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9 Surprising Fish Farming Facts (PHOTOS)

Huffington Post     First Posted: 05/31/10 06:12 AM ET   Updated: 05/25/11 05:00 PM ET

Over 1 billion people across the world rely on fish as their main source of protein, mostly in developing countries. In America, fish consumption is rapidly increasing with the growing awareness of its health benefits. Due to overfishing, over 70% of the world's fish are either fully exploited or depleted. As a result, fish farming, or aquaculture, has quickly stepped up to meet the demands of fish consumption. While there are methods of sustainable and environmentally friendly fish farming, many of the current methods employed are unregulated and can be extremely harmful to the environment.

We've put together 9 surprising facts about fish farming that you may not have known!

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  • Production

    With fish stocks rapidly depleting in the oceans, the industry of fish farming has continued to grow in response. In 2006, Americans ate an average of <a href="http://www.edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=16150" target="_hplink">16.5</a> pounds of fish per person, surpassed only by Japan and China. That same year, fish farming accounted for <a href="http://www.greenfacts.org/en/fisheries/l-2/01-fisheries-production.htm#5" target="_hplink">47%</a> of the world’s fish food supply.

  • Pollution

    Large-scale fish farm operations force fish to live in conditions much more <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish_farming#Criticisms" target="_hplink">crowded</a> than they would in the wild, sometimes leaving each fish less room than an average bathtub. The excess of fish waste and unconsumed feed <a href="http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,391523-2,00.html" target="_hplink">pollutes</a> the surrounding waters. Additionally, living in such close proximity gives rise to increased disease and infection, which is usually responded to withc antibiotics, further polluting the surrounding environment.

  • Chemicals

    Many of the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/27/world/americas/27salmon.html?_r=2&scp=1&sq=chile+fishing&st=nyt" target="_hplink">chemicals</a> banned in the US are still used in international fish farms for disease and parasite control. Due to a lack of regulation, these chemicals make their way to our dinner table through the large amount of fish we import from other countries.

  • Escaped Fish

    Many fish farms operate with netpens in open waters. These systems are extremely susceptible to being ripped open from predators or storms. When the fish <a href="http://www.edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=16150" target="_hplink">escape</a>, they cause irreparable harm to the local ecosystems, corrupting gene pools, competing for food sources and breeding territories, and spreading disease.

  • Tilapia

    Tilapia are one of the most environmentally friendly fish to farm. They are herbivores, so they don’t <a href="http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/11/8-sustainable-sources-farmed-fish-seafood.php" target="_hplink">require</a> the mass amounts of fish byproduct that carnivores do. In addition, they can be farmed in large tanks rather than outdoor pools, making them much more accessible for aquaculture.

  • Shrimp Farming

    Shrimp farming is one of the most destructive types of aquaculture. Mangrove forests protect coastlines, provide food and shelter to countless wildlife, and <a href="http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2007/02/mangroves/warne-text" target="_hplink">supply</a> multiple resources to impoverished coastal people who rely on them for daily sustenance. Unfortunately, they also occupy many ideal locations for shrimp farming, and are uprooted and destroyed as a result. In addition, shrimp farmers are often <a href="http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2007/02/mangroves/warne-text/3" target="_hplink">quick</a> to abandon the locations and move to new ones for better production results, destroying more mangroves along the way. Shrimp farms also raise the <a href="http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,391523-2,00.html" target="_hplink">salinity</a> of surrounding water and soil, ruining the land for agriculture.

  • Carnivores

    Some carnivorous species, like salmon, can be very high maintenance to farm, requiring much more food than they produce. For every <a href="http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,391523-2,00.html" target="_hplink">1 lb.</a> of farmed salmon, 2 to 5 lbs. of smaller fish are needed to feed it.

  • Bivalves

    Bivalves, such as oysters and mussels, rank highest when it comes to environmentally friendly aquaculture. Because they are filter feeders, they actually make the water in their ecosystem <a href="http://www.rodale.com/benefits-eating-oysters" target="_hplink">cleaner</a>, and due to their lack of mobility, they are much easier to contain than fish.

  • Eco-Friendly Aquaculture

    Recirculating Aquaculture Systems are the <a href="http://www.aquaculturetalk.com/2009/01/closed-3/" target="_hplink">most</a> eco-friendly. The ultimate water use is minimal, and they have the least environmentally hazardous waste removal methods. Developing aquaculture farming systems in tandem with agriculture is becoming a more popular environmentally-friendly option, as well. When done right, the systems produce very little waste, as they benefit from each other’s byproducts. Fish waste fertilizes the plants, which can in turn filter the water and provide needed nutrients back to the fish. Rice farmers in Asia have long <a href="http://www.fao.org/focus/e/fisheries/sustaq.htm" target="_hplink">farmed</a> fish alongside their crops, using certain species of fish to fight pests that harm their rice paddies.

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