Aquaculture is the practice of raising aquatic plant and animal species. Much like a terrestrial farm, aquaculture usually includes breeding, rearing, and sometimes harvesting the organisms being raised. Aquaculture typically has two main purposes:
- The first is for the commercial production of organisms. This can be for food, ornamental fish for aquaria, or products like pearls from oysters.
- The other main purpose of aquaculture is to captively breed and raise organisms to bolster wild populations that may be threatened or in decline. For example, there are many salmon hatcheries in California that are intended to supplement populations for commercial fisheries as well as for sport fishing.
Marine aquaculture is the raising marine organisms either in enclosed cages and nets in the ocean or in man-made tanks on land. The most common species produced in U.S. aquaculture operations are mainly oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, and salmon. There is also production of cod, moi, yellowtail, barramundi, seabass, and seabream, but these are in much smaller quantities. The potential for aquaculture to provide protein sources to the rapidly increasing global population is very high, and research into this technology has been heavily invested in around the world. (Source: NOAA Fisheries - Office of Aquaculture)
There are some issues with aquaculture, however, and marine aquaculture in particular. When fish are raised in a protected and controlled environment, they become adapted to an artificial environment and lack much of the selection pressures that would normally influence genetic traits in wild populations. This often means that fish produced in hatcheries have a lower fitness when released than wild populations. When the hatchery raised fish are released into the wild to build up population sizes, they can compete and breed with wild populations. This has the possibility of reducing the overall fitness of wild populations. (Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
- Aquaculture, otherwise known as fish farming refers to breeding, nurturing and harvesting plants and animals from all types of environments; Ex. Ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans. It includes the production of shellfish and hatchery fish, which are raised to market size in tanks, nets, cages, raceways, or ponds. They are raised for a variety of uses; some will be used for selling in the market for food, however, some are used for stock restoration in which they are raised and then released back into the wild to restore wild populations. Sometimes the fish and plants are traded to corporations/businesses, such as aquariums. They are also grown for pharmaceutical, neurological, or biotechnical purposes. Aquaculture is used in both marine and freshwater environments. The most popular marine species farmed are muscles, clams, shrimp, oysters, and salmon. In freshwater it is dominated by catfish farming, however, tilapia, trout, and bass also have a fair amount of farming. The countries that farm seafood the most are: China at 62%, 26% for all Asian countries besides China, 4.5% from Europe, and 4.5% from the Americas (According to The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture- 2010). World aquaculture also has a production worth of nearly $100 billion.
The benefits of aquaculture are far and large. They help with sustainability because it lessens the strain on natural stocks. Aquaculture stocks are consistent as well, meaning they are available year round and do not have limitations on how many individuals can be caught. They are also an integral part of the economy, providing thousands of jobs in operations and secondary services. Lastly, and probably the biggest benefit is that aquaculture can be good for the environment; recent studies by NOAA illustrate that aquaculture poses a low risk to the environment. One reason is because there is no bycatch and in some cases, such as shellfish, they feed of the native zooplankton and phytoplankton. Although aquaculture has many benefits for wild populations of the species being farmed, there are also drawbacks because of poor farming habits. One major issue is that farming puts pressure on wild populations that are used to create the fish pellets. It can also intensify the spread of disease to wild populations and compromise the gene pool of native populations if farmed and wild populations breed. Lastly, it can pollute the environment with excess nutrients, such as with excess food and wastes. While there are negative effects to aquaculture, they are often restricted to small areas and for short periods of time.
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