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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

 

Changing Tuna

Publication | March 21, 2012 at 16:01

The global tuna industry is undergoing a period of rapid transformation.

Saving the oceans one tuna brand at the time

Blog entry by Sari Tolvanen | March 21, 2012 5 comments

Too often these days political decision-making is just a front for the big businesses that are really running the show, that is why markets-based campaigning is becoming more and more important. That's why we're campaigning to save our...

Our leaders can and should save the Pacific tuna next week

Blog entry by Duncan Williams, Greenpeace Australia | March 19, 2012 3 comments

Ocean stewardship in the Pacific has come a long way. Ask a Pacific islander fifty years ago about managing fish and you would have been greeted with a look of bemusement. After all, fish back in the day were thought of as unlimited.

Protection for Pacific Fisheries

Image | March 7, 2012 at 12:17

Greenpeace East Asia Taipei office released the hot air balloon at Dr. Sun-yat Sen Memorial Hall. Greenpeace urges the Taiwanese Fisheries Agency and other Asian fishing powers to protect the Pacific and its valuable tuna populations in the...

Taiwan Fishing Industry

Slideshow | February 10, 2012

My Christmas wish: responsible fishing in the Pacific

Blog entry by Sari Tolvanen | December 20, 2011 3 comments

My job as a Greenpeace oceans campaigner has sent me to lots of places in the past ten years- on land and at sea. Last month, I was in Manila, Philippines to meet with the president of Frabelle fishing corporation, one of the largest...

Tropical tunas at ICCAT: moving forwards or backwards?

Blog entry by Sebastian Losada | November 18, 2011 1 comment

Yesterday we released shocking footage that was given to us by a whistleblower helicopter pilot who approached us with some images he had shot on a fishing vessel in the Pacific. Helicopters are often by the industry used to find...

The video the tuna industry doesn’t want you to see

Blog entry by Sari Tolvanen | November 17, 2011 8 comments

For over a decade, I’ve been working around the world to protect the oceans and for the last five years, I’ve been focused on protecting the Pacific. The world’s largest ocean, the Pacific is home to nearly 70% of the world’s tuna .

The harsh reality of longline fishing

Blog entry by Eoin Dubsky | November 17, 2011 1 comment

The world’s appetite for tuna exceeds our oceans’ capacity for production. Over the past several decades, vessels from far away nations (commonly referred to as Distant Water Fishing nations or DWFNs) have become reliant on tuna...

Illegal tuna fishing in Libyan waters... How could it possibly be?

Blog entry by Sebastian Losada | November 9, 2011 3 comments

(Or: Talk about ethics) Oil, arms, timber trade… and tuna . Crises, particularly civil unrest, can be a perfect environment for making profit, as lack of control paves the way for some unscrupulous operators to the detriment of...

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