Aquaculture could be the answer to multiple global food demand and sustainability challenges facing companies, governments, and non-governmental organizations.
Farmed seafood can play a major role in feeding the world’s growing population while simultaneously providing better lives to farmers and their families. When done sustainably, aquaculture can address many environmental and social impact goals, including taking pressure off stressed and overfished oceans.
But aquaculture is not without its flaws. Despite impressive growth, the aquaculture industry faces serious challenges.
What are the Pros and Cons of Aquaculture?
To better understand the benefits and challenges of aquaculture, we compiled a list of the top aquaculture pros and cons.
5 Pros of Aquaculture
1. Bold Commitments From Major Seafood Buyers
Major seafood buyers, including institutional food service, restaurant chains, and retailers have made significant commitments to buying and selling sustainably farmed seafood to remain competitive and meet their environmental and social impact goals.
In fact, over 90 percent of U.S. retailers and 75 percent of EU retailers have committed to buying and selling sustainable seafood.
2. Aquaculture is a Booming Industry
Today, the aquaculture industry accounts for about 52 percent of the world’s fish used for food. But by 2030, it’s anticipated that aquaculture will supply more than 60 percent of fish destined for human consumption.
3. A Nutritious and Healthy Protein Source
Health experts recognize fish as one of the most nutritious and healthy protein sources that can reduce global hunger and improve the health and wellbeing of the world’s growing population.
4. More Environmentally Friendly
Traditional land-based agriculture used for meat production including chicken, pork, and beef are extremely resource-intensive. Half of the world’s habitable land is used for food, with 75 percent going to animal-protein sources, which also use a significant amount of the world’s freshwater resources.
Aquaculture requires fewer resources, using less water and land, and emitting lower carbon emissions than other meat-based food sources.
5. Greater Economic and Gender-Equality Opportunities
More than 20 million people—many of whom are small farmers in developing countries—count on aquaculture for their livelihoods. These year-round jobs also employ women. As aquaculture grows, it offers opportunities to improve the economic wellbeing and sustainability of communities around the world.
5 Cons of Aquaculture
6. Unique Environmental Challenges
Aquaculture faces its own set of environmental issues ranging from destroying important ecosystems and habitats to the use of harmful chemicals and antibiotics, and the reliance on wild-caught fish and other unsustainable ingredients in feed.
7. Serious Social Issues
The aquaculture industry and supply chains often have limited government oversight and lack transparency heightening the risk of human rights violations and unfair labor practices. In some regions of the world, social conflicts have erupted between land users and aquaculture farmers over water supplies.
8. Notoriously Difficult to Certify
Aquaculture supply chains are complex and opaque with a larger number of intermediaries. As a result, seafood buyers have struggled to assure that they’re purchasing sustainably sourced seafood.
For more than 20 years, various stakeholders have leveraged export markets and invested significant time, resources, and funding into creating third-party certification and ratings programs.
However, it’s estimated that certiﬁed farmed ﬁsh and shellﬁsh only represent about eight percent of global aquaculture production and are primarily concentrated in a limited number of species and countries.
Plus, certification protocols and farm audits often cannot effectively uncover human rights or address social issues.
9. Promoting Sustainability and Social Improvement Lags
Certification schemes have proven ineffective at scaling sustainability and social improvement initiatives for small-scale farmers. Existing programs are better suited to large-scale, consolidated aquaculture industries such as farmed salmon, rather than industries that rely on small pond-based production like shrimp.
Under current certification schemes, there are also limited incentives for farmers to improve the sustainability of their farms.
10. Numerous Barriers to Sustainable Production
Small aquaculture farmers often struggle to demonstrate environmental and social sustainability through current certification and ratings programs. As a result, this limits farmers access to higher value markets.
Farmers face numerous barriers including limited local acceptance, cost, the high degree of organization and record keeping need to demonstrate performance, and the time it takes to complete assurance requirements (which can range from one to four days).
Even when farmers use sustainable practices, many cannot demonstrate them according to the chosen standard, or are not rewarded through increased prices or improved market access.
The Future of Aquaculture
There are numerous pros and cons of aquaculture, as we listed above. In the coming years, we believe aquaculture will play a significant role in advancing economic, environmental, and social impact goals.
However, the industry needs better mechanisms to spur sustainability improvements, especially for small-scale farmers that dominate the sector. And major seafood buyers need assurances that they’re purchasing sustainable farmed seafood.