Aquaculture Myths

Is all aquaculture the same? Miles of cages in the sea or over-stocked ponds in Asia? Are Prawns the same as Shrimp?

There are many myths about aquaculture. The truth is this growing industry is like any other and there are responsible and irresponsible practitioners so SEAT has busted some common aquaculture myths:

Myth – All aquaculture is created equal

  • Variety is the spice of life. A huge variety of fish, shellfish and aquatic plants are farmed. Today, almost half of all seafood eaten is farmed. There are cost-effective and sustainably farmed options when sourcing a wide variety of fish and other things that live in the water.
  • Can farmed fish ever be as sustainable as wild? Managing wild stocks has been shown to be difficult in both richer and poorer parts of the world, even many of those stocks “scientifically managed”. The inevitable result is often more and more fuel being used to catch less and less seafood. Even as wild stocks are managed better, massive increases in demand mean globally there is a need for farmed seafood. Aquaculture is relatively new and there have been rapid improvements in environmental performance.
  • Is local always better? Neither locally or imported produced food is always more environmentally sustainable than the other. Sometimes the energy needed to produce locally, either fished or farmed, is more than the transportation impacts of importing from other climates. It is important to look at the whole picture of a product and all the impacts incurred.

Myth – Prawns = shrimp

  • When is a shrimp not a shrimp? The name “shrimp” refers to a lot of different species. Some are caught in waters around the Arctic while others grow in rivers and lakes in Asia and South America. UK menus are more likely to describe prawns while in the States it’s the opposite.
  • When is a shrimp a prawn? It is confusing depending on who you ask., even in terms of legislation We eat cold and warm water shrimp that may be either wild or farmed and there are a variety of different prawn/shrimp species that are farmed. There are several accepted names when from different different places, often chosen on attractiveness, would you rather eat a “Giant Tiger Prawn” or Penaeus monodon? There are some moves to standardise fish names so customers know exactly what they are eating, but this needs to be become more commonplace. SEAT uses the FAO recommendation to refer to shrimp as species mainly grown in salt water and prawns those which are mainly cultured in freshwater.
  • This confusion is not limited to prawns and shrimp, there is also confusion about what constitutes “whitefish”, “finfish” and “oily fish” as well as common names for species such as Pangasius which might be sold as “Basa”, “River Cobbler” or “Panga” which can create problems with seafood labelling and ensuring consistency of product quality.

Myth – Filthy Gorgeous: Fish are farmed in dirty water and crowded conditions

  • Crowded house. It’s in the farmer’s interest to keep conditions as beneficial for their fish as possible. Fish naturally shoal in close groups so even when there is a lot of space, conditions may looked more cramped than they are. Dirty diseased fish don’t make farmers money and fish welfare linked with the best environmental conditions is emerging as a priority. In Scotland, the RSPCA (Freedom Food) now certify almost all salmon farms as high welfare; much more farms than for pork and poultry.
  • Drugged up? Farming fish allows the environment and inputs to be controlled unlike for wild stocks. Per kg, some studies have shown, imported farmed fish have lower levels of contaminants that imported wild fish. In general the developments of vaccines means antibiotic use is decreasing in farmed fish. It is also worth noting that “murky” waters do not indicate “dirtiness”. This is normal for shallow, tropical ponds and is the same as calling a forest a “dirty lawn”.
  • Growing up together. Aquaculture is a relatively new way of growing food in most parts of the worlds. But in Asia, where it first began, most farms culture different species together. As with other types of food production, this is can be a more balanced way to farm than just a single species. Such practices can reduce the (net) production of waste and diseases. Some combinations of species are particularly complimentary eg. shellfish which filter the water for fish fed in ponds and cages.
  • It’s a trap! Shrimp are often harvested using traps, these may not make for the most attractive of pictures but causes minimal harm to the body of the shrimp and is comparable to the highest welfare methods employed in terrestrial animal handling.

Myth – Weapons of mangrove destruction – Shrimp farming destroys local habitats

  • Your reputation precedes you. Shrimp farming got a bad reputation in the 1980s when farmers in developing countries began to convert poor agricultural land and mangroves to dig out ponds. Much of the mangrove conversion and damage happened in previous decades for other land use. There are systems where shrimp farming and mangroves co-exist sustainably. Today, mangrove conversion has declined and mangroves generally do not make good habitats when farming situations are intensified.
  • Making changes. Most countries have introduced laws to mitigate and outlaw mangrove destruction. The aquaculture industry, NGOs and many of the local governments are working together to enforce mangrove conservation policies and develop balanced strategies for integrated use of coastal areas.
  • Big is beautiful. As farms become more intensive, less land is needed. This has also generally lead to better management of farms and so farmers are not continually moving to different spots.
Photo © Loni Hensler