Aquaculture: The Solution To All Our Problems?

Aquaculture: The Solution To All Our Problems?

More than any set of practices, factory farming is a mind-set: reduce production costs to the absolute minimum and systematically ignore or “externalize” such costs as environmental degradation, human disease, and animal suffering. For thousands of years, farmers took their cues from natural processes. Factory farming considers nature an obstacle to be overcome.

Jonhatan Safran Foer, Eating Animals, Little, Brown and Company, 2009

At the global level, we’re eating more fish than ever. From 9 kilos per person in 1961, in 2015 the figure stood at 20 kilos per person. In the same time period, the world population more than doubled, from around 3 billion people to more than 7 billion.

To satisfy growing demand and overcome the problem of overfishing, aquaculture has been promoted as a supply-side solution since 1970.

NUMBERS

In 1950 aquaculture produced around 500,000 tons of fish per year; by 2014 this figure had grown to 73.8 million tons. Asia accounts for the lion’s share of this: 88% of global aquaculture production happens there.

Today, 43% of fish products consumed around the world are not caught, but farmed. On the global level aquaculture has the most consistent growth of any sector of meat production.

THE CONSEQUENCES

Like all industries witnessing rapid growth, aquaculture has its fair share of problems, and some forms have devastating consequences.

Think about salmon: though we may think of it simply as food, it is a carnivorous predator itself. On average, for every kilogram of salmon which finds its way to market, five kilograms of fishmeal are required. This produces an unacceptable amount of waste and cannot be seen as an alternative to wild fisheries.

Likewise, the shrimp farms along the coasts of Southeast Asia have harmful consequences for local ecosystems, as massive tracts of mangrove are destroyed to make space for their tanks.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • As consumers, we must think twice before buying farmed fish, and where possible choose fish from extensive aquaculture (such as lagoons or coastal lakes), where the animals grow without being fed by humans. We should favor more sustainable species like carp, tilapia and some types of mullet, whose diet has a smaller impact on the environment. Another good choice are bivalves like mussels, clams and oysters. Just as importantly, we must learn to say no: to salmon, tropical shrimp and catfish, and how to read food labels, which can be of great help.
  • Producers must take every possible measure to guarantee a safe aquaculture environment, with no harmful chemicals or bacteria present. They must also take animal well-being into account, by favoring low-density aquaculture and regular water renewal, as well as the quality of the animals’ feed and the cleanliness of the environment.
  • Companies have an important contribution to make, by developing systems of filtration, decantation and depuration that reduce pollution and allow for proper management of facilities.
  • Institutions and organizations should promote awareness-raising and educational campaigns that do not promote aquaculture per se, but only those forms of aquaculture which respect essential prerequisites regarding the choice of species farmed, human health, and the environment.

Sources

Heinrich Boll Stiftung and Schleswig-Holstein, 2017
Ocean Atlas – Facts and Figures on the Threats to Our Marine Ecosystem

Paul Greenberg,
Four Fish
Penguin Books, 2012

Greenpeace International, 2008
Challenging the Aquaculture Industry on Sustainability