Responsible Consumption and Production of Farmed Seafood
Editor’s note: Aquaculture 101 is a campaign run by the Global Aquaculture Alliance to educate the public about the basics of aquaculture, to disseminate information in an easily understandable way. The campaign dispels myths and gives facts about the promising future of the industry. In 2020, the focus of Aquaculture 101 is on the alignment of aquaculture with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Each month we will delve into one of the SDGs and explore how aquaculture relates. Check out the hashtag #Aquaculture101 on social media for more information.
Background of SDGs
In 2015, United Nations (UN) member states convened and agreed upon 17 goals known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals are designed to guide citizens of the planet in a direction that will support future generations of people and animals to live and meet their respective needs in the face of a changing climate. The UN describes the SDGs as “an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand in hand with other strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.”
What does this goal mean? Why is it important?
The 12th Sustainable Development Goal is responsible consumption and production. The patterns of production and consumption have a massive impact on our environment and everyone that lives in it. Unfortunately, as economies and societies have progressed over the last century, environmental degradation has also progressed. This connection has endangered the systems human development depends on. If we don’t act to change our consumption and production patterns, it is possible that we will damage our environment, and therefore our future, even further.
This goal exists in order to encourage businesses, as well as governments and individuals, to rethink their processes. This goal guides the public to work towards making these processes more sustainable, with less environmental impact.
How does aquaculture measure up?
Food production industries have the potential to be extremely wasteful. On the other hand, this also gives them enormous power in combatting and reversing this wastefulness. About one-third of food produced for human consumption each year is lost or wasted. For aquaculture, the main components of sustainability are resource management, water conservation, and environmental impact.
Resource management is one of the utmost important parts of sustainable production. Fish farms have many resources to keep in mind: feed for animals, water usage, and environmental impact, as examples.
Seafood has a major advantage over all other sources of meat protein (chicken, beef, pork), as its feed conversion ratio (FCR) is much lower. This means that it takes less feed to produce a pound of seafood than it does to produce a pound of chicken, beef, or pork. Check out our infographic to learn more about this. Having a low FCR means that the environmental footprint of producing seafood is already much lower than other proteins. The FCR will continue to decrease as feeds become further refined as technology develops.
Wastewater management is a more difficult aspect of resource management for aquaculture. Technology to manage wastewater can be prohibitive for smaller producers. If wastewater management is ignored, aquaculture facilities have the potential to pollute surrounding bodies of water. However, strides have been made in other ways: discovering certain feeds which create less waste, feeding at certain stages in production, etc. These new findings allow smaller producers to make their processes more sustainable.
As fish farming environments are more controlled than nature, it is easier to regulate amounts of waste. Recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) facilities are especially proficient at this. Their primary purpose is to recycle water fish live in by running it through filters, removing fish waste and food. Then, the cleaned water is recirculated back into the tanks. This process saves water, while allowing for waste to be gathered and used in compost or treated and used on land.
Some species farmed through aquaculture actually improve the ecosystems they are in. For example, oysters clean the water they live in. They use excess nutrients and waste from other animals as food for themselves, thereby cleaning the water. Seaweed and other underwater vegetation also improve surrounding water by intaking carbon through photosynthesis, using it as nutrients for themselves.
After certain groups were realizing the negative impact aquaculture could potentially have on the environment, aquaculture improvement projects (AIPs) were created to reverse those impacts. In the past in Vietnam, mangrove forests were cut down to make way for shrimp farms. Now, there is a well-known AIP working to restore these mangroves and the ecosystem aquaculture facilities once damaged.
Aquaculture has the potential to decrease degradation of environmental resources on a large scale. Responsible farming practices that take into account both resource management and environmental impact will help the food production industry move more closely to achieving SDG No. 12. Within the sector in recent decades, progress has been made with water usage and pollution, as well as reducing waste, feed development, humane treatment and environmental impact.
How does GAA help?
By developing best practices to address issues such as disease and feed conversion, GAA and the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) third-party certification program are able to meaningfully contribute to ensuring that seafood, through aquaculture, is produced responsibly. The broad range of species that can be produced allow extensive adaptability to grow seafood that is best suited to the factors of the local environment and end use.
To us, responsible production is more than just environmental impact — it also involves social responsibility, animal health and welfare, and food safety. Producing food with these aspects top of mind is much closer to being responsible than if they are not considered.
What you can do
- Make sure you’re buying responsibly produced food
- Check for certifications when applicable — for seafood, we recommend looking for the Best Aquaculture Practices logo
- Waste as little food as you can, look into food composting
It is in both businesses’ and individuals’ best interests to find solutions that enable sustainable consumption and production patterns. GAA would argue that it is not only in their best interests, but it is their responsibility. If they have the means to pursue innovative solutions to ease the need for sustainable development, then they should. Doing so, in many cases, saves money, resources, and the planet.