Water is an important resource for humans, and one way we can use it is through aquaculture.
Aquaculture is the process of rearing, breeding, and harvesting aquatic species (animals and plants) in controlled aquatic environments.
In this blog, we’ll explain what aquaculture is and how it is practiced.
Let’s get started.
1. What is aquaculture?
Also known as aquiculture and aquafarming, aquaculture is the controlled cultivation of aquatic organisms like fish, crustaceans, mollusks, algae, and other valuable organisms like aquatic plants.
Aquaculture is done for commercial, recreational, or public purposes in all types of water environments (i.e., ponds, rivers, oceans, lakes, etc.).
2. What is its primary purpose?
Aquaculture serves a few main purposes, including:
Food production for human consumption
Repopulation of threatened and endangered species
Restoration of habitats
Enhancement of wild stock
Production of baitfish
Fish culture for zoos and aquariums
3. What is marine aquaculture vs. freshwater aquaculture?
Marine aquaculture refers to the process of raising oceanic species.
Marine species include oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, salmon, and algae.
Marine aquaculture makes up just 20 percent of the U.S.’s production and consists of mostly shellfish (ex: oysters, clams, and mussels).
Freshwater aquaculture refers to the process of raising freshwater species.
Freshwater species include trout, catfish, and tilapia.
About 70 percent of aquaculture in the U.S. consists of catfish and trout.
Only a few U.S. farms grow marine fish like salmon (in Maine and Washington State) and yellowtail and pacific threadfin (in Hawaii).
4. What are the different types of aquaculture?
There are a few different types of aquaculture that vary depending on hydrobiological features, the motive of farming, and special operational techniques.
Here are the primary types.
Mariculture is a type of aquaculture that involves seawater.
It can be done in one of three ways: next to an ocean, in a pond separated from the ocean, or in a sectioned-off part of the ocean.
Any area where mariculture is performed must contain seawater.
The organisms bred during mariculture can be mollusks, prawns, seaweed, etc.
In addition to being used as food, the products manufactured in mariculture can be used in cosmetics and jewelry.
For instance, seaweed is often used to make facial creams because it has collagen.
Additionally, pearls are often picked from mollusks and used to make jewelry.
This is the most common type of aquaculture.
It involves selectively breeding fish in either freshwater or seawater to produce food for consumption.
Fish farming is easier than other types of farming because fish aren’t care-intensive.
They only require food, proper water conditions, and the correct water temperature.
Fish farming is seen as easier than land farming because the process is less land-intensive.
Fish like tilapia are small and require a lot less space than a cow would.
That said, it’s easy to exploit fish farming because it’s such a cheap source of protein, so it’s critical that it’s practiced responsibly.
This type of aquaculture focuses on the cultivation of algae.
Algae are microbial organisms that share both animal and plant characteristics.
They contain chloroplasts that make them green and allow them to photosynthesize like other plants.
To make them productive as a source of energy, they must be grown and harvested in large numbers.
Exxon Mobile has been looking to develop them in this way over the past several years.
Integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA)
IMTA is an advanced approach to aquaculture that attempts to imitate the ecological system that exists in a natural habitat.
It does this by mixing in different trophic levels to provide different nutritional needs for organisms.
It also utilizes the waste of larger organisms as food for smaller ones.
This practice ensures that nutrients are recycled to amplify production and reduce waste.
Inland pond culture
This process involves the creation of about 20 acres of artificial inland ponds that are about 6 to 8 feet deep.
Often, aeration systems connect to the pond to help introduce air into them.
The aeration helps to enhance the supply of oxygen and reduce ice formation during the winter.
China has a strong inland pond culture with over 75 percent of farmed freshwater fish being produced in constructed farms.
Additionally, in the U.S., nearly all farmed catfish are raised in ponds.
This type of system uses a closed set of chambers where fish are kept in one and water treatment is kept in another.
Water must be pumped through the fish chambers, so this setup is highly dependent on the power supply.
The system controls the salinity, temperature, oxygen, and anything else that can cause harm to fish.
Water will flow into the treatment chamber and air will be introduced, but the particulate matter will be filtered out.
Open-net pen and cage systems
Aquaculture can occur in freshwater lakes.
Mesh cages (pens) between 6 to 60 cubic feet can be installed offshore.
These pens often have a high concentration of fish, and there can sometimes be an issue with waste, chemicals, parasites, diseases, etc. being exchanged in these close water environments.
The fish in these systems often attract predatory animals (often larger fish) that become entangled in the nets.
Additionally, because these systems use public water, environmental regulation and authorization protocols are necessary.
Flow-through or raceway
This type of aquaculture system is made of long units with feeding stations attached to them.
The water is diverted from flowing water and fed into raceway units flowing downstream.
These systems are common for culturing trout.
At the end of the unit, the waste is collected and disposed of.
5. What are the economic benefits of aquaculture?
Aquaculture provides an alternative food source
Seafood produced from aquaculture offers a stellar alternative source of protein.
Additionally, the natural oils in fish allow people to consume omega-3 fatty acids.
Eating more fish helps to reduce cholesterol levels when it is swapped for red meat.
Overall, it’s cheaper to raise fish than it is to raise beef.
You can keep fish much more easily than other meat-producing animals.
Aquaculture offers another fuel source
Algae are being developed as an alternative fuel source by having them produce fuels that replace contemporary fossil fuels.
