Aquaculture is the term used for the farming of fish and other marine creatures. The impacts of aquaculture largely depend on the circumstances in which the fish are produced[sc:1] and in turn effects the sustainability of the industry due to its unregulated nature in many areas. In 2010 the total value of aquaculture production globally was estimated to be US $119.4 billion[sc:2]. The industry has shown significant signs of growth and doubled in production between 2000-2012[sc:3]. This a direct result of stagnating and declining trajectory of wild capture fisheries which peaked in the 1990’s[sc:3].
The question therefore exists as to whether the aquaculture industry can be a sustainable and viable commerce to help feed the world’s 7 billion people. By 2050 there are expected to be over 9 billion people on the planet, 800 million of which already suffer from chronic malnourishment[sc:4].
Ways of achieving sustainability in aquaculture
There are several ways in which the aquaculture industry can become more sustainable, but perhaps the three most efficient ways would be to[sc:3]:
- invest in new technology
- reduce the dependency on ocean-caught fish for fish feed
- focus attentions on the wider environmental impacts the industry creates
Research has identified that the most harvested farmed fish are carp and oysters globally which account for around 17% of global finfish production[sc:2]; however their introduction into non-native habitats comes with it significant socio-economic and environmental consequences. Not only do native species of fish become threatened by potential invasion, the local water source often becomes polluted with chemicals and disease which can at times be devastating[sc:3].
One way to tackle this problem would be to regulate fish farms at a higher, broader level instead of the conventional focus in the individual farm[sc:3]. The impacts of one single farm can often be magnified, particularly if there are several farms adjacent to one-another, so the effect of having broader management frameworks would be more effective across the area.
The management of marine fisheries across the high seas and oceans is perhaps equally important for farmed fish production. In 2012 a maximum production of 86.6 million tonnes of fish were caught in the oceans, but this figure excludes the catch of anchovies[sc:4]. Anchovies and other juvenile fish are caught to be used predominantly as feed for farmed fish in one of the great marine paradoxes. A study in the journal Nature concluded that it takes approximately three pounds of wild baby fish (such as anchovies) to produce one pound of farmed salmon[sc:3]. This is a truly unsustainable model which would massively benefit from a shift towards a genuine focus on plant-based aquaculture production.
Study and examination into this concept as well as the wider industry is crucial. Research has been pivotal in providing sustainable technologies and strategies for conventional farming and fishing and is therefore likely to be a major player in creating a more sustainable aquaculture industry. The development of new techniques for controlling disease, pests, feeding and infrastructure will aid fish farmers into adopting more sustainable approaches which will inevitably also benefit themselves and their livelihoods[sc:3].
Whether it is farmed or wild, fish continue to be one of the most traded consumable commodities in the world. Whilst trade and money are fundamental to the industries and its players, a shift towards a more sustainable strategy will be vital in securing its long-term future so research, technology, management and cultural changes are necessary to provide prosperity for all.