This post is part of KQED’s Do Now U project. Do Now U is a biweekly activity for students and the public to engage and respond to current issues using social media. Do Now U aims to build civic engagement and digital literacy for learners of all ages. This post was written by Ben Lokken, Anna Herff, Tim Jenkins and Sara Wolf, students in Juk Bhattacharyya’s “Environmental Geology” class at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Featured Media Resource

Fish on a Farm
Get a brief introduction to fish farming, including some environmental concerns and how scientists are helping to address those impacts.

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Do the benefits of aquaculture and fish farming outweigh the negative impacts? #DoNowUFishFarm

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Learn More About Aquaculture

Aquaculture in western Greece.
Aquaculture in western Greece. (AlMare)

Aquaculture has emerged a popular and efficient way to grow and rear marine and aquatic life for consumption. Various species of fish, shellfish and even plants are grown in tanks, ponds, man-made inland systems or open water cages in the ocean until they reach market size. On a large scale, aquaculture could lessen the need for finding and catching wild fish for food or ornamental purposes (i.e. aquariums) and also help us more efficiently harvest underwater plants for uses in pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements and other products. Aquaculture has grown exponentially in recent years. For example, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 44.1 percent of total fish production worldwide in 2014 came from aquaculture, an increase from 42.1 percent in 2012 and 31.1 percent in 2004. Aquaculture shows tremendous promise in being a long-term source of food to sustain a growing population. However, it has its fair share of problems.

Aquaculture ponds along the coast of China’s Bohai Sea.
Aquaculture ponds along the coast of China’s Bohai Sea. (Planet Labs)

There are many reasons why aquaculture is good for the environment. In 2009, the total seafood consumed in the world was more than117 million tons. Of this, 90 million tons were taken out of freshwater and marine habitats. This practice can lead to overfishing, which happens when more fish are caught than can be replenished naturally. This can cause certain fish species, like Atlantic bluefish tuna, to become extinct. Overfishing can impact marine ecosystems as well. For example, cod feed on herring. If herring are overfished, the cod population is adversely affected. Upsetting links on the food chain has consequences up and down the line. Aquaculture could help decrease the effects of human consumption of fish on freshwater and marine water habitats by producing food without taking away from overfished environments. Fish, plants and shellfish produced in aquaculture farms are also used to rebuild species populations in freshwater and saltwater habitats. A lesser-known benefit is that plants grown in aquaculture provide material used in pharmaceutical, nutritional, and biotechnology products. Aquaculture can also potentially be used for treating sewage and wastewater. For example, in India, treated sewage is first passed through ponds of duckweed and next through ponds of prawns and carp. These animals gain nutrients from the waste as they clean the water. The water can then be used for agricultural purposes. These are just some of the ways aquaculture is beneficial not only to habitats and wild fish, but also to humans.

Along with the positive aspects of aquaculture come some negative ones. Fish farms can impact wild fish populations by transferring disease and parasites to migrating fish. Aquaculture can also pollute water systems with excess nutrients and fecal matter due to the large numbers and concentrations of farmed fish. Sometimes equipment used in aquaculture can be problematic. For example, in the Puget Sound, geoduck clam farming has affected the coastal ecosystem—the amount of PVC piping and netting has changed the landscape for marine life, although the farmed geoducks, themselves, did not have a negative effect. Also, raising farmed fish can cost a lot in resources. For example, many species of fish raised by aquaculture, such as salmon, are predatory fish. They are fed pellets made from other fish like anchovies or sardines. So, wild fish are being caught to feed farmed fish. In some places, the practice of trawling the bottom of the ocean for marine life in order to make fishmeal scrapes the sea floor, thus harming the sensitive ecosystem. The increased amount of pollutants in fishmeal, caused by toxins from ocean pollution, is also raising concerns because these harmful toxins make their way into food targeted for human consumption.

