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Captive bluefin tuna inside a transport cage. The cage is being towed by a tug from fishing grounds in Libya to Tuna farms in Sicily.

Sustainable Aquaculture

Greenpeace seeks to ensure clean and healthy oceans for the future, and part of this is working to improve the standards of international seafood trade. As wild stocks decline, the demand for farmed shrimp, salmon, tuna, tilapia and other marine finfish is on the rise. Therefore, due to its sheer size and its impacts on the oceans, the aquaculture industry is an important part of the overall picture.

Aquaculture is not a solution to overfishing. Traditional forms of aquaculture can and do make substantial contributions to food supplies in areas of the world where food needs are acute, but these need to be sustainable.

Many modern aquaculture practices emphasise the unsustainable production of species for high-value export markets. Rapid development and expansion of intensive aquaculture for species such as salmon and shrimp has, for example, resulted in widespread degradation of the environment and the displacement of coastal fishing and farming communities.

Unsustainable aquaculture also negatively impacts on the food supplies and food security of developing coastal countries. Aquaculture development often blocks access to common lands, used by local people for fishing and cleaning (collecting of seafood from the ground), and takes away traditional food sources, for use in fishmeal and oil production for aquaculture production. 

What are the main problems with aquaculture? 

Unsustainable aquaculture can devastate our oceans and the environment and impact on local people's food and security.

Some examples include:

  • the extraction of marine species from oceans, including wild juveniles vital for future stock growth, increasing the burden on wild fish stocks and having major food security implications;
  • fishmeal and so-called 'trash fish' used for feed production - often the main food for local people - taken for use in aquaculture ponds;
  • the release of organic wastes (that, for instance, act as plant nutrients for harmful algal blooms) and toxic effluents into the oceans;
  • the destruction of coastal ecosystems, displacement of coastal communities and depletion of fresh water sources to build aquaculture ponds.

What kind of aquaculture is sustainable?   

There are no species that are sustainable as such. The sustainability of a species depends on its feeding and lifecycle habits, as well as the farming operation. Only species that are plant eaters, who can breed in captivity, and whose farming does not produce high levels of nutrient output can be cultivated sustainably.

There are a number of conditions an aquaculture operation must adhere to in order to be sustainable. Among other things, an aquaculture operation can only be regarded as sustainable if it:

  • is continually moving towards plant-based feeds originating from sustainable agriculture;
  • does not use fishmeal or fish-oil-based feeds from unsustainable fisheries and does not represent a net loss in fish protein yield;
  • does not use wild-caught juveniles;
  • only cultivates species that are native in open water systems, and then only in bag nets, closed-wall sea-pens or equivalent systems (if there is cultivation of non-native species, it must be restricted to land-based tanks);
  • does not result in negative environmental impacts in terms of discharges and effluents to the surrounding areas;
  • does not result in negative effects to local wildlife (plants as well as animals) or represents a risk to local wild populations;
  • does not use genetically engineered fish or feed;
  • uses stocking densities that minimise the risk of disease outbreaks and transmission;
  • does not deplete local resources, for example, drinking water supplies and mangrove forests;
  • does not threaten human health;
  • supports the long-term economic and social well-being of local communities.

Achieving sustainability requires adhering to a full set of measures and cannot be reached through simply implementing one or two. 

How can consumers be sure that the products they buy come from sustainable and fair aquaculture?

No current certification scheme covers all of the issues essential to ensure products come from sustainable and fair aquaculture operations. It is the responsibility of retailers to ensure that the products they buy come from operations adhering to the conditions described above. Retailers must, until a reliable certification system is in place, communicate to their customersthe sustainability of their products.

In turn, customers must also challenge their retailers to ensure that their supplies stick to all of these conditions. Unless consumers can be assured that products come from sustainable operations, they should not buy them.

The Greenpeace report, Challenging the aquaculture industry on sustainability, offers advice to the industry on becoming sustainable, and provides guidelines to retailers and seafood suppliers on how to ensure they only buy aquaculture products from sustainable operations. 

The latest updates

 

Activist injured during attempt to save bluefin tuna

Feature story | 4 June, 2010 at 17:41

As bluefin tuna fishing began in the Mediterranean today, just south of Malta - we set out to rescue endangered fish trapped inside a massive purse seine net. But our boats and activists were met with violence as several fishing vessels closed in...

With ICCAT in the driving seat – what hope is there for bluefin?

Blog entry by LisaV | 1 June, 2010

The latest from Willie Mackenzie - UK oceans campaigner in the Med. There’s an analogy I sometimes use to explain the problem of overfishing. Imagine you are in a car hurtling at full speed down a hillside towards a cliff.

Where have all the tuna gone?

Blog entry by LisaV | 26 May, 2010 2 comments

The latest from oceans campaigner Willie MacKenzie in the Mediterranean.  We’re out here in the middle of the Mediterranean. But at the moment, the bluefin don’t seem to be here.  The fishing boats are here. The tugs and support...

It smells so fishy

Blog entry by LisaV | 25 May, 2010 1 comment

UK oceans campaigner Willie MacKenzie - tells us why we need to be picky when it comes to buying tuna. There’s a well-known model of how dodgy big business deals with campaigns against them. To summarise, it goes a bit like this:...

Bluefin: an endangered icon

Blog entry by LisaV | 25 May, 2010 1 comment

Willie - one of our oceans campaigner - writes from the Mediterranean Sea. At lengths upwards of three metres, a bluefin tuna is one of the giants in the world of fish. It’s about as long as a small sports car, but it can...

Time and tuna are running out

Slideshow | 21 May, 2010

Bluefin’s Mediterranean holiday romance - Will it last?

Blog entry by LisaV | 20 May, 2010 2 comments

From Willie MacKenzie, Greenpeace UK oceans campaigner. Imagine you are an Atlantic bluefin tuna. You’ve been out at sea most of the year, in cooler waters, feeding away, and you know generally getting on with being a big ol’...

When purse-seining goes bad

Blog entry by Willie Mackenzie | 18 May, 2010 5 comments

Greenpeace UK oceans campaigner Willie Mackenzie tells us what's wrong with the way most tuna are caught. Greenpeace is not against purse-seining. That may surprise some people. Sure it’s a big industrial-looking fishing operation...

Bad days for bluefin

Blog entry by LisaV | 14 May, 2010

Here's another post from Willie, one of our oceans campaigners in the UK: Now is not a good time to be an Atlantic bluefin tuna. I mean it’s bad enough that rampant overfishing has already decimated the species, to a mere sliver...

Your tuna is too cheap

Blog entry by LisaV | 4 May, 2010 4 comments

A report from the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels last week - by Willie Mackenzie, Greenpeace UK oceans campaigner. In the shadow of the improbably-shaped Atomium, thousands of people gather to buy and sell seafood. Five...

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