With over 70% of the world’s wild fish stocks either exploited or overexploited, aquaculture is seen by many as a viable method to supply fish in a manner that satisfies the growing demand[sc:1]. For decades the industry has been growing and in 2012 it was worth US$ 144.4 billion, a trajectory that continues to increase[sc:2]. There are however fears that the aquaculture industry is biologically and environmentally detrimental which raise deeper questions into its viability as an industry of the future.
Pros of aquaculture
The arguments in favour of aquaculture that the industry creates jobs for the local community, predominantly in low-income countries that suffer from poverty and poor health. The money raised by fish farmers is often used to supply food for families as well as pay for education in attempt to eliminate the cycle of poverty that besieges poor families[sc:3]. The capital raised and spent in these communities subsequently sees the subject city as a beneficiary due to an increase in activity around the local economy[sc:3]. This can potentially encourage investment into the region which may not have otherwise been viable, particularly for restaurants and the food economy
The vast quantities of food produced by fish farmers is of course also positive for humanity. With nearly three-quarters of wild fish stocks at unsustainable levels, aquaculture is certainly helping to fill the void offering vital protein to people of all wealth classes whilst taking the pressure off the wider marine environment and reducing the seafood deficit[sc:1]. The rise in aquacultural activity also pays tribute for a deepening aspiration to protect coastal waters from development and pollution in order to sustain the industry’s financial and social values.
Another beneficiary of a growing aquaculture industry is science. As the supply of farmed fish burgeons, the scientific community is able to better understand the impacts of using the marine environment as a food-based resource which in turn develops a culture for technological solutions to the growing set of issues the marine environment faces[sc:3].
Cons of aquaculture
Arguments against the aquaculture industry however are gaining ground as science is conducted and technology introduced. It is now common knowledge within the industry that fish farming can cause diseases and parasites to local wild fish populations because of the conditions in which the fish are raised. Consequently, aquaculture can pollute the local water bodies with excess nutrients from fish feed, waste, antibiotics and chemicals which upsets the natural biology of the area[sc:3].
Fish farms also have the ability to compromise the native gene pool of local fish when alien species to that particular territory escape. The subsequent interbreeding would not only put the fish at risk, but the industry itself, as the real consequences of this are still unknown[sc:3]. Any financial capital and resource injected into developing coastal waters for aquaculture would therefore be at a large risk.
The risks that are known nevertheless are predominantly focused on the fisherman and their livelihoods. The industry is not only an ever-present threat to conventional fisherman, as the wider oceanic activity stagnates, it is also a susceptible livelihood for small scale fish farmers due to unpredictable weather and competition from other farmers.
Regardless of the cons associated with the aquaculture industry, it continues to grow at an alarming rate. To some this is a positive notion as it takes some of the pressure off wild fish stocks, but to others is simply represents a whole new set of challenges for humanity to digest.