The Challenges Facing Aquaculture

Overfishing is a huge problem throughout the world’s oceans. Fish are being removed faster than they can replenish themselves, and populations are dwindling. Aquaculture, or fish farming, could be a viable alternative to fishing, and at first it sounds like it could solve everything. Why take fish from the wild, when we can raise them ourselves and leave the wild populations alone? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, as aquaculture comes with its own array of environmental challenges.


One of the biggest concerns regarding aquaculture is the introduction of non-native species to the wild. Hypothetically, farmed fish should be isolated from the wild, but the structures in which they are kept are sometimes breached. There are currently non-native seaweeds in Hawaii and carp in the Mississippi River, as a result of escaped aquaculture species. The seaweeds are spreading rapidly and endangering Hawaiian coral reefs. Asian Black Carp were introduced in Mississippi to control trematodes in channel catfish farms. Unfortunately, the carp are destroying mollusk populations in the river basin. With no natural predators, there is nothing preventing an invasive species population from exploding and taking over the ecosystem.


But what if humans had a way of preventing population explosion? Triploid organisms could come in handy, as they are unable to reproduce. Much like a mule, or other hybrid animals, triploids are unable to properly undergo meiosis and produce viable gametes. In theory, this could solve the issue of invasive species overtaking an ecosystem. however, triploid Asian carp in the United States have reputedly created their own populations in the Mississippi River.  The introduction of non-native species comes with a whole slew of problems that make us ask ourselves, is it worth it?


At the current rate that seafood is being consumed, fishing from the oceans is not sustainable. If we are to continue eating fish, aquaculture could be a necessary alternative. Heavy regulation and careful planning is vital to minimize its impacts on the environment. Aquaculture has a huge amount of potential, but there is still work to do if it is going to be considered a sustainable source of food.


author: Eric Carstens July 2015

References: Naylor, R. L. “ECOLOGY: Aquaculture–A Gateway for Exotic Species.” Science 294.5547 (2001): 1655-656. Web.