Fish in the Fields (FIF) addresses two of today’s greatest human challenges – climate change and forage fish extinction – by harnessing ecological processes and borrowing from global agricultural traditions. FIF is designed to work towards large-scale adoption of fish/rice co-cultivation in viable areas and to become financially independent within 3-5 years.
Fish in the Fields, Sourcing New Protein, Restoring our Seas— Making Key Discoveries
Fish in the Fields (FIF) targets California’s 500,000 acres of flooded rice fields to produce a new source of protein while cutting methane emissions from rice cultivation.
RRI’s work has uncovered key discoveries that could have a large-scale impact on global health:
Tons of fish protein can be sustainably grown in flooded rice fields feeding solely on naturally occurring plankton to ease the pressure on ocean forage fish.
Plankton, the natural food source for growing fish, sequester carbon 20 to 50 times the rate that trees capture carbon.
New scientific research demonstrating that the introduction of small fish can drastically cut methane released from freshwater.
Targeting Global Problems
While rice feeds over half the world’s seven billion people daily, the methane released in rice production is responsible for 12% of global methane, the equivalent of 1 ½ billion tons of CO2, or 3% of global warming. Widespread adoption of FIF methods could reduce methane emissions from rice by 90%. FIF takes a proven ecological concept – in freshwater ecosystems methane oxidizing bacteria are more numerous in the presence of fish – and applies it to rice production.
In California, current incentives for methane reduction under AB32, such as early draining of fields and dry seeding, are not proven effective while payments to growers have not incentivized participation. FIF provides farmers with a secondary crop and income that boasts negligible implementation costs – and creates jobs. FIF’s polyculture model employs the symbiotic relationship between fish and rice to reduce pesticide use and promote nutrient cycling.
FIF is also designed to address the global forage fish crisis by developing new low-cost aquaculture that provides an alternative to species such as anchovy. Harvested from the ocean ‘commons’ for low-value uses, forage fish are in decline worldwide. FIF rice-based aquaculture leaves wild forage fish to play their critical role in the ocean ecosystem while raising comparable species for meal, bait and human consumption.
Providing Big Opportunities
FIF offers an environmentally sustainable, science-based, revenue-generating poly-culture approach to help the rice industry adapt to an era of climate change and resource scarcity. FIF addresses a key challenge to the rice industry status quo by creating a climate mitigation strategy that is a new revenue stream that does not adversely impact rice yields and profits. Concurrently, rice-based aquaculture may help protect the ocean food web from overfishing.
Taking the Next Steps
Since 2010, RRI has been developing a pilot aquaculture project in California rice fields to reduce methane emissions and improve agricultural practices while potentially easing the crisis of forage fish overfishing by providing new alternatives. At the same time, award winning aquatic ecologist Shawn Devlin’s research proved that fish in freshwater systems reduce methane through their interaction with methanogenic bacteria.
FIF’s California test sites, farm partnerships, hatcheries and team offer an opportunity to apply Dr. Devlin’s research protocols to rice fields in order to quantify how fish can be used to reduce methane emissions from rice. All necessary conditions are present for the replication of prior research protocols and results in California. Years of preliminary work have allowed FIF to establish the parameters for experimentation – e.g., fish species and size, plankton amounts, water sources, pond-building techniques – in order to efficiently apply methane experimentation to the existing FIF fish/rice co-cultivation platform.
During 2017 FIF will refine its model with a focus on replicability, measurement and business development. FIF will seek to identify the ideal water/fish/plankton/bacteria ratios for maximum methane reduction, fish yield, field carrying capacity and fish-related nutrient cycling (others have achieved 25% reduction in fertilizer and 68% reduction in pesticides).