The sustainability of a fish or shellfish farm depends primarily on how the animals are fed and the characteristics of the site.
According to the strictest standards, the only species that should be farmed are herbivores like carp and tilapia, which can reproduce in captivity and do not produce too much waste. However, not everyone agrees on such stringent rules.
In reality, the issue of sustainable aquaculture is extremely complex. Experts are moving in different directions, inspired on the one side by the desire to stop the collapse of wild fish stocks and to ensure the world’s population has wider access to healthy proteins, and on the other by the need to limit the many destructive effects of farming.
"Farmed fish is an excellent source of protein and, when produced well, helps protect the environment. I am totally convinced that aquaculture is the most sustainable way to feed the world."
Jose Villalon, director of WWF’s aquaculture program.
Various environmental NGOs were very unhappy with a recent FAO recommendation that the number of fish farms be significantly increased in order to compensate for reduced wild catches and satisfy consumer demand.
Even more controversial is the issue of certifying farmed fish. The WWF, in collaboration with Unilever, is working on a certification system for farmed seafood products based on the model of the Marine Stewardship Council, the best-known and most widespread certification system for wild fish.
Many NGOs are fiercely opposed to this plan. They claim that certification projects for shrimp or salmon farms only serve the interests of big business and are financed, at least in part, by the food industry, and in particular Unilever.
The organizations also accuse the WWF of not taking into account the interests of local people who live in the farming zones and refusing to invite community representatives from the six regions of the world most affected by aquaculture to their discussions.
To find out more, read about the WWF’s round-table discussions on the subject: Aquaculture Dialogues
These controversies make things even harder for the would-be responsible consumer.