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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

 

Executive Summary: Marine reserves for the Mediterranean sea

Publication | 15 June, 2006 at 0:00

This Greenpeace report sets out the argument for the urgent establishment of a network of marine reserves across the Mediterranean Sea to safeguard its productivity, its marine life and its ecosystems for the many millions of people who rely on...

Marine reserves for the Mediterranean Sea

Publication | 15 June, 2006 at 0:00

This Greenpeace report sets out the argument for the urgent establishment of a network of marine reserves across the Mediterranean Sea to safeguard its productivity, its marine life and its ecosystems for the many millions of people who rely on...

Captive bluefin tuna inside a transport cage

Image | 30 May, 2006 at 0:00

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.

Where Have All The Tuna Gone? Executive Summary

Publication | 24 May, 2006 at 0:00

8-page Executive Summary of the report Where Have All The Tuna Gone?

Where Have All The Tuna Gone?

Publication | 24 May, 2006 at 0:00

Fishing for northern bluefin tuna is one of the most profitable fishing industries in the Mediterranean. However, today's mismanagement, boosted by purse seining fishing fleets and the fast development of tuna fattening ranches, threatens the...

Where are the Pacific tuna?

Feature story | 30 August, 2004 at 0:00

We thought the Western and Central Pacific tuna fishery was the last healthy tuna fishery in the world. Despite concerns about over-fishing due to the rapid expansion of the industrial fleets, the conventional wisdom was that the fishery was...

Pacific Fisheries Documentation

Image | 18 August, 2004 at 15:35

Rainbow Warrior II (SVRW) seen through the net of the fishing trawler Yu Wen 101 in the background, Pacific Ocean. Greenpeace tour aimed at highlighting the over fishing of the Pacific Ocean by foreign distant water fishing fleets. The tour...

Longline fisherman

Image | 9 August, 2004 at 1:00

Longline fisherman, on ship docked in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia.

Boys fish from a small boat in the lagoon

Image | 4 August, 2004 at 1:00

Boys fish from a small boat in the lagoon of Arno Atol.

Workers at a tuna packing plant resting on

Image | 4 August, 2004 at 1:00

Workers at a tuna packing plant resting on boxes for export.

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