Sustainable Aquatics Lets Fish Just Keep Swimming

Jane Marsh - May 26, 2023

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Sustainable aquatics, or sustainable aquaculture, is a necessary advancement in the world’s aquatic industries. Everything from hyperconsumerism to pollution is damaging life in the water and its ecosystems. The harm is happening at a rate that is too swift to repair unless sector- and worldwide system overhauls change scope. These frameworks and industry adjustments must manifest for the world’s water-reliant businesses to keep the planet on track for environmental healing.

What Is Sustainable Aquatics?

Aquaculture has several significant approaches, and they explain how the industry keeps, reproduces, and takes care of aquatic life, including plants and fish. It’s necessary to have a system to keep up with food demand — expected to rise by 80% by 2050 — and products that rely on aquatic resources. However, these approaches each have their sustainability concerns:

  • Near-shore open pens
  • Offshore open pens
  • Land-based closed systems

Open pens allow for predators to impact the growth and spread of disease. Offshore solutions use more resources and emit more carbon to utilize and monitor. Sustainable aquaculture looks to mend the gaps in these strategies by looking at the big picture. How do oceans look? What’s polluting waterways? Are aquatic species able to survive these conditions? Can consumer aquaculture find a balance of ethical business strategy with eco-conscious care?

The planet will need a medley of a multitude of solutions to align with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set forth by the United Nations. Not all of the goals overtly related to sustainable aquaculture, but embracing more eco-friendly practices impact more of the goals positively than people may perceive, including:

  • Zero hunger
  • Good health and well-being
  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Affordable and clean energy
  • Responsible consumption and production
  • Climate action
  • Life below water

One sweeping answer can’t fix the entire industry, but incorporating multiple bandaids over time can change industrial and consumer habits for gradual wildlife awareness and environmental remediation.

Eliminating Overfishing

Many nations, notably coastal countries, rely on fishing to keep families fed and power national economies. Aquatic products could be a nation’s largest export, and this overreliance can perpetuate overfishing. It leads to net-negative fish populations, which could then jeopardize those nations. It’s a literal consequence of exploiting these species to the point where they can’t recover.

Striking a balance between producing enough seafood to remove food scarcity and eliminating overfishing sounds impossible, but humans are finding ways. 

Agriculture uses most of the world’s fertile land, requiring humans to be creative and source nutrients from elsewhere. As you can deduce, humans are in a contradictory position — reduce overfishing to keep waterways safe, but use it to supplement a limited supply of arable land. These are some of the top ideas that could alleviate stress from both sides:

  • Reducing poverty and food in affected areas to increase food resilience
  • Providing more job opportunities to reduce economic reliance on fishing
  • Creating floating agricultural hubs to expand farming areas
  • Following regulations to protect species by limiting consumption
  • Institute fish farming guidelines that promote species health by causing minimal to no damage to habitats
  • Leveraging smart onshore fisheries for contained, healthy reproduction without risk of disease

Acknowledging Carbon

The aquatics industry emits significant greenhouse gasses, especially if you consider related initiatives that propel the fishing sector, like ocean fleets. The wildlife damage is one issue — but how humans damage wildlife and do the necessary work needs reevaluation, too. 

Biomass is one of the leading suggestions for making aquatics closer to carbon neutral. Rapidly reproducing microalgae naturally captures carbon with little resource or time investment. 

Aquaculture could take advantage of the algae’s organic tendencies. Fish farms could incorporate these algal families alongside their production to at least strive to make businesses net zero. Biomass has other benefits, such as acting as a naturally replicating food source for fish systems or an inexpensive replacement for commercial products like fish oil.

Incorporating more renewable energy generation can also reduce the impact of modern aquaculture. Underwater turbines and offshore hydrogen fuel electrolyzers could produce Earth-friendly power without harming populations below the surface. Builders must construct on- and offshore farms and renewable energy generation that promote carbon capture in a way that doesn’t negatively impact habitats so that fish can continue to heal from human impacts.

Reacquainting With Regulation

Letting species return to healthy population levels while protecting environments is paramount, but measures must be in place to make the process carbon-friendly. These pillars can’t unfold if regulatory bodies don’t institute concrete legislation and find ways to hold companies accountable. 

The regulations that exist in regions of the world range from strict to dismissable because there aren’t any auditing measures or repercussions for unethical aquatic treatment. Fish farmers and environmental advocates have a multipurpose objective — remind farmers of existing legislation to readjust business practices and to lobby for even more comprehensive and helpful sustainable aquatic standards.

Compliance equates to transparency, which is the name of the game in corporate social responsibility. Sharing data and research allows companies and governments worldwide to collaborate to find even more positively impacting solutions to toxic aquaculture. Garnering genuine interest and enthusiasm for changing the industry from within could secure governmental and corporate buy-in, ensuring stakeholders and outside funding to promote change.

Numerous laws will have to pass to cover every aspect of sustainable aquatic development, including:

  • Pollution
  • Water treatment
  • What species are and aren’t allowed for farming or allowed in the same fishery
  • Disease and parasite remediation and vaccination
  • Feed frequency and efficiency
  • Pen management
  • Carbon emissions
  • Fishing limits based on species stocks
  • Leveraging technology, like machine learning and IoT, to improve aquatics

What the Future Holds for Sustainable Aquatics

Sustainable aquaculture will simultaneously keep water species happy and healthy while nourishing the planet. It must execute via green methodologies and technologies focusing on reducing carbon emissions and controlling water pollutants. Implementing these practices should shift a global mindset about how they interact with water-related food and products. Hence, human consumption allows nature to heal and renew organically without depleting resources and populations. 

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.