There are some great benefits to fish farming, but before continuing on, we must be aware of the potential harmful effects it could have on us as consumers as well as the environment. What do you think? Is aquaculture a good alternative to wild harvesting of fish and shellfish?

More Resources

Website: Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, University of California, Santa Barbara
About Aquaculture
Learn about key aquaculture species, the cost and benefits of aquaculture, and community and industrial aquaculture practices.

Website: Monterey Bay Aquarium
Read about some of the effects of aquaculture, including pollution and disease, how fish that escape pens affect wild populations, and potential damage to habitats.

Video: VOA
Scientists See Aquaculture in America’s Future
Hear why the U.S. is behind other countries in aquaculture even though demand for seafood is growing.

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  • Justis Haruo Kusumoto

    Do the benefits of aquaculture and fish farming outweigh the negative impacts? #DoNowUFishFarm

    Generally, the benefits of aquaculture and fish farming appear to outweigh the negative impacts, though this can vary from farm to farm. Much like agriculture on land, aquaculture poses similar risks and issues. The massive population densities of fish in certain habitats can lead to excessive amounts of fecal matter from fish and nutrients being deposited into aquatic ecosystems, which can damage natural habitats. However, many farms use sustainable techniques that minimize these risks, and the benefits to aquaculture are much more pronounced. As the KQED article points out, aquaculture has been used to absorb pollution from sewage treatment runoff, and stops overfishing, which are some of the largest issues in water-based ecosystems. So, considering the magnitude of the benefits of aquaculture and fish farming over its negative impacts, it would generally appear that aquaculture is more beneficial. also outlines how sustainable aquaculture and fishing practices can and have on a substantial scale mitigated any negative impacts they might have on the environment.

  • Mai Hagihara

    I suprised the fact that “44.1 percent of total fish production worldwide in 2014 came from aquaculture, an increase from 42.1 percent in 2012 and 31.1 percent in 2004.” The aquaculture is the big way to get the fish production nowadays. There are many positive impacts of the aquaculture, for example to get many fishes toghther at once. On the other hand, the aquaculture has possible of the marine pollution. The marine pollution is one of the big issue that people should solve for the future. However, I think people will not stop the aquaculture to the future even if they realized the negative impact.

    • Nadine Salas

      I also agree! I understand the negative impacts associated with aqua farming such as the marine pollution and spread of disease. However I believe that the demand is far to strong and holds to many incentives to cease production. I think our efforts should be focused on how we can create a more sustainable aquaculture environment , more than whether or not one should be in effect. With such high consumer demand and limited wild fish supply I don’t see a future without some form of aquaculture. #MyCmstArgs

  • Amanda Murphy

    Do the benefits of Aquaculture outweigh its negative impacts? Possibly. #DoNowUFishFarm

    This question is about as unfair as asking if the benefits of farming outweigh the negative impacts.

    Just like land-based food production, the answer is the same- possibly. For example there is conventional farming (pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc), vs organic. Monoculture vs Permaculture. Factory farming vs free range. Genetically Modified vs non-hybrid. Invasive vs native species. The examples are endless. There are good techniques and there are bad techniques, simple as that.

    What we really should be asking is- What is it that makes one technique more beneficial than the other- Profit or Quality? When we begin to seek the answers to these kinds of questions, we can make better decisions about how our food should be produced.

  • Yo Inoue

    Even though fish farm can impact wild fish population by transferring disease and parasites to migrating fishes, I think we need aquaculture for growing our foods. Since world population has been dramatically increasing, we will not be able to afford enough food for our descendants in the near future. Therefore, the benefits of aquaculture and fish farming outweigh its negative impacts.

  • Ryoko Yamamoto

    It is true that fishery products are decreasing as the artificiality increases as consumption rate increases year by year.
    Fishery resources are limited.  There are many fish that are already extinct by the overfishing, even now. Therefore, I think that producing aquatic products by aquaculture is important in securing food resources. Climate change that changes the ecosystem itself of fish. And if people can solve the problem of fishery resource management which affects the number of fish, I think that aquaculture is a good way to change to wild harvest.

