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Farming and Fishing

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Farming and Fishing

Large-scale commercial fishing depletes vast amounts of fish from the wild, but it is an important part of the human diet and a livelihood for many. This makes it imperative to find ways to make it as sustainable as possible so that there is little disruption to the environment, people’s income and human food chains. Introducing fishing quotas, controlling the net size and using fish farms are some ways that can help preserve wild populations, but these measures do come with their own issues.

Sustainable Fishing and Farming

Fish is an important source of protein for human diets. Many populations have survived off fishing. But in recent history, massive commercial fishing ships occupying the oceans where they catch many of the wild edible fish have resulted in dramatic declines in fish stocks.

Fish stocks - in this context, refers to the populations or communities of fish that are usually caught for food

If this uncontrolled overfishing continues, it has the potential to lead to:

  • Less edible fish, which would be detrimental to those who rely on fish as both a main food source or an income source

  • Certain species of fish completely disappearing in specific areas or going extinct, like bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean, cod in the northwest Atlantic and sole in the Irish sea and English channel.

  • Food chain disruptions are capable of affecting many other aquatic species

It is therefore essential to maintain fish stock levels so that breeding can continue and the fish can replenish their populations.

Many have spoken out about the issues surrounding overfishing. Some restrictions have been put in place to help conserve fish populations. These more sustainable approaches include controlling the size of the net and introducing strict fishing quotas.

Increasing the gaps in the nets used for fishing can help in the following ways:

  • Smaller juvenile fish (of the species being caught) are able to pass through the larger gaps in the net and live on till breeding age. So they are able to reproduce before they are caught, meaning the species has the potential to replenish.

  • Less unwanted species are accidentally caught. However, the issue with this is that larger unwanted species are often still caught and simply discarded.

    This is still a major problem that needs to be addressed as the populations of these larger species are reducing!

Fishing quotas were also introduced. They regulate the particular size and quantity of a fish species that can be caught in a given area at a given time, like during the breeding season. Although these quotas can substantially reduce the number of trips fishermen make and therefore limit overfishing, it has its problems.

  • Once fishermen are over their quota limit, they simply throw away any excess back into the sea (by this point, the fish are already dead) - this doesn’t help to maintain fish stock.

Many fishermen are losing their livelihood to these quotas as they need to be able to fish to help sustain their families.

An alternative to catching fish in the wild is creating sustainable fisheries or fish farms. Here, the overall fish stock does not deplete as the number of fish caught does not exceed the number of fish born.

Introduction to Fish Farming

Fish farming, sometimes called pisciculture, is a form of aquaculture where large numbers of fish are raised in seawater or freshwater artificial enclosures or tanks. These fish are reared to efficiently turn their food into fish protein, predominantly used for human consumption.

With fish farming becoming one of the fastest-growing animal food production industries, the hope is to see numbers of fish stock replenish in the wild!

Aquaculture is water-based agriculture! It involves culturing aquatic organisms like plants and animals in controlled artificial environments!

The fish in these farms are usually bred for rapid growth. Just like with cattle farming, farmed fish also have restricted movement in their enclosures and tend to be fed high-protein diets. This helps to produce low-cost food, but some have raised ethical concerns about the artificial conditions these fish are reared in.

Types of Fish Farming

Since farmed fish are kept in tight enclosures to limit movement, the conditions of their environment and the health of the fish are closely monitored and controlled as per the methods mentioned in the table below. This helps to ensure high yields of rapid growing healthy fish.

Due to their confined space, it is important that feeding schedules are adhered to on fish farms in order to prevent the fish from eating each other.

Fish farming method

Why is the method used?

Control of intraspecific competition (predation within the same species)

Fish of different ages and sizes are kept in separate tanks so that they don’t fight or eat each other.

Control of interspecific competition (predation between different species)

Fish of different species are kept in separate tanks, so they don’t fight or eat each other.

Maintenance of water quality & control of disease

Water is cleaned to ensure high levels of oxygen for aerobic respiration. It is also filtered to remove harmful bacteria and waste to prevent disease. The fish are given antibiotics, and the number of fish in a tank or enclosure is kept low to help minimise the transmission of disease.

Use of selective breeding

Male and female fish are kept separately until the farmer is ready to breed. Only then do they allow the fish with the desired traits to reproduce so that future generations can possess these too.

Selective breeding has been around and employed by humans for a long time. Read our Selective Breeding article to learn why.

Benefits of Fish Farming

Overfishing is detrimental to wild fish stocks. More sustainable approaches like introducing fishing quotas, controlling net sizes and use of fish farms are ways to help prevent overfishing.

One of the main advantages of fish farming is that it can help to replenish wild fish stock levels. Since fish farming allows for a rapid supply of food that can keep up with the demands faster than the oceans, this also helps keep fish affordable. Other benefits of fish farming include:

  • The means to maintain water quality - many of the fish in the wild are subjected to a significant amount of heavy metals (like mercury) and other pollutants. This is ultimately consumed by humans and can lead to significant health problems.

  • The ability to keep out competing species and protect against predators - allows for maximum yield.

  • Being able to selectively breed fish - so that the fastest growing and highest quality fish can be produced.

Fish farming also provides a livelihood for many of those in areas where jobs are desperately needed.

