What is Sustainable Fish Farming?

Most of the time when we purchase food, many of us don’t stop to think where that food comes from or how it’s produced. Especially with fish. We just assume it was caught in some ocean or lake somewhere (dubbed wild-caught fish) or raised on a fish farm (dubbed farm-raised) and go on about our shopping business. If you’re seeking to be more mindful of our environmental impacts, however, you might want to ask yourself, what is sustainable fish farming, and how can it help the planet and humanity? Even better, how can I be a part of this movement? Good questions, which we will endeavor to answer. Check out our related blog to learn more about the meaning of wild  caught vs farm raised fish.

Definition of Sustainable Fishing

Sustainable fish farming is actually a complex subject, similar to that of labeling organic seafood, and there’s no hard and fast definition to be found. Fish farming is also referred to as aquaculture. The sustainable part is debatable, depending on the farm and the practices and disciplines they are using to farm their fish with. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unsavory practices that go along with fish farming for many involved in the industry, and these practices don’t help the sustainability factor.

Worldwide, aquaculture farms (or fish farming) has become one of the fastest growing industries for producing food, out-pacing wild-capture fisheries that have stalled out due to fish depletion. Even though we have laws and fishery management plans backed by the best science available, wild-capture fisheries just can’t keep up with demand. This means the food industry is turning to fish farms more and more in order to keep up. Overfishing is a big problem that will have a global impact on the world and the world’s population if we can’t come up with alternative sustainable practices.

The industry has since turned to fish farming, but a large majority of fish farmers are raising fish in ways that simply aren’t sustainable. Worse, they are dangerous for both the environment and sometimes people too. Some fish farms engage in harmful practices like removing large quantities of water from natural sources like rivers or the ground and returning water that’s been contaminated back to local bodies of water, which, in turn, affects the water quality.

Additionally, some fish farms use unhealthy antibiotics, aquatic biocides, and hormones that cause damage to both the health of consumers as well as to local ecosystems. Not to mention, these fish are often being fed waste byproducts from livestock that are factory-farmed and GMO soybeans in the form of feed pellets, which consumers then consume as well. Many fish farms also don’t do much to prevent the spread of disease by ensuring their fish don’t escape into natural waterways and contaminate local populations.

Sustainable Fish Facts

So, what should fish farms (and we as consumers) be doing in order for fish farming to become truly sustainable and good for the planet? That’s an excellent question. It’s estimated that in the year 2021, fish farming just may outpace the wild-capture fisheries for the first time. Unfortunately, due to many unsustainable practices, much of the farms for fish and seafood alike are causing untold damage and destruction to local ecosystems.

Sustainable fish farms do the opposite. They make every effort to raise sustainably farmed and healthy fish and take care not to cause damage to local, natural ecosystems. They avoid using harmful things like additives, chemicals, hormones, or antibiotics when raising their fish to produce sustainable seafood. They also don’t feed their fish pellets of byproduct animal waste. Instead, they feed their environmentally-friendly fish feed that is mostly vegetarian and carefully balanced for optimal health.

Sustainable fisheries are also responsible in how they use water, choosing to use just a small surface area and being vigilant about monitoring the quality of the water. They do this so species of fish that are native to the area can still thrive without being pushed about by farmed fish. Sustainable fish farmers also find ways to reduce their waste by using as many parts of the fish as they can and getting creative on how they might use parts normally thrown out.

For instance, fish solids and fish oils can be turned into biodiesel fuel or be added to animal feed as a healthy supplement. Fish skin helps in the production of gelatin used in many pharmaceuticals and is used for a leather alternative in the fashion industry, and collagen for cosmetics can be derived from fish scales. Everything else makes for a great compost to feed local vegetation.

Some fish farms are even moving to land-based aquaculture production systems in their efforts to increase sustainability, which could be great for large, urban areas with a high demand for fresh fish. Other fish farms are spreading out into the open ocean with healthier, more sustainable results. The water in the open sea is clean and the strong, steady currents help keep the farms free of pests and fish waste. Overall, there are great strides being made in the sustainable aquaculture industry, but there are still many hurdles as well. It will take a collective effort to make sustainable fish farming normative and work as a long-term solution, but it’s certainly doable.

If you’re a fisherman, you can practice catch and release fishing to help do your part. Share your knowledge with your fellow fisherman, and make sure you know of special techniques that may be required, such as those recommended for deep water fish. You can also make sure you discard of all your used fishing line properly and not leaving it in local waterways to become entangled with the fish and wildlife.

You can also choose as a consumer to only eat fish you know is sustainable, usually fish species that are already large in population, because they reproduce faster. Don’t eat fish from populations you know may be on the decline or are heavily over-fished. Don’t buy fish from farms you know have a bad reputation and use practices that harm people or the environment. At the end of the day, the market always meets the demands of the people. If the demands of the people begin to move toward more sustainable fishing and farming practices, the industry will rise to meet those demands.

To learn more about the benefits of eating organic and sustainable food with services like organic catering for corporate catering or wedding catering in addition to the practices of local projects working towards food sustainability—such as the San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project—read our related blog posts. Happy eating!



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