Breeding fish is not the solution!

Aquaculture has existed for thousands of years and provides a sustainable source of protein in many contexts and regions, often mimicking nature or with high interaction with other types of food production. 

The quantity of fish being farmed for human consumption has risen steadily over the last 70 years. Fish, shrimps, crabs, and mussels are the most commonly farmed marine animals. Today there is more farmed fish than wild-caught fish.  

The rapid expansion and corporate consolidation of the aquaculture sector over the past decades has generated a lot controversy and important questions. Despite some improvements in recent years, aquaculture is still not an answer to overfishing or to food security, as intensive fish farming has many negative consequences for the environment and coastal communities. For instance: 

Ecosystem destruction: 

  • The fish injure themselves, get sick, and fall victim to parasites more easily, when they are in pens. To counter these effects, fish farmers rely on antibiotics and pesticides which contaminate the water. Wastewater is overloaded with food residue, antibiotics and excrement, creating dead zones in the natural environment around the farm sites. 
  • Coastal ecosystems are often completely destroyed in order to make room for intensive aquaculture. This is the case with the artificial ponds created to farm tropical shrimp. Mangroves are chopped down, leading to the disappearance of all the species that used to shelter among the trees, including fish of commercial value, oysters, birds, and more. This also implicates the removal of a natural barrier against storms and tsunamis. 

Pressure on wild species: 

  • Farmed fish that escape then interact with genetically wild populations, competing for resources and transmitting diseases.  
  • Carnivorous farmed fish are fed with fishmeal and fish oils made from forage fish (sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring and crustaceans, mainly krill). These species are rich in vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. In the last decade, a large number of fishmeal factories have been established in West Africa. This is leading to overexploitation of the small forage fish, a staple of the local diet traditionally caught by artisanal fishermen and smoked and dried by women. The decline in fish stocks is causing food insecurity, job losses in the local artisanal sector, as well as environmental damage and public health hazards in the areas where fishmeal plants are installed due to the contamination generated. 

Human Rights Violations 

  • According to the Environmental Justice Foundation the shrimp industry is often guilty of serious abuses, such as land grabbing and displacement of local people, violent intimidation of traditional users of local resources, the use of child labor and corruption.

Slow Food has developed a summary that attempts to examine the issue to provide guidance and understanding, looking case by case at what is good, clean and fair seafood that comes from a sustainable food system. We have defined a conceptual framework around several fundamental principles (general and specific) and examined the key elements of aquaculture, which are at the heart of any assessment and understanding of the issue. 

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