Global consumption is a large environmental problem. Everything that is consumed is connected to the environment in some way (Wilk, 2006:418). Providing food for a growing world population is obviously a major concern in terms of human and environmental impact. Natural stocks of fish are being depleted by overfishing, and fish farms are seen by some as a solution to the problem of food shortages (Cowan & Schienberg, 2005). This practice introduces more problems than it solves though. Efforts are being made to improve the practice, but it would be more effective to consider and treat these immediate problems as symptoms, and begin to locate and solve the root problem.
The most pressing problems introduced by fish farming are the impacts on the environment. Aquaculture causes health and habitat issues to natural stocks through spreading of disease and man-made changes to the environment (Cowan & Schienberg, 2005). Fish farms cause environmental damage through alteration of biodiversity, ecosystems, and pollution runoff (Cowan & Schienberg, 2005). By raising carnivorous fish, the overfishing problem is exacerbated – more fish are required as input than output can be realized (Cowan & Schienberg, 2005). There are also the human costs of environmental colonialism which encourages aquaculture in developing countries (Cowan & Schienberg, 2005). The effects on human health from non-natural production of fish are unknown, but it has been shown that farmed fish contain more carcinogens than natural fish (Cowan & Schienberg, 2005).
If these problems can be addressed, fish farming is perhaps still a viable solution for meeting the sustenance requirements of a growing global population. China, the birthplace of aquaculture, might provide an example of a better way to produce fish, as their practices are more sustainable (Cowan & Schienberg, 2005). Other global efforts include land based farms or raising omnivore fish (Cowan & Schienberg, 2005). Further research is ongoing to identify and implement further improvements to aquaculture (Cowan & Schienberg, 2005).
As with most environmental problems, these solutions aim at symptoms. Awareness and treatment of symptoms certainly are imperative but they are not the final cure. The problem is not aquaculture; it is excessive global consumption patterns. The root of this problem, as with most environmental problems, is attitudes and mentalities toward the natural world. If these are transformed, the pressure on the earth will be relieved, and many of the problems we face today will dissipate.
Cowan, S., & Schienberg, B. (Directors). (2005). Farming the Seas [Motion picture]. USA: Bullfrog Films.
Wilk, R. (2006). TheEcology of Global Consumer Culture. In N. Haenn, & R. Wilk (Ed.), The environment in anthropology (pp. 418-429). New York: New York University Press.