Fish Farming Isn’t So Evil After All

aquaculture, fish farm, UAE, EgyptA new report sheds light on when, where, and how aquaculture is terrible for the environment, and when it’s not so bad.

Aquaculture has a bad environmental rap. Possible negative impacts associated with fish farms include eutrophication or the loss of oxygen in water, greenhouse gas emissions, land occupation, excess energy demand, and biotic depletion stemming from feeding wild fish to farmed fish.

But Blue Frontiers, a recent report co-produced by the WorldFish Center and Conservation International, reveals that not all fish farms are equally destructive and that some farms can even have a positive environmental impact.

The report honed in on Asia in particular, since that continent is responsible for 90% of the world’s farmed fish stocks, though most of the major producers were evaluated.

Asian aquaculture has the worst environmental record not only because of the sheer volume of its production, which increases its impact, but because the species favored there, Carp, exacts one of the largest tolls.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the relationship between species and the environment:

  • Inland pond culture and carp farming have the highest absolute impact;
  • Shrimp, prawns and other carnivorous species stand out as especially biophysically demanding;
  • Salmonids are demanding as a result of the use of fishmeal for feeding;
  • Bivalves and seaweeds place low demands on the environment and actually reduce eutrophication

Compared to farming livestock, a global warming nightmare given the vast quantities of land and grain required to feed them and highly polluting methane pumped into the atmosphere, fish farming is fairly benign.

Aquaculture products contribute less per unit weight to global emissions of nitrogen and phosphorus than pork and beef and convert a higher percentage of the food they eat into consumable protein.

Considered a winning solution for feeding the world’s poor, aquaculture is nonetheless energy intensive with up to 90% of the energy used to produce feed.
But what about the UAE?
Although Egypt’s finfish production was mentioned for having a moderate environmental impact, the UAE, a pioneer of aquaculture in the GCC which produced roughly 1200 tonnes of finfish in 2008 (and farms caviar in the desert!), didn’t receive the slightest mention.
Other Gulf countries also have modest aquaculture industries. It’s a shame that Blue Frontier (for probably very good reasons) was unable to include the GCC in its survey since the report outlines very clearly which species are most harmful and provides an excellent guideline for future best practices.
image via Ivan Walsh
More on aquaculture or fish farming in the Middle East:

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5 thoughts on “Fish Farming Isn’t So Evil After All”

  1. Thanks Malenita. Maybe I’ll do a follow up post?

  2. Malenita says:

    Some good ideas about how to go about feeding the world…

  3. Malenita says:

    To be blunt, figuring out how to feed so many people is an attempt to treat the symptom rather than the problem. It is the problem, overpopulation, that needs the majority of our attention.

  4. Malenita says:

    As with any form of CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation), the product makes for less than healthy food. The profligate use of vaccines and antibiotics to ward off illness, and the artificial colors to make the flesh look healthy are not my idea of a sustainable method of food production (though it’s a great way to sustain Big Pharma).

    Of course, there are many other issues:

    It is interesting to note the WorldFish mission: “WorldFish exists to help eradicate hunger and poverty by harnessing the benefits of fisheries and aquaculture.” These folks are hardly an objective party to produce a report touting fish farming.

    1. That’s a good point Malenita (although Conservation International co-produced this report and usually I think they are fairly objective, no?) I understand your concerns. But how else do we address the need to feed so many people if not with CAFOs such as this?

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