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Being inspired by the lovely concept art of Star Trek's Nibiru, I have long thought that the Nibirans would use the tiered pools for aquacultural purposes, and would like to implement tiered aquacultural pools in the setting I am working on. The idea is that these farmers would build (slowly moving) pools of water, and transplant a species of krill-like crustaceans to be collected using tight-knit nets (as they are neolithic, the extent of their ability would be nets and buckets). The slowly moving pools are depicted in the first piece of concept art shown, with the water presumably coming from some sort of stream or river, and flowing through a series of steps that are used for aquaculture. For the sustenance of the actual crustaceans, I was thinking that they would simply clean out the algae and gunk that would build up in the somewhat stagnant areas of the pools (although that's just completely an idea- and certainly not set in stone).

So, assuming that a species similar to Humans farmed a species similar to krill, would the aliens be able to subsist entirely on aquacultural crustaceans, with no other frequent sources of food?

Extra credit

  • Would this be more/less efficient than land-based agriculture?
  • Anything else concerning the practicality of it?
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The easiest way to make aliens subsist on crustaceans is to have the aliens evolve from a species that subsists primarily on crustaceans. What if your aliens evolved from otters instead of monkeys? Then the nutritional challenges of crustaceans would be no problem with 30 million years of evolution into that type of diet.

Eating crustaceans would not be as efficient as eating plants because there are more steps in that food chain. But that doesn't necessarily mean it would be awful food economy. While you couldn't get the density of grain based human flood plains cultures, you could still get cities and hydraulic culture based on paddy-like structures along a river, with seasonal inundation. Plant based foods would be grown and put in the paddies as food for crawfish or crabs or shrimp or whatever. Given the productivity possible in a river valley, it is possible you could rival dryland farming (as in Europe) for population density.

Regarding practicality, the only thing I would say is that instead of civilization developing in dry river floodplains (Nile, Indus, Tigris&Euphrates, Huang He), crustacean growing would favor humid rivers with short winters and high low water flow.: the lower Mississippi, Amazon, Parana, Congo, Mekong, and Yangtze.

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A bit concerning, is that crustaceans seem to lack several vitamins. Shrimp don't have A, B, C or D in any measurable percentage. D isn't an issue, you can get that from the sun. Lobster lacks A, C and D. Crab lacks A and D. There may be some crustacean I don't know about that has those vitamins, or your people could supplement it with something A rich, or you could have alien crustaceans. After having a look: Queen Crab has vitamin A, as do dungeness crabs.

Afraid I don't understand about the slowly moving pools. I'm not sure what a good way to compare efficiency of crustacean farming vs other sorts is, you could say the fact we don't have any cultures like this indicates it is worse (but then, that may relate to the vitamin deficiencies?). Maybe you could compare the energy output of a commercial crab farm to another sort of farm, then divide the energy by the number of staff...? That sounds very clumsy, but without being an expert I don't know if there's a way to tell.

Possibly the biggest concern however, will be feeding these crabs. Some crabs have dietary needs similar to humans, making raising them a questionably effective idea, if you have to raise small fish just to feed your crabs. You could feed them leftovers, like pigs are, which could make them a good subsidiary food source. Or, if your alien planet has plentiful fish that are toxic to the people, but can be eaten by these crabs, that's a good way to make them useful.

Hope this was helpful to you. Good luck with writing!

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    $\begingroup$ Allow me to elaborate on the things I wasn't all that clear on. The slowly moving pools are depicted in the first piece of concept art shown, with the water presumably coming from some sort of stream or river, and flowing through a series of steps that are used for aquaculture. For the sustenance of the actual crustaceans, I was thinking that they would simply clean out the algae and gunk that would build up in the somewhat stagnant areas of the pools (although that's just completely an idea- and certainly not set in stone). Hope that helps clear things up- and thanks for the feedback! $\endgroup$ – user19838 Oct 20 '16 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I see. That could work, it depends how much the gunk stays at the bottom. Afraid I have no idea on that point. Glad this was helpful to you. $\endgroup$ – J. Doe Oct 20 '16 at 19:42
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Many modern shrimp farms and even true aquaculture using fish do exactly that, so what you are suggesting isn't really implausible.

The starting point isn't likely going to be a river, though, but more likely the equivalent of a mangrove swamp, where the natural environment supports a large population of the food critters, and it is reasonably simple to harvest them. Wading out into a swamp with a net is far easier than sailing to to sea and fishing, for example.

The progression is then some smart guy/gal realizes that swampy conditions are much better sources of food than other places, and the gradual understanding of how to expand existing swamps. The idealized view of paddies along the river bank or an artificial river delta teeming with shrimp is most likely well past the neolithic period, since it demands high levels of social organization, the pooling and allocation of manpower and other resources and most likely metal tools to efficiently do the job. We have gone well past the Neolithic era at that point, and are looking at something like the early hydraulic empires in the Middle East (building swamps rather than digging irrigation ditches).

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