Total fishery and aquaculture production reached 184.1 million tons in 2022. The playing field for aquaculture and fish farming is changing as the need for more environmentally-friendly solutions grows. The aquaculture industry has seen revolutionary technological developments over the years, making fish farming a much more profitable and sustainable endeavor.
With aquaculture becoming widely accepted as one of the best sources for providing large amounts of high quality seafood, several new methods and tools have been developed to increase efficiency and reduce costs. New practices such as using high-yield fish breeds, genetic data analysis, feed optimization techniques and automated aquaponics systems have all been major contributors to increased food availability by allowing for easier stocking and harvesting.
Additionally, with accurate data tracking, aquaculture can be a drastically more eco-friendly food source than traditional fishing methods, protecting wild species while also increasing production.
However, there are a host of consequences that can come from mismanaged production that negatively affects the environment and are considered serious threats for fish farmers, ocean ranches, and the entire aquaculture industry. These environmental impacts must be managed responsibly in order for aquaculture operations to achieve long-term success and fish sustainability.
To do this, aquaculture producers must understand their environmental impact, both now and in the future, on water quality and other species. This means reducing nutrient runoff into bodies of water as well as monitoring the risk of aquaculture operations to other wildlife species in their environment. Let’s dive in deeper to the top fish farming threats impacting our environment and decreasing sustainability.
Fish Farming Escapees Weaken Native Populations
While fish farming was created to replace the ever-decreasing wild fish population, it can also have an adverse effect on native species. When fish escape from containment, it may seem like it is just a lost product. However, this poses a threat to the ecosystem outside of the fish farm.
Farmed fish escaping from their containment can threaten biodiversity through competition for resources and the spread of disease to their wild counterparts.
In their new environment, farmed escapees are also unable to compete with wild fish for food or shelter. This drop in competition threatens the natural balance of native species. Farmed fish also weaken the native fish population through breeding. After all, survival of the fittest is a real thing and farmed fish have not had the competition native fish have to survive. Therefore, they produce weaker offspring.The aquaculture industry must be carefully managed to ensure the sustainability of both aquaculture products and native species if we hope to maintain the healthy marine ecosystem that so many rely on.
Decrease in Fish Sustainability as Contaminants, Diseases, and Parasites Run Rampant
Fish farm pesticide pollution is a huge problem. In 2020, pesticide pollution rose to 72%. Environmentally, this is one of the larger problems the fishing industry is experiencing.
If aquaculture facilities are not managed correctly, harmful diseases and parasites present in farmed fish can easily spread to native populations too. When these diseases get into native habitats it can drastically reduce the population numbers of various species, putting their survival in further jeopardy.
We’re seeing a particular uptick in disease transmission from facilities such as salmon farms, which intermingle with native fish and contribute to the spread of diseases throughout natural water sources. These issues affect not only the bottom line of the fishing industry with products that do not pass quality checks, but also the environment beyond the fishery.
Overfishing for Feed Leads to Negative Fish Sustainability
In many cases, wild fish are used in the feeding of carnivorous farmed fish. Already, 1.2 trillion fish are harvested per year for human consumption. Add to the number the capture of native species to nourish farmed fish and that large upset continues.
This practice of harvesting wild fish to feed aquacultural raised fish compromises the sustainability of wild fish species and depletes native populations of food sources. This pulls fish from their natural habitat at an alarming rate and allows predators to overrun an ecosystem.
In addition, the feed given to fish in aquaculture made from wild-caught fish may be heavily contaminated with dioxins and Polychlorinated Biphenyls. It’s important for aquacultural operations to consider alternative methods for protein sources in order to maintain a balanced aquatic ecosystem. By doing so, we may be able to protect our native populations from overfishing, safeguarding aquatic life from unsustainable practices.
Does Product from Fish Farming Have Better Health Benefits?
In addition to the environmental impacts of fish farming, aquaculture products can also have health consequences for those who consume it.
When it comes to eating fresh fish, you might think that aquaculture-sourced seafood is the way to go, given its purported health benefits. The thought is that fisheries have access to higher quality health aids, such as antibiotics, that are said to improve the quality of the fish. Farmed fish are also usually protected from outside pollutants and illnesses due to their “controlled” surroundings. However, monitoring shows that this is not really the case. Those same antibiotics can cause consumers to ingest antibiotic residue, which can be harmful. Poorly managed oversight results in fish that are unhealthier and that may contain parasites or harmful bacteria.
Seafood studies suggest that farmed or aquaculture-raised fish are actually less healthy and nutritious than wild caught varieties. The results are unfortunately unsurprising in light of the current practices used by aquaculture companies: overcrowded tanks with poor water quality, fish farms seeping chemicals into the ocean, and unsustainable periods of fish farming that lead to overharvesting of certain species.
These issues underline the importance of sourcing sustainable and healthy options when selecting our seafood choices.
How Does the Aquaculture Industry Become More Sustainable?
How can we solve these environmental problems in the fishing and aquaculture industries? The FDA is aiming to solve this with tighter regulations that minimize the risk of contamination in containment. They’ve prescribed a list of controls meant to inform fisheries of potential problems with their plant. Raising fines for non-environmentally-conscious issues could deter plants from cutting corners.
Fish sustainability truly depends on human action. Regardless if the fish population is wild or farmed, humans have the largest impact on the environment around them.
Investing in proper escape prevention on fish farms aids the environment in many ways. Ensuring your net cages and other harvesting tools are maintained properly is crucial to your stock and the environment’s health.
Another solution that controls the majority of environmental threats from fish farming is implementing data analytics throughout aquaculture operations. Escaped fish, excess feed waste, and parasitic infections can all be monitored using data analytics. Manually adjusting, recording, and addressing data can be a troublesome task, especially if your business operates on a large scale. There’s room for human error, and data can be skewed if it is missing important contextual information.
Aquaculture water monitoring systems, for example, can measure the pH fluctuations in your facility to better anticipate when maintenance is needed. Data analytics and machine learning combine historical data with newly gathered data to identify problems and offer solutions for them. A more comprehensive data management system can be synced to your net pens and hatcheries to allow for better monitoring and risk management of the fishing population.
Data analytics also bolsters your efforts against escaped fish. By monitoring the machinery used in harvesting and containment, you can better anticipate when equipment needs serviced to prevent unplanned downtime.
When you use predictive analytics to monitor the health of your aquaculture plant, you gain more insight than ever before into your daily operations. Mitigate risk by monitoring the overall health of your fish, identifying potential disease spreading. Optimize your feeding process by accurately measuring how much feed your fish consume historically to save waste and plan for capacity. Having an aquaculture monitoring system in place gives you accurate data to base on which to base your operational forecasts.
It’s a smart investment to invest in aquaculture with a sustainable approach that considers not just immediate production needs but also the long-term health of our environment. Doing so will ensure aquaculture remains a viable option well into the future while helping protect our planet’s precious ecosystems.
Advanced Data Analytics for Fisheries and the Aquaculture Industry
Sightline is the optimal solution for fisheries and aquaculture facilities. Our software seamlessly integrates with your machinery and sensors, giving you real-time data collection in minutes. Sightline EDM reviews your data and generates visualizations and solutions to revenue-sucking and environmental-damaging issues. Stay abreast of setbacks like overbearing algae blooms, failing oxygen generators, or poor overall fish health.
Increase your fish sustainability by having control over every aspect of your farm, including remote locations. Our aquaculture monitoring system aids in the prevention of environmental damage by sending you alerts to problems in real-time. Experience the difference Sightline EDM will have on your aquaculture operations today.