Aquaculture production is an increasingly important component of global seafood production. Seafood production from aquaculture has expanded nearly six-fold since 1990, while capture fisheries production has remained relatively stagnant. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s most recent analysis of global fisheries and aquaculture, seafood production from aquaculture (excluding seaweeds) exceeded production from marine capture fisheries for the first time in 2016.[i]
Aquaculture’s reputation is mixed, however. It obviously has the potential to feed many people, but it has is associated with a number of observed and potential negative environmental impacts, including:
- Altering and destroying habitat, such as mangrove forests, for aquaculture facilities
- Escapes of farmed species into the wild, enabling species invasions and altering the genetics of wild populations
- Spreading diseases and parasites to wild populations
- Releasing fecal waste, uneaten food, and pesticides into the local environment, decreasing water quality
- Contributing to the overfishing of wild fish populations because of the use of wild fish to feed farmed fish.
This negative view obscures the incredible diversity of aquaculture types and their diverse interactions with marine environments. Aquaculture enterprises vary in:
- What species are cultivated (e.g., seaweeds, mollusks, crustaceans, finfish) and what they feed on (e.g., whether they are photosynthesizers, filter feeders, deposit feeders, herbivores, carnivores)
- How intense production is (e.g., total biomass per cage, the degree to which fertilizer and supplementary feeds are used)
- The type of environment production takes place in (e.g., freshwater streams or lakes, fully enclosed tanks, ponds, intertidal, sheltered bays, open ocean, sea pens, ponds, tanks).