Aquaculture is the controlled process of cultivating aquatic organisms, especially for human consumption. It’s a similar concept to agriculture, but with fish instead of plants or livestock. Aquaculture is also referred to as fish farming. By 2030, 62% of all seafood produced for human consumption will come from aquaculture.
Given that overfishing of our oceans and other national resources is continuously increasing year over year, humans need alternate sources for seafood to feed the planet’s ever-growing population. Aquaculture is the tool to fill the gap of seafood supply. Farming fish responsibly and sustainably is the solution to providing future generations with access to healthy and environmentally friendly protein options.
Over 250 species of fish, mollusks, and crustaceans are farmed in aquaculture.
Aquaculture has a long history dating as far back as 2500 BCE! Both the Egyptians and Romans are believed to have cultured fish, and the Chinese raised carp circa 2000 BCE.
The fisheries and aquaculture industries employ about 820 million people worldwide (12% of the global population). Three billion people rely on seafood as their primary source of protein. Seafood is not only a dietary staple for many people, but its consumption is cultural and provides employment opportunities.
The industry’s struggles in the past are well-known. Producers are working to be as transparent as possible with these problems. Certification programs like Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) have identified reoccurring problems across the industry and have used them to create standards to prevent them from happening in the future.
Like other industries that grow rapidly, aquaculture is still adjusting as to how best to approach social issues that arise. Transparency into the industry and the work certification programs do will continue to drive social responsibility in aquaculture.
Not only is aquaculture necessary to fill the gap in supply of seafood, it is also a sustainable option for consumers, especially in comparison to other farmed proteins. Seafood is highly resource efficient – it has the highest protein retention compared to chicken, pork and beef. It also has the lowest feed conversion ratio, and has lower greenhouse gas emissions than other types of animal farming.
With the industry’s desire to lessen its environmental impact coupled with help of technological development, aquaculture has vastly improved in recent years. Farmed fish should no longer be dismissed as unsustainable.
Vegetable proteins and oils can replace 1/3 to 1/2 of fishmeal in feeds for many farmed species, reducing the need for wild-caught fish for fishmeal. Using plant-based ingredients like soy can also help the industry meet the increasing demand for healthy, sustainable protein.
Successful fish farmers understand the signs of stress in their fish and work to understand and minimize them. Animals’ stress can lead to disease outbreaks and losses of animals, which not only financially hurts the producer, but it is also harmful to the animals. As these results are bad for the animal and producer, it is in the producer’s best interest to ensure that their animals are happy and healthy.
Unlike wild fish, the diets of farmed fish are developed and carefully monitored to ensure the fish produced are safe and healthy to consume. The BAP certification program has a feed mill standard to ensure responsibly sourced ingredients are used in the feed.
When any type of animal is surrounded by other animals, disease outbreaks can unfortunately occasionally happen. One of the main issues consumers hear about farmed fish is that they contain antibiotics, and therefore are unhealthy for humans to eat.
Naturally, if their animals contract diseases, producers want to mitigate it as efficiently as possible. In some cases, the most humane way to do so is with antibiotics. The judicious usage of antibiotics is the best route for certain cases. It can be what is best for the animal and will help them recover.
Judicious use of antibiotics, best management practices, and regulations include a withdrawal period in which the fish cannot be harvested while medicine is still in their system. Withdrawal periods are set by governing agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Eco-label certification programs like Best Aquaculture Practices require third-party auditing of aquaculture facilities, as well as food safety testing of products before awarding certification. Be sure to look for the BAP logo when buying farmed seafood!
Salmon get their pink coloring by consuming food, often krill and other shellfish, that contain pigments called carotenoids. Farmed salmon’s feed is supplemented with carotenoids like natural and/or synthetic astaxanthin, so they are getting the same carotenoids they would find in the wild.