  • Shohei Ueda

    I didn’t know that aquaculture is this much widespread in the world. About 50% of total fish production in 2014 was from aquaculture. It means most of the fishes that we eat every day is not from freshwater. Many people say fishes from freshwater taste much better than from aquaculture, and the aquaculture has a negative impact which transfers disease and parasites to migrating fishes. Even though the aquaculture has negative issues, people will continue to produce by the aquaculture because some of the fishes are too expensive to eat, but it can make cheaper for everyone.

  • Jonny Ballesteros

    I can see the concerns for those who think aquaculture can have many negative things for our environment and the certain type of fish. Even though aquaculture does have some negatives, the positives the outweigh the negatives. Having this is beneficial for us since we are now focusing on the future and growth of it. By doing this we are now providing a healthy, well farmed fish for the person that is buying it. Also, like stated in the video, they are already working on alternative ways to fix the negatives that come from aquaculture. I would support this since it has many benefits for us. #DoNowUFishFarm

    • Ciana Bell

      I agree Jonny. Focusing on the growth of consumption of seafood and the growth of our population is crucial. While there are some negative impacts that come with aquaculture, I feel that the benefits do outweigh them. I do think that aquaculture needs to be regulated and it needs to continuously be updated and monitored. If continued research is put into aquaculture than I feel that it will continue to be a beneficial aspect to our people. #DoNowUFishFarm #MyCMSTArgs

  • Ciana Bell

    Until reading this, I was completely unaware that aquaculture was even a thing. However, after reading I do feel that the benefits of aquaculture and fish farming can outweigh the negative impacts. I see where people are concerned, for any type of process like this whether it be agriculture or aquaculture, it is going to create some negative impacts on our environment. However, if there is proper regulation then the negative impacts can be lessened. Overall, I think with proper regulation and continued research on the matter, the negatives that many worry about can become less of a worry. This website provides more information and a list of pros and cons of aquaculture. #DoNowUFishFarm #MyCMSTArgs

  • Manami Tokumoto

    Aquaculture is such a common thing today that is done in many different places. Finding out the negative aspects such as, fish farms can impact wild fish population by disease and parasites, and polluting water systems were surprising. I believe aquaculture started for being beneficial for both human and wild fish but there are negative aspects at the same time. I personally support aquaculture because it plays a big roll in providing food for us these days. Finding a way to not harm the environment and us humans will be the next step. I would also like to learn about what we can do as individual to help solve this problem.

  • kimberly

    It amazes me that with all of our famous ports and fishing companies that the United States i so behind the rest of the world in aquaculture. Turns out were the most behind in a lot of things.

  • august

    I’ve never think about aquaculture negative affect to the ecosystem. People love fishes, aquaculture is one of the good solution to get fishes easier. People knows we will eat fishes, so they might not feed bad things. If people stop aquaculture, then we need to think about over fishing.

  • Kai Kojimoto

    I thought the list of pros and cons was really helpful in explaining aquaculture to me. I have heard that there are fish farming by the shores but I was unaware that these farms could be used to cultivate plants that can be used in pharmaceutical, nutritional, and biotechnology products. It seems that ultimately the effects of the press outweigh the cons. the only thing i wonder about is that if fish farms are supposed to decrease the catch rate of ocean fish, I wonder if having to feed the fish in the fish farms would still decrease the ocean catch rates?

    • Gavin Henson

      The list of Pros and Cons was really helpful for me as well. They did mention that they are looking into alternatives for feeding the fish in the fish farms, which would be a could topic to research. #MyCMSTArgs

  • sarahmak

    I feel that if any type of species are collected in a group that do have enough space be the finest fish, are they best tasting? If the farming is for human consumption, are we paying for quality fish that will be eating. This seems that we will lead to genetically modified fish… If we can modify plants, scientist will soon work into modify fish.

