Fish are central to the human diet and world economy. In 2006, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) reported, “Nearly 40 percent of fish output is traded internationally with an export value of US$58.2 billion, making seafood one of the most extensively traded commodities in the world.”
Those numbers have grown exponentially. The World Bank reports growth in 2016 and 2017 saw oceans contributing $1.5 trillion annually in value-added to the overall economy with 60 million people employed, 171 million tons produced, and a value of US$362 billion. As important, “fish provided about 3.2 billion people with almost 20 percent of their average intake of animal protein, even more in poor countries.”
Such success consumes resources, so keeping the industry sustainable makes business sense and a human must. While all business is about overcoming obstacles, some businesses face challenges that have become social and economic imperatives.
7 challenges making things hard for sustainable fish farming:
The problems facing sustainable fish farming differ among nations. Those water-centric or closer to the sea are driven by forces that differ for those landlocked cultures or advanced-industrial economies. Still, you can focus on some commonalities.
- All economics is local. While much of the watching world has come to see the environmental concerns in fishing the seas, the world community increasingly values the protection of species and the cleansing of waters. But, these responses are emotional issues to those who handle fish.
As ecological issues have challenged the fish industry’s processes, safety, and child labor conditions, they have also linked animal rights with human rights. This triggers interest in moving the industry to sustainable aquaculture, but it also jeopardizes the livelihood of people everywhere.
These concerns have driven legislation by national and global agencies to protect fish and labor. These passionate efforts present fish farmers with multiple and still-developing standards on production and quality.
- Tracking fish from egg to market. Public and consumer interests look for data on product origin, treatment, production, inspection, and delivery. Enough customers with such focus and internet connection can swing a market.
Traceability other virtues. It contributes to research and management. It clarifies the values of each value-added step in the supply chain. And, it helps track and reduces the escape of fish from farms to other waters where they can contaminate the gene pool.
Business can profit from the quality controls resulting from traceability, but it risks the loss of consumers because of the added cost involved.
- Consumers fear “unnatural” processes. Advocates spread concerns about the economic and personal risks in fish farming and consumption. Not unlike the efforts challenging GMO-produced foods, they question the farms’ confined space, water quality, pesticides, and antibiotics.
They raise issues that should be addressed and overseen. But, globally sustainable salmon farmers have a special interest in charges that using processed fish to feed farmed salmon seems counter-intuitive and counter-sustainable. The farmers are meeting the challenge with alternative sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, increased use of by-products, improved Feed Conversion Rates (FCR), and more solutions.
- Rural poor can benefit. Teaching the rural poor to fish can improve their diet and independence. Theoretically, people can farm fish wherever water is accessible. Spreading the education, experience, and technology involved can make a difference to large and small markets. But, it takes investment and support.
Aquaculture without Frontiers (AwF), for one, has taken on this challenge. Sustainable farm fishing takes more than digging a well, but AwF has found more success developing an Integrated Aquaculture-Agriculture (IAA) technology where garden and fish farm coexist beneficially.
- Chemicals are the fish’s friend. Fish stock improves with the regulated use of chemicals and antibiotics. Improper selection and application of the chemicals, nutrients, pesticides, and antibiotics can have fatal consequences for fish and consumers. So, there must be more shared research, higher-level commitment, and business modeling.
Farmers must enforce and study their sanitary management and standards. Professional aquaculture organizations, university research, and global compliance agencies must continue their oversight and demand transparency throughout the supply chain.
- Change consumption habits. People have responded to marketing promoting fish consumption. They buy into fish as a high-protein and low-fat diet source. Still, they are slow to move down the food chain.
Market demand for salmon, bass, cod, flounder, and other cold-water fish continues strong. Marketing and advertising must move those same customers to see flavor and value in catfish, carp, and other species. Such fish are the main source of nutrition and income for millions of poor people worldwide, so farm raising fish also becomes a shipping issue.
- Get off the farm. Fish farmers must see their world differently from time to time. As grain farmers had to learn the hard way, sustainable fish farmers must take a look at their impact on the local ecology. They must plan on spacing and planning, drainage and water conservation, all the technologies that will advance their community and business. Most aquaculture regulations and certification schemes focus at the individual farm level.
Governing agencies and fish farmer organizations should pioneer ways to make sustainability a business motive. As business people, fish farmers will respond to incentives encouraging technology and environmental compliance. As good business people, they will respond to increased profits from compliance and sustainable methodologies.
It’s all about doing the right thing
The World Resources Institute (2014) acknowledges, “The aquaculture industry has greatly improved performance over the past 20 years, producing more farmed fish per unit of land and water, lowering the share of fishmeal and fish oil in many aquaculture feeds, and largely stopping mangrove conversion.”
But, it also notes without changes, the fish farming industry could not sustain its growth without moving towards sustainability. The industry is a danger to itself unless it meets its challenges head-on. The challenges framed here present significantly global opportunities to serve business, environmental, and social needs.
It’s all about doing the right thing—the right thing for your business purposes and the right thing for the fish. “Sustainability” has come to mean making the farmer and fish work to the same end.