Fish Farming: Do the Pros Outweigh the Cons?

Fish Farming – Good, Bad or Both?

Fish farming, which is part of aquaculture, is the commercial breeding of large amounts of fish for the purpose of food for human consumption . One example most of us may be familiar with is Salmon farming, as an increasing number of what we now buy in supermarkets consists of farm raised Salmon instead of its wild caught cousin. Aquaculture (including farm raised fish), or the cultivation and harvesting of both marine and freshwater plants and animals for food, has been practiced throughout history regardless of the culture or religion. So, fish farming is nothing new ,though it may seem so: its history goes back as far as pre-Columbian days.

Today, however, as an efficient and established source of food, fish farms are now widespread and, with increasing aquaculture research and a modifying methodology, they are gaining more and more attention. But like anything else that garners public attention, you will find opposing views on the matter. Let us take a brief look at the history of fish farming, then we’ll talk about its pros and cons and, finally, try to see what the future holds for this growing industry.

farm raised fish

fish farm in Bay of Kotor, Montenegro (Saint George Island in background)

History of Aquaculture and Farmed Fish

Aquaculture was a common practice for many ancient cultures including the Gunditjmara Aborigines of Victoria, Australia who as early as 6000BC thrived from the practice and were able to feed thousands of their people by cultivating eel farms. Such farms were also prevalent in China dating back as far as 2500BC where juvenile Carp were collected and placed in special ponds for their breeding and harvesting. The Ancient Egyptians built large ponds stocked with mullet as part of their overall land reclamation and farming techniques. The Japanese cultivated seaweed as well, and the Romans started breeding fish species such as trout and mullet in artificial ponds for the sole purpose of food. The technique then spread far and wide and was adopted by Europe during the medieval times; and it has continued to evolve into what we now call modern fish farming.

Pros and Cons of Fish Farming

The Pros: There is no argument over the fact that farmed fish has a number of benefits to offer. Many argue that, not only does it potentially provide us with a large and readily available source of food, but it may also save our wild fish populations as our oceans and freshwater bodies may not be able to support commercial fishing in its current form much longer. One of the greatest benefit that fish farming has to offer is that of its convenience. Be it an artificial pond or an enclosure of reasonable size within a natural setting, fish farms can be established and sustained almost anywhere. Last but not the least, it ensures that seafood as a source of protein and nutrition is always plentiful, and that scarcity does not contribute towards steep increases in seafood prices in the future.

The Cons: The above mentioned benefits do not come without a price though. There are a number of cons associated with fish farming as well. To begin with, it has environmental implications since the natural ecosystems could be negatively impacted by the proliferation of fish farms. Water contamination may as well be a major concern associated with the fish farm. All sorts of waste products, feces, increase of fish parasites or even bacteria could find their way into our water supply as well as into surrounding waters and impact wild fish  populations, many of whom are already under environmental stress. The use of pesticides and drugs to sustain a fish farm may as well be hazardous for human health. Their increased use could lead to more antibiotic resistance diseases.

The Future for Farm Raised Fish

We’ll likely continue to see exponential growth worldwide in farmed fish in the coming years as aquaculture technology improves. In addition to Salmon and Tilapia farming, we’ll also see an increase in production of other farmed fish species and marine organisms such as Carp, Catfish, Trout, Striped Bass, Tuna, Lobster, Shrimp, Clams and Oysters.

There are concerns, however. As evident from the information mentioned above, while fish farming offers benefits on one hand, it does have considerable cons associated to it as well. So far, it has not been possible to estimate whether or not the pros outweigh the cons. For the future for farm raised fish to be favorable, the cons highlighted here will need to be taken into consideration and are dealt with appropriately through careful planning and the use of improved methodologies. The incorporation of integrated recycling systems may help a great deal in reducing the hazards associated with aquaculture. It could also be said that further technological innovations in the future could be such that they render most of the cons faced today moot, leading to better and more sustainable aquaculture. But for now, at least, a perfect resolution is not quite at hand.