Sustainable aquaculture in China? It could happen.

Written by on January 22, 2015 in Fish, Other News

As we continue to empty our oceans of fish, many people believe aquaculture is the solution. It has the potential to continue providing the world with seafood, without depleting our oceans any further. It’s a great idea, but it’s not that simple. Aside from disease and antibiotic issues that arise in often overcrowded fish farms, there’s also the issue of feeding farm-raised fish.

Aquaculture in China. Photo credit: Jack Parkinson via Wikimedia Commons.

Aquaculture in China. Photo credit: Jack Parkinson via Wikimedia Commons.

For many species, the fishmeal used to feed them is made from wild-caught fish. So, we’re not actually lessening our impact on the ocean, we’re just switching from depleting one species to another. But, a new study led by Stanford University offers a sustainable alternative: make fishmeal from the waste products of seafood processing plants.

Contributing to one-third of the global supply, China is the world’s leading producer, consumer, and processor of fish. Production in the country has tripled in just the last 20 years and three-quarters of that seafood comes from fish farms. The impact these farms have on wild species is huge. The waste from Chinese seafood processing plants can be 30 to 70 percent of the incoming volume of fish. Normally, it’s just discarded, but by using it to feed farmed fish instead, Chinese fish farmers could replace between half and two-thirds of the volume of fishmeal they currently use.

There are two issues with this solution that need to be dealt with: quality and food safety. The waste produced by processing plants is lower in protein than wild-caught fish, but this could be easily solved by adding plant-based protein (like algae) to the fishmeal. As for safety, there is concern that waste could transmit diseases. The researchers note that this could be address with the help of strict regulations and additional research on safety risks.

“This is a critical juncture for China,” lead author Ling Cao, a postdoctoral scholar at the Center on Food Security and the Environment, said in a news release. “If the country makes proactive reforms to its aquaculture sector, like using fish-processing wastes instead of wild fish, and generally reducing the amount of fishmeal in aquafeeds, it can greatly improve the sustainability of the industry. If not, the consequences for the entire global seafood supply chain are going to be really serious.”

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Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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  1. Actually, 55 percent of fish meal and fish oil in the feed for Chinese farmed fish derive from Peruvian waters, home of gignatic anchovy shoals – or should we accustom ourselves to say: it was so far their home? Recently, the Peruvian fishery ministery has partly closed the ancovy fishery in order to prevent overexploited stocks from further decimation.

    On the other hand, Chinese fish farmers are confronted with touchily rising feed prices, increasing by 50 percent in 2104 alone. The reason: The stocks of the so-called «forage» fish whiuch are redued to meal and oil get increasingly scarce – oh! who would have thought of this…!!!

    Within its new aquaculture campaign in Switzerland, the fair-fish association will invite Invite a feed mill and fish farmers to jointly establish a recycling syndicate that converts the remainders and the offcuts of fish processing into fish meal and fish oil, while separating the production line corresponding to the species of origin in order to avoid cannibalism. If Chinese will do that, this will change aquaculture, but why wait until they’ll do?