When harvested, algae’s lipids can be burned as an alternative fuel source whose only by-product is water when burnt.
As a result, algae are cleaner and more farmable.
This resource can help revolutionize the energy sector and lead to a greener planet.
Aquaculture increases jobs in the market
Aquaculture produces new products and creates job opportunities as labor is required to maintain the various pools or ponds where the organisms are grown and harvested.
This boosts the economy — especially in developing countries — where aquaculture is a source of food and income.
Aquaculture reduces the seafood trade deficit
Currently, the U.S. imports a lot of seafood from Asia and Europe.
This places a trade deficit on the nation, and increasing aquaculture means that this deficit would decline.
Seafood prices would also decrease because of reduced transportation costs.
6. What are the environmental benefits of aquaculture?
Aquaculture reduces fishing pressure on wild stock
Wild populations become overfished and exploited because people try to harvest them improperly.
Aquaculture allows farmers to breed these species in captivity and helps wild populations recover and remain untouched.
Aquaculture has a low environmental impact
The NOAA conducted studies indicating that aquaculture poses a low risk to the environment.
The primary impact is local and temporary.
In some cases, aquaculture can even benefit the environment.
Aquaculture reduces dependency on the water supply
Aquaculture takes advantage of harvested runoffs, stormwater, and surface water — reducing the dependency on other sources of the water supply.
This approach also helps ponds to maintain soil moisture and conserve natural resources.
7. Why is aquaculture so important?
According to GSA, by 2050 the population will be 10 billion and the demand for animal protein will have increased 52 percent worldwide.
As a sustainable resource, aquaculture can serve as a healthy option for humans and a safe alternative for the planet.
Here’s why aquaculture is an important option that we must rely on in the coming years.
Aquaculture is beneficial for health
The demand for seafood has risen as people have realized the health benefits it offers.
For example, seafood can help to fight cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and other major illnesses.
This knowledge has encouraged it to become a regular part of people’s diets.
Aquaculture is a sustainable use of sea resources
With the high demand for seafood, fishermen began to overfish the oceans.
This led to a depletion in the high-demand species.
Aquaculture now accounts for approximately 44% of the world’s fish production, and it’s a worthy alternative that allows wild stocks to replenish over time.
Aquaculture helps to conserve biodiversity
Aquaculture reduces the attacks on wild populations.
This allows a controlled approach to fishing and harvesting marine wildlife.
It saves the diversity of aquatic ecosystems from extinction due to overfishing.
By taking this more methodical approach, it helps conserve biodiversity.
Aquaculture feeds the body more efficiently
Consuming seafood provides your body with key nutrients.
Not only that, but production is less expensive, and it saves resources.
Aquaculture reduces environmental disturbance
When you use aquaculture to acquire the seafood products you need, there’s a reduced need for fishing in the wild.
This puts less stress on wild ecosystems and lessens human interference in nature.
8. What are the challenges with aquaculture?
Aquaculture is not without its challenges.
While there are significant benefits for the environment and economy, there are still some ways that it can harm nature (especially when it isn’t done correctly).
Here’s what you should know about the disadvantages of aquaculture.
Marine fish and other seafood produce waste in the form of fecal matter and unused feed.
This is a largely nitrogen-based waste that can cause oxygen depletion and loss of marine productivity in coastal environments.
Furthermore, when antibiotics, antifoulants, and pesticides are introduced into the marine environment, this is problematic as well.
There have been instances where aquaculture has led to the destruction of natural habitats.
For example, Pacific oyster farms had to be abandoned in Holland when some of the non-native oysters escaped and started colonizing the Wadden Sea.
They eventually overran the native Blue oyster, which is the food source for several birds.
Aquaculture operations often have issues with farmed fish escaping.
This is an issue because farmed seafood is genetically different from seafood inhabiting the adjacent environment.
This means that the escapees are diluting wild populations’ genetics.
Diseases can easily proliferate in these farming environments.
For example, salmon aquaculture has reported infectious salmon anemia.
It first appeared in Chile in the 1990s and has been noted in other environments around the world as well.
A few factors contributed to the spread of this disease, including poor biosecurity and the global transfer of salmon larvae.
Additionally, sea lice are another disease that has spread in aquaculture habitats.
Sea lice attach themselves to the skin of their host and draw nutrients from their body.
This has occurred in juvenile salmon as well.
Diseases can be difficult to contain within farming operations and outside of them.
For example, when these large aquaculture setups are near migration routes for wild salmon, sea lice can aggregate and jump from farmed animals to the wild.
9. What are some important statistics?
The U.S. imports 84 percent of its seafood and 50 percent of that is from aquaculture
The U.S. is a minor producer of aquaculture — supplying only 5 percent of its seafood supply
The U.S. marine aquaculture supplies less than 1.5 percent.
The U.S. has a $9 billion annual seafood import deficit
Marine aquaculture is just 20 percent of U.S. production, consisting mostly of shellfish
About 70 percent of aquaculture in the U.S. is freshwater farming of catfish and trout
Statistics are from NOAA.
Aquaculture is one of the fastest-growing forms of food production in the world, and it produces almost half of the seafood consumed by humans globally.
If you’re considering aquaculture, there are tremendous benefits to the environment…just make sure you do it responsibly!
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