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Myth #4: Aquaculture causes overfishing

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) classifies 31.4% of all fisheries as overfished.[1] Aquaculture has been championed as one solution to overfishing by offering an alternative to wild capture fish and at the same time is accused of contributing to overfishing. Which is true?

Overfishing is a complicated issue and is the result of many factors such as illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, government subsidies, poor management, excess demand, by-catch and discards among others.

The reason why aquaculture is accused of contributing to overfishing is because the commercial feed used in aquaculture contains fishmeal (and fish oil) from capture fisheries. Fishmeal comes mainly from forage fisheries and production of fishmeal has declined from a peak of 30.1 million tons in 1994 to 15.8 million tons in 2014 (FAO). As aquaculture has grown globally, it has consumed an increasing share of this limited resource. In reality, about half of all aquaculture production is actually from non-fed species[2], but fed species such as salmon and shrimp are targeted despite the fact that the percentage of fishmeal as a feed ingredient has declined approximately 50% since 1995 for these species. (FAO)

Certified Aquaculture plays an important role in the battle against overfishing by requiring that fishmeal is derived from species that are not overfished. Specifically, to comply with the GLOBALG.A.P. Compound Feed Manufacturing standard, no species with International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red list classifications of Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable or Near Threatened may be used as feed ingredients. An example of an acceptable species is the Peruvian anchoveta which is classified as ‘Least Concern’ (widespread and abundant) by IUCN. [3] 

 

[1] http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/421871/icode/

[2] FAO SOFIA 2016

[3] http://www.iucnredlist.org/static/categories_criteria_3_1