Aquaculture, sometimes also known as aquafarming, refers to the breeding, harvesting, and rearing of fish, shellfish, algae, and other marine organisms in various water environments. It is the cultivation of aquatic animals in controlled environments for commercial, public, or recreational purposes. You can think of it as agriculture, but with fish and other aquatic organisms instead of plants. The harvesting of these organisms can occur in environments ranging from ponds, rivers, and lakes to the ocean and closed tanks on land.
With the increase in population came the increase in the demand for seafood. This demand led experts to develop technology that made the growth of food in coastal and ocean waters possible. Currently, the world farms over 580 aquatic species for food.
Many communities around the world eat fish as an essential part of their cultural tradition. Fish has an excellent nutritional profile, containing vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, proteins, and essential micronutrients. Aquaculture mainly uses animals placed low in the food chain, such as herbivores, molluscs, and omnivorous fish.
Over the last 30 years, the catches from capture fisheries, or fish farms, have been reasonably stable. Based on this performance, experts predict that aquaculture will majorly contribute to the future growth of the fisheries sector.
Aquaculture is a multipurpose sector. The benefits of aquaculture include:
The production of food for human consumption
Rebuilding the populations of endangered and threatened species
Enhancing wild fish stocks
Fish culture for zoos and aquariums
We mainly classify aquaculture into two types:
1. Marine Aquaculture
This term specifically refers to the harvesting or breeding of ocean species. Examples of species cultivated through marine aquaculture include shrimp, salmon, algae, mussels, clams, and oysters.
2. Freshwater Aquaculture
Freshwater aquaculture is the cultivation of species found mainly in freshwater bodies like ponds, lakes, and rivers. The species cultivated here are primarily fish and commonly include carp, catfish, and bass. Many freshwater fisheries also breed prawns.
Types of Aquaculture Systems
Mariculture is aquaculture in coastal areas or seawater. Seawater is an essential part of mariculture. Organisms bred using mariculture include prawns, shellfish, and seaweed.
2. Fish Farming
Fish farming is the most common and popular type of aquaculture. It is the selective breeding of fish. Fish farms produce fish for human consumption. The fishes are bred either in a marine or freshwater environment. Fish farming is more manageable than other types of aquatic farming since fish only require food and appropriate water conditions to thrive. Also, it is less land-intensive. The area needed to farm fish species is much less than the space needed to obtain the same amount of protein from cattle.
Algaculture is the cultivation of algae. Algae are green photosynthesizing aquatic plants. To benefit from algaculture economically, farmers harvest algae in large numbers.
4. Inland Pond Culture
Inland Pond Culture is the farming of aquatic species in inland artificial ponds. The ponds are commonly 6 to 8 feet deep. Aeration systems connected to these ponds are a common sight. The systems introduce air into the ponds. The introduction of air enhances oxygen supply and discourages ice formation in winters.
5. Recirculating Systems
This type of system involves a closed, interconnected series of chambers (tanks). Farmers breed fish in these interlinked chambers. Water needs to be constantly pumped through these tanks. As water flows through each successive section, the flow removes particulate matter like waste and introduces fresh air into the tank. External controls allow farmers to manage and regulate the temperature, oxygen, and salinity levels of the water.
6. Open Net Pens and Caged Systems
These types of systems can be offshore in shallow marine environments or freshwater environments. They consist of mesh cages with fish inside them. Farmers place these meshes underwater. Many people do not consider this aquaculture system as environmentally-friendly and feasible for the future. The mesh structure allows water within the cage to mix with water outside the cage. Therefore, fish wastes and parasites that cause diseases can contaminate the surrounding body of water. This could introduce diseases in wild fish stocks. It also pollutes the surrounding water.
Benefits of Aquaculture
Aquaculture undoubtedly has many benefits. They include:
1. Alternative source of food
Seafood and fish are excellent sources of protein. They have more nutritional value than land-based animals. Fish is white meat. White meat is better for our blood, reducing cholesterol levels.
2. Alternative fuel source
Scientists are slowly trying to use algae to develop alternative sources of fuel. They hope that algae will be able to replace fossil fuels one day. They found that when we burn lipids from algae, we obtain a fuel source whose only byproduct is water. Energy from algae is cleaner as compared to conventional fuel from fossil fuels. Succeeding in getting power from algae will revolutionize the fuel sector. It will create a stable global economy.
3. Increased employment opportunities
Aquaculture increases the number of jobs available to people since we need labour to maintain the farming systems and harvest the organisms. It provides an alternative source of income to people living in coastal regions. Aquaculture is more efficient for fisherfolk than catching wild fish in the sea.
4. Fighting water pollution
Mollusks and seaweed filter and sift the water flowing through them. The farms that harvest these organisms act as a buffer region protecting the rest of the sea from pollution. These features can encourage governments to protect their habitats as they are economically and environmentally beneficial.
5. Reducing pressure on wild stocks
Overfishing in natural waters has significantly reduced the number of wild fish stocks. Some aquatic species face the danger of becoming extinct. Trawlers destroy marine habitats. Aquaculture allows us to consume the same species without harming their habitat and wild population. Aquaculture gives wild marine populations the opportunity to bounce back.
6. Low environmental impact
Aquaculture poses the least risk to the environment. If negative impacts do occur, they are often local and temporary. Aquaculture benefits the environment. The breeding of shellfish in lakes and ponds improves the water quality of those water bodies. The strict regulations that fisheries have to follow ensure that no harm comes to the environment and wild aquatic populations.
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