Conclusions

Several projects in different parts of the world, like those presented above, have now accumulated enough data to support the biological demonstration of the IMTA concept. The next step is the scaling-up of the experimental systems to make the biological demonstration at a commercial scale, and to document the economic and social advantages of the concept, which will be key to convincing practitioners of monospecific aquaculture to move toward IMTA practices. Underlying this demonstration will be the development of a better understanding of the major ecological interactions involved with IMTA systems. Working on appropriate food safety regulatory and policy frameworks in the respective countries will be essential for enabling the development of commercial scale IMTA operations in a more universal fashion.

IMTA farms should be engineered as complete systems, rather than as clusters of different crops, to maximize the benefits of the complementing ecological functions of the different species toward the profitability of the entire operations. Economic analyses need to be inserted in the overall modeling of IMTA systems as they get closer to commercial scale and their economic impacts on coastal communities are better understood. It will, then, be possible to add profitability and economic impacts to the comparison of the environmental impacts between IMTA and monoculture settings. These models will need to be sensitized for the most volatile parameters and explicit assumptions so as to develop models for IMTA systems with built-in flexibility to be tailored to the environmental, economic, and social particulars of the regions where they will be installed. They could be modified to estimate the impact of organic and other eco-labelings, the value of biomitigation services, the savings due to multitrophic conversion of feed and energy which would otherwise be lost, and the reduction of risks by crop diversification and increased social acceptability.

There is still a large amount of education required to bring society into the mindset of incorporating IMTA into their suite of social values. Some of the social surveys conducted in Canada indicate that the general public is in favor of practices based on the 'recycling concept'. Whether this will translate into a greater appreciation of the sustainable ecological value of the concept, a willingness to support it tangibly with their shopping money, and demands to their elected representatives will be the ultimate test. The degree to which researchers and extension people become creatively involved with this educational component will be vital to the success of IMTA practices.

The ecological, engineering, economic, and social challenges remaining to be solved are for some maybe daunting. However, the goal is to develop modern IMTA systems, which are bound to play a major role worldwide in sustainable expansions of the aquaculture operations of tomorrow, within their balanced ecosystem, to respond to a worldwide increasing seafood demand with a new paradigm in the design of the most efficient food production systems.

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