Disadvantages of Extensive Fish Farming

Unfortunately, fish farming poses a few drawbacks, particularly regarding the surrounding environment and the health of both farmed fish and wild stocks. These disadvantages include:

  • An increased risk of disease - since they live in such tight confinement, the spread of disease is high. This also poses a risk to wild stocks, particularly for open-pen fish farms, as they can be infected too.

  • In order to control the spread of infectious diseases, antibiotics are given, the water is sterilised, and pesticides are used - this can lead to antibiotic resistance and can cause fish to be mineral deficient (since their immediate environment is void of any).

    Antibiotic Resistance will likely become a serious public health crisis in the coming years. Antibiotics have become a staple of modern medicine and agriculture in the last century, but their overuse is becoming very problematic. Check out the article on the Uses of antibiotics to learn more!

  • A threat of genetic disorders - as many of the fish are selectively bred, they are likely to be closely related. This reduces variation and increases the risk of genetic disorders and susceptibility to infectious diseases.

  • Eutrophication of the surrounding water - fish waste is actually used as a fertiliser for some crops (because it’s nitrogen-rich). Since this has to be removed regularly, it is often dumped in the surrounding water, causing dead zones due to an overgrowth of algae and other aquatic plants. Eventually leading to a decrease in biodiversity.

  • Other potential damage to wild fish stocks - some fish are fed high-protein diets, this is usually made up of other fish, usually caught from the wild. Additionally, escaped fish from enclosures have the potential to be invasive in the wild, since they are usually bred for fast growth.

Farming and Fishing - Key takeaways

  • Sustainable fishing is necessary to help conserve wild fish stock levels so that what is used does not exceed what can be replenished.
  • Measures have been put in place in many countries to help with sustainability, these include controlling fish net sizes, introducing strict fishing quotas and using sustainable fish farms.
  • There are many methods employed in fish farming to help yield large quantities of high-quality fish, such as selective breeding, preventing competition and cannibalism.
  • Fish farming allows for a rapid supply of food that can keep up with the supply demands at a faster rate than the oceans.
  • Fish farming poses a few drawbacks, particularly regarding the surrounding environment and the health of farmed fish and wild stocks.

Frequently Asked Questions about Farming and Fishing

Fishing usually refers to the catching of edible fish in the wild, in places such as rivers, lakes, oceans and seas.

Fish farming refers to the raising of fish in artificial enclosures or tanks.

Fish farming is the breeding and rearing of fish to gain a certain profit from them. Whereas fishing is the process of catching fish from any sea body, sometimes for-profit and sometimes for sport.

One of the main advantages of fish farming is that it can help to replenish wild fish stock levels. Since fish farming allows for a rapid supply of food, that can keep up with the demands at a faster rate than the oceans.

Fish farming is sometimes referred to as pisciculture.

Fish farming can be detrimental to the surrounding environment and the health of farmed fish and wild stocks.

Final Farming and Fishing Quiz

Question

Define fish stock in relation to fishing

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Answer

Fish stock refers to the populations or communities of fish that are usually caught for food

Show question

Question

What has caused a dramatic decline in wild fish stocks?

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Answer

Overfishing to keep up with consumer demands. This is caused by large commercial fishing ships occupying the oceans where they catch many of the wild edible fish.

Show question

Question

If uncontrolled overfishing continues, what could happen?

Show answer

Answer

Less edible fish.

Show question

Question

What are the benefits of increasing the gaps in fishing nets?

Show answer

Answer

Smaller, juvenile fish are able to pass through the larger gaps in the net and live on till breeding age.

Show question

Question

What is a major problem with using nets?

Show answer

Answer

A major problem that needs to be addressed is that larger unwanted species are often still caught in nets and simply discarded leading to a reduction in these species.

Show question

Question

What do fishing quotas cover?

Show answer

Answer

It relates to bans on the particular size and quantity of a fish species that can be caught in a given area at a given time, like during breeding season.

Show question

Question

How do fishing quotas prevent fish stock levels from being maintained?

Show answer

Answer

Once fishermen are over their quota limit, they simply throw away any excess back into the sea but at this point, the fish are already dead.

Show question

Question

Name an alternative to catching fish in the wild.

Show answer

Answer

Fish farming

Show question

Question

Define fish farming

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Answer

Fish farming is where large numbers of fish are raised in seawater or freshwater artificial enclosures or tanks

Show question

Question

How do fish farms contribute to sustainable fishing?

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Answer

Fish farming allows for a rapid supply of food, that can keep up with the supply demands at a faster rate than the oceans.

Show question

Question

__________ competition is the predation within the same species.

Show answer

Answer

Intraspecies

Show question

Question

___________ competition is the predation between different species.

Show answer

Answer

Interspecies

Show question

Question

How do fish farmers use selective breeding to increase yield?

Show answer

Answer

They only allow the fish with the desired traits to reproduce, such as rapid growth.

Show question

Question

The ability to maintain water quality is a benefit of fish farming, how does this improve the health of humans?

Show answer

Answer

Many of the fish in the wild are subjected to significant amounts of heavy metals (like mercury) and other pollutants. This ends up in the flesh of fish and is ultimately consumed by humans and can lead to significant health problems. Controlling water quality can prevent this.

Show question

Question

How can fish farming negatively affect wild fish stocks?

Show answer

Answer

Some fish are fed high-protein diets, this is usually made up of other fish, usually caught from the wild.

Show question

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