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Across Land and Water: Regeneration Practices for Today's Food Production By James Iacino, CEO of Seattle Fish Company

Looking to the Past to Protect the Future

According to Lennon and McCartney, we’ve got to admit it’s getting better. “A little better all the time.” Is this true?

The number of people living in extreme poverty has plummeted, the mortality rate of children has been cut in half since 1990, and the education rate of young girls in developing countries has risen by 30%. All of this progress does not happen naturally. It is thanks to the tireless movements and conscientious efforts of individuals advocating for positive change.

Can we make this kind of change in the environment?

When it comes to the environment it is hard to deny things were better in the past. Especially if we think about life before population booms, fossil fuels, and industrialization. Right now, carbon emissions are at an all time high. Deforestation and habitat destruction by human management continues to deplete our ecosystems and contribute to global desertification and climate change. And increased water temperatures are shrinking coral reef structures essential to biodiversity in our oceans.

In terms of the environment, we are making efforts toward sustainability, renewable energy, and green lifestyles, but are we going far enough?

Can we take a cue from the past, from the way things were before much of our human interference, as a guide in how to be stewards of our resources today? Such questions prompt us to think about moving beyond sustainability to embrace the concept of “regeneration.”

A Tip from the Past: Regeneration

Regenerative farming or regenerative fishing goes beyond keeping lands and oceans the way they are now, and strives to return these resources back to their natural, healthier state. In farming this means local, rotated crops and livestock helping to return the nutrients to the soil and biodiversity to the ecosystems. According to Daniela Ibarra-Howell, CEO and Co-founder of the Savory Institute, a brain trust, network, and platform to support the restoration of grasslands across the planet, “Regeneration means facilitating the outcomes of land and soil health through proper and contextually relevant human management and decision making.”

In fish farms, regeneration applies the same concept, with a few unique considerations such as food supplies, farm location, and other factors.

The most responsible fish farms pay close attention to the type and timing of feed. If you have ever placed too much fish food or the wrong type of food in a fish tank, you know it can muddy up the water. The diet and consumption of the fish raised in a farm depends on time of day, season, temperature, oxygen levels, and many other variables. Careful feeding processes take all of these variables into account to ensure the health of the water and the entire farm ecosystem.

The location of a fish farm can mean a lot for the level of environmental impact.

In open water farms, parasitic sea lice can spread easily from the farmed population to other sea-life and fish waste and feces can accumulate on ocean floors, harming water quality. The practice of fallowing—letting a farmed area rest and regenerate for a period between harvests, or a pasture fully recover before grazing events, or in the case of fish farms, pausing aquaculture production for a period of time—helps to minimize harmful environmental effects.

The ocean needs time to regenerate species overfished in the past as well.

From a wild-caught perspective, regeneration is possible via a few different approaches: An angler may elect to have a third party audit his or her fishing practices to verify adherence to regulations that protect against overfishing in certain areas and allow sea-life to regenerate. Third party audits can also help avoid depletion of a certain species and provide time for species regeneration.

Furthermore, our practices on land and in the sea need to support each other.

Regenerative farming and ranching practices such as those developed by the Savory Institute and deployed by their partners, help reduce soil erosion, build soil, sequester carbon, and avoid negative impact on the ocean environment and ecosystem. The ocean also improves conditions on land as the ocean provides the greatest ability to trap carbon and reduce carbon emission levels, resulting in lower levels of global warming and a reduction in ocean acidification. We need to start thinking holistically in utilizing the land and ocean to produce clean, nutrient rich food, in the process of regenerating the underlying ecosystem. Only by considering the interrelation between land and sea can we have a regenerative positive impact on our planet.

Yes, many things are getting better all the time, but we need to take drastic measures to protect our waters and the ecosystems they contain.

While the future is promising, looking to the past gives us many clues in how to interact with our natural resources. Regeneration—a return to that past state through mindful fishing and farming practices—is essential to our environment. Let’s make sure things keep getting better.

Want to find about more about regeneration or get involved? Check out the Savory Institute for more information.

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