacting and often mutually reinforcing impacts of 1) technological and scientific advancements, 2) environmental awareness and collective action and 3) globalization and trade influencing the trajectory and momentum of the Blue Revolution from patterns and processes of the Neolithic Revolution. We present two qualitative narratives that broadly fall within two future trajectories of seafood production: 1) a ubiquitous aquaculture transition and 2) commercial aquaculture and fisheries coexistence. Each narrative contains two sub-narratives based on differing management and regulatory strategies for aquaculture and fisheries. This scenarios approach aims to encourage logical, forward thinking, and innovative solutions to complex systems’ dynamics. Scenario-based thought experiments are useful to explore large scale questions, increase the accessibility to a wider readership, and ideally catalyze discussion around proactive governance mechanisms. We argue the future is not fixed and society now has greater foresight and capacity to choose the workable balance between fisheries and aquaculture that supports economic, environmental, cultural and social objectives through combined planning, policies, and management.

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Ocean & Coastal Management

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© 2021 Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Licence ( which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, providing that the work is properly cited.

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Kuempel, CD; Froehlich, HE; Halpern, BS, An informed thought experiment exploring the potential for a paradigm shift in aquatic food production, Ocean & Coastal Management, 2021, 206, pp. 105574