    • Jace Cuneo

      Ay, I didn’t think of that and I think it is a good point. This can definitely be a slippery slope that leads to GMO fish on the reg. One problem I read talked about how if a fish were to escape it could breed with other fish or dominate the food source. But I don’t want any GMO fish breeding with the natural fish, no no no.

  • Tate Kaiama

    This article on aquaculture was very informative and intriguing. It shared the positive and negative effects of aquaculture and ultimately I believe the negative effects are not necessarily worth it. In my opinion, the best thing we can do to ensure the production of fish and sea life animals is by enforcing stricter rules and regulations within societies. We can incorporate more fishing police who ticket those that go against the enforced rules. We can follow professional guidelines that work with the life system and production of fish. Humans can not be selfish when it comes to the extension of any animals life. Humans need to sacrifice some time away from eating certain animals so that they can prosper and regain its whole production system.

  • Jace Cuneo

    When reading this article,I found myself on the fence. Part of me understood the importance these are to meet human consumption without overfishing, but I find it hard to justify all the negatives. According to the U.S. is already taking measures to prevent the high nutrient and waste levels that can create dead zones by making sure they are located next to strong currents. But then there is the scare about disease that can spread into the aquaculture or out of the aquaculture. What I find most problematic is the demand of energy and cost to maintain efficient aquacultures. They demand tons of fresh water to be pumped through and that takes energy. Fish like salmon eat a lot of food that have to have certain oils and nutrients and that gets expensive. This is something that I feel we could make better, but until then we should put these on hold and strictly regulate the ones that are active
    #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowUFishFarm

    • Trevor Ramsey

      Jace, I appreciate that you are concerned about the costs associated with successful aquaculture. The ability to see the positive and negative result of aquaculture makes choosing a side very difficult. While looking into the problematic issues, think about what issues would still be there without aquaculture? While pest and disease would not be at as high a risk of spreading, overfishing would still be quite problematic.

  • Trevor Ramsey

    Like on any farm, there are going to be risks associated with the size and practices used by farmers to supply the largest yields. Within any species the population is affected by the quality of life present. Depending on the size of the farm compared to the farmed fish population present at any given time, there is a risk of a pests and disease spreading through a population. In an attempt to combat disease, veterinary grade pest control is being placed into the water, thus contaminating it. With these risks in mind, I believe that the benefits of aquaculture outweighs the risks. According to Encyclopedia Britannica: Advocacy for Animals, 70% of the worlds waterways are overfished already. With the risk of extinction for many fish, I believe it is possible to control the aquaculture industry just as the cattle industry has done as well as the farmlands across America. #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowUFishFarm

  • Gavin Henson

    As long as the people involved in establishing the fish farms are carefully regulated to minimize damage to the environment, I think that the idea of fish farming is alright. The current popular fishing methods have far greater consequences than presented here, which makes this idea more intriguing. The real drawback is that we would have to rely on the Government to set standards for these fish farms. Considering how the US Government makes decisions about Oil, I’m sure there are many people like myself who would be pretty upset to see the Government maximize the profit for the companies involved. What’s worse is that most of the fish that are farmed come from nations that do not have as strict regulations on fishing, as mentioned in #DoNowUFishFarm @KQEDedspace #MyCMSTArgs

  • Nadine Salas

    From the reading and research I do believe the benefits outweigh the costs especially when the coast are conditionals and have means to avoid them. According to the Monterey Bay aquarium , we have literally exploited our natural fish resources to the point of collapsing and very few areas have the ability to repopulate themselves enough to sustain the demand of consumers. I personally do not see another way to supplement the demand without aquaculture as an option. Our own overarming has lead to near extinction of certain species of fish as well as disruption in their ecosystems. What I found the most attractive as means to limit the negative effects of aquaculture is something mentioned by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Which is before consuming seafood to ask/reserach if the company is selling sustainable food. This simple measure in filtering our own consumption can help shape the demand for and supply of farmed fish that is caught in responsible ways.#DoNowUFishFarm #MyCmstArgs

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