Large-Scale Fish Farm Production Offsets Environmental Gains, Assessment Finds

fish farming environmental

Industrial-scale aquaculture production magnifies environmental degradation, according to the first global assessment of the effects of marine finfish aquaculture (e.g. salmon, cod, turbot and grouper) released Oct. 27, 2010. This is true even when farming operations implement the best current marine fish farming practices, according to the findings.

Dr. John Volpe and his team at the University of Victoria developed the Global Aquaculture Performance Index (GAPI), an unprecedented system for objectively measuring the environmental performance of fish farming.

“Scale is critical,” said Dr. Volpe, a marine ecologist. “Over time, the industry has made strides in reducing the environmental impact per ton of fish, but this does not give a complete picture. Large scale farming of salmon, for example, even under even the best current practices creates large scale problems.”

The fish farming industry is an increasingly important source of seafood, especially as many wild fisheries are in decline. Yet farming of many marine fish species has been criticized as causing ecological damage. For instance, the researchers’ found that the relatively new marine finfish aquaculture sector in China and other Asian countries lags in environmental performance.

Dr. Volpe added, “The fastest growing sector is Asia, where we found a troubling combination of poor environmental performance and rapidly increasing production.”

With support from the Lenfest Ocean Program, Dr. Volpe and his team developed GAPI, which uses 10 different criteria to assess and score environmental impacts. Incorporating information such as the application of antibiotics and discharge of water pollutants, GAPI allows researchers to gauge which farmed species and countries of production have the best or worst environmental performance. The researchers examined the environmental impact of marine fish farming per ton of fish produced and the cumulative environmental impact for each country producing a major farmed species.

“GAPI provides a valuable tool for developing environmentally responsible fish farming. Governments can use GAPI to inform policies and regulations to minimize the environmental footprint of fish farming. Farmers can use it to improve production practices. And buyers can use it to compare and select better, more environmentally friendly seafood options,” said Chris Mann, senior officer and director of the Pew Environment Group’s Aquaculture Standards Project, which collaborated on the work.

For further information on GAPI, including a summary of the methodology and findings, please visit

The GAPI 2010 report released Oct. 27 is based on 2007 data, the most recent year for which data for all aquaculture indicators are available. GAPI analysis will be updated periodically as additional data becomes available. For additional information, updated research and analysis, please see the GAPI Web site (

The Lenfest Ocean Program supports scientific research aimed at forging solutions to the challenges facing the global marine environment. The program was established in 2004 by the Lenfest Foundation and is managed by the Pew Environment Group.

The University of Victoria, located in Victoria, British Columbia is a national and international leader in the study of the oceans, with expertise as far-ranging as ocean-climate interactions, ocean observation systems, physical and chemical oceanography, marine ecology, coastal resource management and ocean engineering.

Source: Science Daily

Wild-caught or farmed fish- which is better for the environment?  Many people would assume that farmed fish is better because the wild fish are left alone.  However, ocean fish farming can potentially be more damaging than catching wild fish on a sustainable basis.  An example is salmon: farmed salmon are confined to enclosures where diseases and fish lice quickly spread.  Free-swimming wild salmon that pass by these enclosures are susceptible to catching diseases and the high density of parasites that are so often associated with farmed fish can be passed on to wild fish.  In summary, rather eat wild-caught ocean fish species that have sustainable stocks and that are caught using environmentally friendly practices.  In South Africa, look for the SASSI (Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) endorsement on packaging and make sure restaurants are serving you fish that is SASSI-approved too.

Fortunately, while the outlook for many threatened marine ecosystems appears ominous in the face of unsustainable fishing practices, those involved in the seafood industry are realising that by changing the way they conduct business now, the long-term viability of their industry can be ensured. Conscientious consumers are also awakening to the fact that, through changing their seafood choices to sustainable species, they can be a part of the solution to overfishing. – SASSI

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