The Safina Center

Aquaculture - fish farming.Aquaculture - fish farming.Photo taken by: NOAA

Aquaculture — Farmed Seafood

Aquaculture—fish farming—produces an estimated 55 million metric tons of fish annually, worth $106 billion.  For comparison, commercial fishing hauls in 90 million metric tons of wild-caught fish annually.

Aquaculture is a large and growing industry, and has the potential to take pressure off depleted wild fish populations, while providing food and nutrients to millions of people.  Sound like a great solution?  Actually—it’s more complicated.

How sustainable fish farming is depends on which species is being farmed, what they are being fed, whether they can escape into open waters, and what diseases they may spread to wild fish.

Some farmed species such as Atlantic salmon can be problematic.  These salmon may escape and threaten native species with diseases or parasites.  And when some farmed, carnivorous species like salmon are fed large quantities of wild caught forage fish, we risk depleting the forage fish, which are needed as food for wild predatory fish and other marine animals.

Farmed catfish and tilapia are increasingly popular with seafood lovers and can be a smart alternative when raised in closed systems where wastes are controlled and there is little chance of the fish escaping.  These fish are also fed a vegetable-based diet such as corn and soy-based feed.

Aquaculture also invites genetically engineered fish.  The first genetically engineered animal up for approval in the US by the Food and Drug Administration is a farmed salmon designed to grow twice as fast as normal salmon and is twice as large.

Some people see the genetically modified salmon as providing great efficiency in producing food for people.  Some people say the so-called Frankenfish could cause ecological catastrophe.

To make informed decisions about farmed fish, consider the advice of organizations that have transparent and balanced methods of rating seafood.

We recommend: Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Farmed Fish Rankings

Meanwhile, 3 things you can do to support sound aquaculture:

1. Eat sustainable seafood
2. Support aquaculture that does not harm or endanger wild sea life (see links above.)
3. Research farm-raised fish, and learn the pros and cons of genetically modified fish.

Other great ways you can make a difference.


The Benefits of Aquaculture – Salmon of the Americas
Negative Effects of Aquaculture – Urban Times
Greening the Blue Green Revolution – World Wildlife Fund

Top Ten Problems with Fish Farming – Food and Water Watch
The Benefits of Aquaculture – Duke

Protect the Future of Fish Infographic – Ocean Conservancy

Say No to Genetically Engineered Salmon – CNN Rick Noonan
Effect of Aquaculture on World Fish Supplies, Stanford University

Coalition Demands FDA Deny Approval Of Controversial Genetically Engineered Fish, Press Release

An Entrepreneur Bankrolls Genetically Modified Salmon, NY Times


Related Videos:

Urban Aquaculture, GOOD Magazine

Professor Martin Schreibman says our oceans have been overfished beyond repair. If we’re going to keep eating fish and chips, tuna tartare, and all those omega-3 fatty acids, we may have to rely on aquaculture.

The Greed of Feed, Eco Film Unit

A look at the impacts on the ecosystem and people due to the harvest of forage fish like sardines and anchovies in Peru to produce fish meal for salmon feed.

Keep Tiger Prawns off your Plate, Swedish Society of Nature Conservation

Short animated overview about the potential environmental damage to mangroves, an important marine ecosystem, by prawn or jumbo shrimp farming.

On June 17th, 2011, the St. Mary’s Bay Coastal Alliance and the Ecology Action Centre held a rally at the Province House in Halifax to protest the recent approval on industrial size salmon feedlots in the productive waters of St. Mary’s Bay. Fishermen, tourism operators and other concerned citizens showed up to voice their concerns. Aquaculture is the fastest growing industry in Nova Scotia’s coastal zone, yet it is not included in the provincial Sustainable Coastal Development Strategy.