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Aquaculture: Environmental Effects of Fish Farming

Aquaculture: Environmental Effects of Fish Farming
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  • 0:01 What Is Aquaculture?
  • 2:19 Environmental Effects
  • 4:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

Although we picture fish swimming in open water, a large portion of the fish we consume is actually grown in pens. This practice of aquaculture is a growing trend worldwide and has results in a variety of environmental problems.

What is Aquaculture?

Have you ever eaten fish or shellfish? If so, do you have any idea where it came from? Most of us assume our seafood comes from the ocean, but in fact, one-third of all seafood consumed worldwide does not come from natural ecosystems. Aquaculture is the practice of growing aquatic species in pens or nets. Most aquaculture includes the use of ponds, holding tanks, or nets that float in open water. Species are grown in these controlled environments and harvested for sale.

Although aquaculture is also known as fish farming, this technique is actually used to grow over 220 different species of freshwater and marine organisms. While around half of aquaculture facilities are dedicated to growing fish, others grow and harvest mollusks, such as clams and mussels, crustaceans, such as crabs and shrimp, and aquatic plants. Aquaculture was established mainly to help reduce the pressure on natural fish populations.

In 2012, the United Nations estimated that 70 percent of marine fisheries worldwide were in danger due to overharvesting, which is when a renewable natural resource is being used at a rate that is not sustainable. For marine species, this means that they are being harvested so rapidly that the populations do not have enough time to reproduce and maintain a healthy population size.

Aquaculture was created in an attempt to find an alternative to traditional fishing that would be efficient and help preserve natural populations. In addition to reducing pressure on natural fish populations, aquaculture was also created for economic reasons. The process of growing and harvesting fish and other aquatic species in enclosures is very profitable. Fish farmers are able to produce a high yield of organisms in a small area. This results in very efficient production and high profits. Aquaculture also requires less fuel and equipment, such as boats, which also makes it more profitable than traditional fishing.

Environmental Effects of Fish Farming

Although there are many advantages to aquaculture, it has become evident over time that aquaculture causes harm to the environment in a variety of ways. One large problem with aquaculture is that organisms are grown in large numbers in small areas. This concentrated setting can cause some major problems that influence the environment. First, this setting results in a large amount of uneaten food and bodily waste being released into the environment. This unnatural increase in nutrients often results in the creation of algal blooms, which can negatively impact native species by reducing the amount of oxygen available in the water.

The concentrated setting of aquaculture also increases the risk of diseases. In many cases, organisms raised in aquaculture settings are given antibiotics to combat these diseases. As a result of aquaculture, there is increased risk of spreading diseases to natural populations and increased risk of pollution from medications used to combat diseases.

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