The Escalating World of Aquaculture
Aquaculture is the breeding and harvesting of plants and animals in water. It can take place in natural bodies of water such as ponds, lakes, and marshland as well as brackish water and the ocean. Aquaculture can also be conducted in man-made water vessels (or equipment) such as tanks which are commonly found in fish hatcheries.
Aquaculture is commonly referred to as fish farming and produces the farm-raised salmon that you purchase from your local grocery store. Typical species that are found in aquacultural systems include oysters, salmon, trout, hard and soft-shell clams, and other shellfish.
Since the beginning of the 21st century (primarily in reaction to over-fishing) aquaculture has gained momentum as a viable method for producing seafood. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the leading agency on aquaculture, has dedicated federal guidance and financial aid to states in order to develop aquaculture regulation, policy, and physical systems. Officially, NOAA defines aquaculture as "the propagation and rearing of aquatic organisms in controlled or selected aquatic environments for any commercial, recreational, or public purpose."
Benefits and Problems with Aquaculture
There are numerous benefits to aquaculture including helping to meet the ever-increasing demand for seafood while ensuring that existing fisheries remain sustainable and consistent. It's also good for the economy. However, there are inherent problems and difficulties. For example, the environment is compromised because like a giant aquarium, land-based fish farms live in tanks that contain dirty water that must be changed and depending on the set-up of the system this can result in the discharge of wastewater that contains feces and chemicals.
Additionally, aquaculture operations can spread parasites and disease into the wild. Also, it's a double-edged sword, because wild species are now at risk of being over-fished to provide a food source for farmed fish.
Aquaculture continues to be supported by the federal government via grants and financing programs, thus making it a financially viable alternative to traditional fishing.
Aquaculture Facts and Figures
- According to NOAA, the U.S. aquaculture industry is a small portion of the world's aquaculture production. Total U.S. production is about $1 billion annually, compared to a $70 billion world market. Only about 20 percent of U.S. aquaculture production is marine species.
- The U.S. is a major consumer of aquaculture products, importing 84 percent (or half) of its seafood from aquaculture.
- The largest single sector of the U.S. aquaculture industry is from oysters, clams, and mussels, which accounts for about two-thirds of total U.S. production. This is followed by salmon (which ranks at 25 percent ) and shrimp (which ranks at 10 percent).
- U.S. aquaculture (including freshwater and marine, or salt water) supplies about 5 percent of the U.S. seafood supply while U.S. saltwater aquaculture supplies less than 1.5 percent.
Aquaculture serves two purposes: The first is to support man-made fisheries. Secondly, it is used to rebuild wild stock populations. A typical example is the trout hatcheries used to restock rivers, ponds, and streams. While commercially a new trend, historically, aquaculture has been used for this purpose for over 50 years.