Aquaculture; Sustainable or not sustainable?

As the human population continues to increase exponentially, we are constantly faced with the question; how in the world do we feed everyone? Luckily advancing technologies have helped ease this burden, with the birth of things like pesticides, new farming methods and GMOs.

Overfishing and the depletion of the oceans’ natural stock has been a constant battle for wildlife managers and economies all over the world. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, “[m]ore than 85 percent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits and are in need of strict management plans to restore them.” Fortunately over the past years the aquaculture industry has been able to help cushion the fall. Not only does it produce a variety of fish for market all over the world, but it is a big contributor to the country’s economy as well.

One of the best examples of this is right here in Louisiana. Shrimp, oysters, crab, crawfish and alligator are the biggest fisheries exports we have. According to Louisiana Seafood, shrimp alone accounts for 15,000 jobs and an annual impact of $1.3 billion. We also produce 70% of the world’s oysters right here in the Gulf coast, and this accounts for almost 4,000 jobs with an economic impact of $317 million annually. According to Louisiana State University’s Agriculture Center, freshwater fisheries contributed $23.4 million and marine fisheries added an estimated $320.4 million in 2013 alone. However, one of the biggest questions that has come up since is whether its practice is sustainable or not.

Now what does it mean to be sustainable? According to Webster’s Dictionary sustainable means “able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed” and “able to last or continue for a long time.” But in ecological terms sustainable practices are “techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities, and animal welfare.”

One of the arguments against aquaculture is that the industry has gotten so big in first world countries that it is displacing and destroying traditional fishing communities. Not only are they putting them out of jobs, but they are also taking their main source of food. The same fish that the aquaculture industries refer to as “trash fish” and use for their feeding production is the usual meal for some local communities. Another problem with the industry is that recently modern methods of aquaculture have been emphasizing unsustainable practices, specifically in order to produce higher value product like shrimp and salmon. These unsustainable practices have led to the destruction of coastal ecosystems, depletion of freshwater sources, and the release of inorganic waste that has the potential to be toxic.

However in many third-world countries like Haiti, aquaculture has been a blessing. In these areas most families live in poverty and lack daily nutrients such as protein needed for basic health and learning development. Non-profits like Operation Blessing International have been spreading the practice of aquaculture in order to give these families not only a reliable source of food, but a source of income as well. According to their website “Haiti has been crippled by disasters, creating a food security crisis. They need jobs to strengthen the economy and sustainable solutions to increase food security for the population. Operation Blessing is responding to that need through aquaculture — specifically, the farming of tilapia — which is providing jobs and food to hurting families across the nation”.

In cases like these it is evident that aquaculture has a lot of potential for success in what it was originally made to do; feed the world, as well as its many economic benefits. However the lack of regulation and sustainable practices have given the name a bad reputation.

To get an inside opinion on the subject I talked briefly with Dr. Greg Lutz at the LSU Aquaculture Research Station. Dr. Lutz has been working in the industry for years, and has been traveling from Baton Rouge to South America as a professional consultant. “I personally never saw Aquaculture as the solution to fish stock depletion, but I do believe that if practiced right Aquaculture holds a tremendous amount of benefits” says Dr. Lutz.

So is Aquaculture sustainable? It seems to me that the answer isn’t a “yes” or a “no”, but rather an “it depends.” It depends on whether or not sustainable methods are being used or not! It’s as simple as that. No one management plan is perfect and there are always going to be flaws. Rather than trying to label the industry as one that works or doesn’t work, we should simply try to step back, identify the main problems and find a solution for reformation.

By: Greer Darden


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