1. James Miller
  2. Fisheries & Aquaculture
  3. Friday, 12 June 2020
Hi All

Given increasing demand for animal protein, and diminishing wild fish stocks, it seems inevitable that aquaculture will continue to be a growth industry for the foreseeable future. While it's wonderful that aquaculture takes some of the pressure off wild fish populations, it is my understanding that it typically comes with significant environmental problems, such as:


  • pollution from feces, uneaten food, and chemicals
  • escaping fish becoming feral populations
  • spreading of disease and parasites.


However, I have heard that approaches like integrated multi-trophic aquaculture and offshore aquaculture can significantly mitigate at least some of these problems.

I would love to hear your thoughts on whether aquaculture can be genuinely sustainable? And if so, what steps need to be taken to ensure widespread adoption of the necessary techniques?
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
Dear James
In theory, aquaculture could be 'sustainable', depending on how you define 'sustainable'. This is not just semantics. You mention IMTA yourself, and that has the theoretical basis for a circular, closed 'waste-to-food' approach. I have been working in a project called IMPAQT(an EU Horizon 2020 project; I switched jobs, but the project is still ongoing: http:\\impaqtproject.eu), which currently is studying the requirements for an IMTA, technically, economically and ecologically in a wide variety of case studies in the EU (fresh water and marine), but also a Chinese project is involved. It could be interesting for you to take a look at the website.

I think open-field aquaculture can be circular, but it will be impossible to close the loop for 100%. There will always be leakage of compounds into the natural environment, but to what extent this will be problematic depends very much on the local circumstances. Tidal areas will wash away excess nutrients over a wide area, in lakes this will obviously be much less the case. Recycling materials, good feed sources, equitable payment and employment circumstances will all contribute towards sustainability on not just the ecological level, but also on the social and economic level.

In China, they have developed seaweed aquaculture in the outlet of a highly eutrophic estuary, thereby decreasing the nutrient load to the coastal environment. If such a level of seaweed culture would be applied in the North Sea, this could lead to severe nutrient depletion and productivity losses in the natural marine ecosystem.

Aquaculture can and should be much more sustainable than it usually is. Local problems persist in developed countries, but is mostly a technical issue.

Then there is the social/development issue. If I look in stores, many aquaculture products such as shrimps come from east Asian countries, where mangrove forests are being destroyed at a high speed for aquaculture development. In carbon equivalents, such shrimp aquaculture is worse than beef farming. And resulting in increased coastal erosion destroying the livelihood of many locals.

Then, should and could aquaculture replace fishing and at a sustainable level? I did not do any calculations, but I don't think so, and honestly I don't hope so. Wild-caught fish is overall of much better quality than cultured fish. Of course, any fish we take from the natural system will not be available for other organisms, but I guess that is the consequence of being part of a natural system; the level of fishing should decrease significantly to reach a sustainable level in most of the marine fisheries (according to FAO around 70% of stocks are overfished).

If we are able to develop a sustainable aquaculture based on waste products, that would be good. This would demand a significant change in our food production and waste treatment. This may seem somewhat off topic, but I believe we should develop sustainable aquaculture as part of a larger change of our food production system.

Anyway, I hope I have given you some answers and ideas that help you shaping your own thoughts about this.
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And here is some literature. Although this webpage claims I can upload docx, I did not succeed, so I just pasted it in the main text.

