Sustainability Defined: Ocean-Caught vs. Farmed Fish

by HQ Sustainable

We all agree that abuse of our environment is not sustainable. But, when you’re buying food—namely seafood--what qualifies as sustainable?

Contrast the use of the word sustainable in its very different applications to ocean-caught fish (literally fish caught by boats of fishermen on our seas) and aquaculture (fish grown in land or sea-based aquatic farms). The meaning of sustainable in relation to the ocean harvest is obvious–if you pull too many fish out of the ocean, species may become extinct and global food supply may be depleted. The meaning of sustainable in relation to aquaculture is very different.

With aquaculture, you can always harvest 100% of what you have seeded and grown (except for brooding stock). Harvesting levels are not what is scrutinized by regulatory bodies. Instead, the impact of farming on the surrounding environment (pollution, escapes of non-native fish, use of chemicals) and the use of animal byproducts in the feed are the most important to evaluating the sustainability of aquaculture.

The audit of these two applications of seafood sustainability has become big business. In the case of ocean-caught fish, we have limited data and guess what is sustainable. In fish farming, we have unlimited data and know what is sustainable.

North Atlantic cod was pulled out of the ocean and labeled “sustainable” until it disappeared from the seas and appeared on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ Red List. Someone guessed wrong.

Food for thought.

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