by Jarrett Kelley on February 20, 2014

The cultivation of plants and animals for human consumption is nothing new to human beings. The development of agriculture and the domestication of pack animals is one of, if not the, most important technological developments in human history. Often overshadowed by the domestication of cereal grains and large mammals is the practice of managing aquatic life to benefit human populations. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Aquaculture is “the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of plants and animals in all types of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes and the ocean” (NOAA). Similar to every other human enterprise, aquaculture practices have matured and intensified over the millennium. As early as eight thousand years ago the Aborigines of Australia built elaborate systems of canals to funnel migrating eel populations towards their settlements (Salleh). This is the earliest known example of humans manipulating aquatic life to their advantage. Three thousand years later on the other side of the world, the Romans tended fish populations in inland ponds (McCann). From there the practice spread through Christian monasteries during the Middle Ages and into the modern era. In an attempt to counter-act the widespread over-fishing of the twentieth century, modern aquaculture has greatly expanded from its humble roots in the wetlands of Oceania. Today over fifty millions of tons of fish are produced annually around the globe (Nadakavukaren 85).

Aquaculture presents many benefits to the human population but it is by no means a free resource that produces no harmful environmental effects. Two distinct forms of aquaculture exist: farms that raise herbivorous aquatic life, such as tilapia, carp, and mollusks, and those that raise carnivorous aquatic life such as salmon and shrimp. The production of herbivorous fish is far more sustainable than their carnivorous counterparts because they do not require animal-protein input. Fish such as tilapia and carp are extremely efficient energy converters, requiring less than two pounds of feed to produce a pound of flesh (Nadakavukaren 85). Compare this to cattle which require seven pounds of feed to gain one pound of flesh and the appeal of aquaculture is readily apparent. Other techniques such as seeding juvenile mollusks in ocean beds and harvesting them once they reach maturity allows us to take advantage of the otherwise unobtainable resources present in ocean water (PBS). This technique is similar to grazing cattle and sheep on grasslands that would otherwise be unsuitable for farming. Techniques such as these allow us to sustainably take advantage of energy sources that humans cannot digest.  The rapidly expanding human population is placing increasingly large protein demands on the environment and the sustainable production of fish protein can help to alleviate some of this pressure. Eating herbivorous fish produces the lowest carbon footprint of any animal protein. While most will not subject themselves to a vegetarian diet, substituting white fish for poultry or red meat once or twice a week is an easy way to reduce one’s carbon footprint without sacrificing dietary satisfaction.

Issues arise when the topic of discussion shifts to the industrial scale production of carnivorous aquatic life. Production of species such as salmon and shrimp require the harvesting of “lower” fish species to produce the food pellets that these species eat. Over-harvesting of these lower fish species is an unsustainable practice and poses threats to the ecological balance of the ocean. Similar issues to the “factory-farming” of cattle have arisen in salmon production, including: pollution of nearby environments, rampant disease, and over-use of antibiotics. Following the principle of eating lower on the food chain to reduce our collective carbon footprint, it is critical that we invest in the more sustainable production of herbivorous fish as opposed to the industrial production of carnivorous fish.



Works Cited

Nadakavukaren, Anne . Our Global Environment A Health Perspective. 7th. United States of America: Waveland Press Inc, 2011. Print.

“What is AquaCulture?.” NOAA Fisheries . National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Web. 5 Feb 2014.

Salleh, Anna. “Aborigines may have farmed eels, built huts.”News In Science. ABC, 13 Mar 2003. Web. 5 Feb 2014. <>.

“Herbivorous Fish Farming and Mollusk Aquaculture.”Marine Fisheries and Aquaculture series. PBS. Web. 5 Feb 2014. <>.

McCann, Anna. “The Harbor and Fishery Remains at Cosa, Italy.” Journal of Field Archaeology . 6.4 (1979): 391-411. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

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