Baulcomb, Corinne (2013): Aquaculture and Ecosystem Services. In Steve Wratten, Harpinder Sandhu, Ross Cullen, Robert Costanza, Stephen D. Wratten (Eds.): Ecosystem services in agricultural and urban landscapes, vol. 18. 1. publ. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 58–82.
Byron; J, C.; Costa-Pierce; A, B. (2013): Carrying capacity tools for use in the implementation of an ecosystems approach to aquaculture. In L. G. Ross, T. C. Telfer, L. Falconer, D. Soto, J. Aguilar-Manjarrez (Eds.): Site selection and carrying capacities for inland and coastal aquaculture, pp. 87–101.
Filgueira, R.; Comeau, L. A.; Guyondet, T.; McKindsey, C. W.; Byron, C. J. (2015): Modelling Carrying Capacity of Bivalve Aquaculture: A Review of Definitions and Methods. In Robert A. Meyers (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Sustainability Science and Technology, vol. 44. New York, NY: Springer New York, pp. 1–33.
Frost, Matthew; Baxter, John M.; Buckley, Paul J.; Cox, Martyn; Dye, Stephen R.; Withers Harvey, Narumon (2012): Impacts of climate change on fish, fisheries and aquaculture. In Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 22 (3), pp. 331–336. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.2230.
Goudey, L. (2006): Aquaculture in offshore zones. Letter in Science (314), pp. 1875–1877.
Hadley, Scott; Jones, Emlyn; Johnson, Craig; Wild-Allen, Karen; Macleod, Catriona (2016): A Bayesian inference approach to account for multiple sources of uncertainty in a macroalgae based integrated multi-trophic aquaculture model. In Environmental Modelling & Software 78, pp. 120–133. DOI: 10.1016/j.envsoft.2015.12.020.
Henriksson, Patrik J. G.; Guinée, Jeroen B.; Kleijn, René; Snoo, Geert R. de (2012): Life cycle assessment of aquaculture systems—a review of methodologies. In Int J Life Cycle Assess 17 (3), pp. 304–313. DOI: 10.1007/s11367-011-0369-4.
Kim, J. K.; Kraemer, G. P.; Yarish, C. (2015): Use of sugar kelp aquaculture in Long Island Sound and the Bronx River Estuary for nutrient extraction. In Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 531, pp. 155–166. DOI: 10.3354/meps11331.
Kim, Jang K.; Yarish, Charles; Hwang, Eun Kyoung; Park, Miseon; Kim, Youngdae (2017): Seaweed aquaculture: cultivation technologies, challenges and its ecosystem services. In ALGAE 32 (1), pp. 1–13. DOI: 10.4490/algae.2017.32.3.3.
Lunstrum, Abby; McGlathery, Karen; Smyth, Ashley (2018): Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) Aquaculture Shifts Sediment Nitrogen Processes toward Mineralization over Denitrification. In Estuaries and Coasts 41 (4), pp. 1130–1146. DOI: 10.1007/s12237-017-0327-x.
Outeiro, Luis; Villasante, Sebastian (2013): Linking salmon aquaculture synergies and trade-offs on ecosystem services to human wellbeing constituents. In Ambio 42 (8), pp. 1022–1036. DOI: 10.1007/s13280-013-0457-8.
Parker, Rob (2012): Review of life cycle assessment research on products derived from fisheries and aquaculture: A report for Seafish as part of the collective action to address greenhouse gas emissions in seafood. Halifax, NS, Canada.
Peter J. Cranford, William Li, Øivind Strand and Tore Strohmeier (2008): Phytoplankton depletion by mussel aquaculture: high resolution mapping, ecosystem modeling and potential indicators of ecological carrying capacity. ICES CM 2008/H:12. In ICES CM 2008/H:12.
Ross, L. G.; Telfer, T. C.; Falconer, L.; Soto, D.; Aguilar-Manjarrez, J. (Eds.) (2013): Site selection and carrying capacities for inland and coastal aquaculture. FAO/Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling, Expert Workshop, 6–8 December 2010. Stirling, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Proceedings No. 21. Rome, FAO. 282 pp.
Ross, Lindsay G.; Telfer, Trevor; Falconer, Lynne; Soto, Doris; Aguilar-Manjarrez, José (Eds.) (2013): Site selection and carrying capacities for inland and coastal aquaculture. FAOInstitute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling, Expert Workshop, 6-8 December 2010, Stirling, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO fisheries and aquaculture proceedings, 21).
Schmitt, Laetitia Helene Marie; Brugere, Cecile (2013): Capturing ecosystem services, stakeholders' preferences and trade-offs in coastal aquaculture decisions: a Bayesian belief network application. In PloS one 8 (10), e75956. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075956.
Skejić, Sanda; No last name!; Vilibić, Ivica; Matijević, Slavica; Jozić, Slaven; Gladan, Živana Ninčević et al. (2015): LONG-TERM REGULATING MECHANISMS OF PHYTOPLANKTON BIOMASS IN A TRADITIONAL SHELLFISH AQUACULTURE AREA. In Fresenius Environmental Bulletin 24, pp. 3001–3013.
Skejić, Sanda; Vilibić, Ivica; Matijević, Slavica; Jozić, Slaven; Gladan, Živana Ninčević; Morović, Mira et al. (2015): Long-term regulating mechanisms of phytoplankton biomass in a traditional shellfish aquaculture area. In Fresenius Environmental Bulletin 24 (9a), 3001-3013.
Soto, Doris; Aguilar-Manjarrez, José; Hishamunda, Nathanaël (2008): Building an ecosystem approach to aquaculture. FAOUniversitat de les Illes Balears Expert Workshop, 7-11 May, 2007, Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO fisheries and aquaculture proceedings, 14).
Stévant, Pierrick; Rebours, Céline; Chapman, Annelise (2017): Seaweed aquaculture in Norway: recent industrial developments and future perspectives. In Aquacult Int 25 (4), pp. 1373–1390. DOI: 10.1007/s10499-017-0120-7.
Walls, Aimée M. (2017): Ecosystem services and environmental impacts associated with commercial kelp aquaculture. Ph.D.
Yucel-Gier, G.; Pazi, I.; Kucuksezgin, F.; Kocak, F. (2011): The composite trophic status index (TRIX) as a potential tool for the regulation of Turkish marine aquaculture as applied to the eastern Aegean coast (Izmir Bay). In Journal of Applied Ichthyology 27 (1), pp. 39–45. DOI: 10.1111/j.1439-0426.2010.01576.x.
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
Ben Bailey: I appreciate the links. Looks like I've got some reading to do!

Arjen Boon: Many thanks for your insightful reply. Do you know of any existing commercial fish or shrimp farms that are substantially more sustainable than the norm? Or is sustainability in aquaculture still largely theoretical?
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