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.
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
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
- the release of organic wastes (that, for instance, act as plant
nutrients for harmful algal blooms) and toxic effluents into the
- the destruction of coastal ecosystems, displacement of coastal
communities and depletion of fresh water sources to build
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
Achieving sustainability requires adhering to a full set of
measures and cannot be reached through simply implementing one or
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.