To satisfy the protein demands of an anticipated nearly 10 billion people by 2050, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and researchers around the world estimate current animal production will need to grow by an average of 52 percent. Meeting this need without pushing the environment to the brink will be critical. New evidence shows seafood from aquatic farming -- aquaculture -- can help feed the future global population while substantially reducing one of the biggest environmental impacts of meat production -- land use -- without requiring people to entirely abandon meat as a food source. A new study from UC Santa Barbara's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) found that the amount of cropland required to support future protein needs with more farmed aquatic animals would be significantly smaller than if terrestrial livestock production met those needs. This research is the first land-use analysis of future food systems to focus on aquaculture -- the world's fastest-growing food sector -- and helps reveal its potential role in conservation and food security. The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "While aquaculture can add some pressure because -- ultimately -- it is a food production system, our study demonstrates the relative amount is minuscule compared to terrestrially farmed animals," said lead author Halley Froehlich, a postdoctoral researcher at NCEAS. "Aquaculture is not going to be the main strain on future crop feed and land use. It is -- and will likely continue to be -- terrestrial livestock."