8 min read

'Plenty' Of Fish In The Sea: Debating Fish Farming

With an estimated 70 percent of the world's wild fish stocks being either fully exploited or depleted, will fish farming help to feed our demand or are the affects just as adverse?

(Courtesy of Kathryn Carlson, Frontier's Cambodia Island Beach Conservation)

In 2006, a study published in the journal Science predicted that the worlds' fisheries will have collapsed by 2048 if we continue to exploit this finite resource at our current rate. With the population estimated to reach nine billion by the end of the century, demand for food is estimated to double and with declining wild fish populations, the pressure on this diminishing resource is likely to increase. But does the answer lie in commercialized aquaculture though fish farming? This article will look at the costs and benefits of this practice.

A fish farm in Cambodia. (Courtesy of Shakar S)

Not only could fish farming help reduce the pressure on wild stocks and feed the growing population, it also creates employment in many impoverished areas and could benefit the fishermen that have been affected by reductions in catch size. Aquaculture is now one the fastest growing food producing sectors and this is reflected in its economic advantages over traditional fishing; good yields are always guaranteed and species can be selectively bred to reduce prevalence of genetic diseases and to increase size. There are also huge ecological benefits in comparison to industrial fishing practices such as ocean trawling, which not only causes huge destruction to ocean substrate but also lead to large amounts of by-catch. Fish is an excellent source of protein and also contains many essential nutrients and minerals. An increase in aquaculture could result in the decrease in the price of fish, making it accessible and affordable for many people across the globe to eat a healthy diet.

However, all of this does come at a cost.

(Photograph: Taro Taylor)

Despite the fact that over 40 percent of the fish that we consume everyday are sourced from aqua farms, there are currently no regulations to prevent inhumane treatment of fish in captivity. In the United States and the EU, there are currently no directives or policies regulating rearing conditions or slaughter practices. The conditions of these farms can therefore be horrendous, with up to 50,000 fish within one enclosure. During transportation, the fish are often starved to reduce water contamination for up to a period of ten days. No wonder the rates of mortality, disease and parasite infestations are so high, with an estimated 40 percent dying before they are ready to be slaughtered.

Some experts believe that fish farming doesn't help solve the problem of overfishing, but rather exacerbates it. Many of the species of farmed fish are carnivorous and so are fed on wild caught prey; to produce one pound of farmed salmon, it can take up to five pounds of smaller prey species. However, with regards to fish such as carp and catfish which primarily rely on plants as their main source of food, this heavy reliance on the ocean's wild fish is reduced and vegetarian alternatives to fishmeal are also being developed for the carnivorous species.

(Courtesy of Laszlo Ilyes)

There are also environmental problems with fish farms destroying existing habitats in order to build them and the surrounding areas becoming affected by waste contamination. The fish are also given concoctions of chemicals to help reduce disease; this can lead to high levels of contaminants such as PCBs and mercury, up to ten times more than those found in their wild counterparts.

So what is the future for fish farming? Clearly we cannot carry on exploiting our oceans at the rate that we are currently doing so and aquaculture seems to have provided us with a means that could be sustainable. However, in regards to welfare and local environmental effects, regulations need to be enforced. As a consumer, you can voice your support for or against aquaculture by label checking; if you don't see the "Alaska" or Marine Stewardship Council logo, then the chances are, the fish you're buying is farmed.

By Donna Wintersgill Frontier is an international non-profit volunteering NGO. Frontier has over 300 dedicated conservation and community development projects as well as plenty of inspiring www.frontier.ac.uk/Volunteer/Volunteer.aspx?utm_source=TheDodo&utm_medium=gapyearblog&utm_campaign=BlogArticle">gap year ideas to help make your time out meaningful. For more information on all the opportunities available please visit www.frontier.ac.uk. Check out Frontier's blog ‘Into the Wild' where you can read more articles like this! Happy reading!

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