Giving farmed fish plant-based food comes with complications

Written by on March 23, 2016 in Fish, Other News

As demand for seafood increases, so does pressure on wild stocks. Since many of them are fished at or above capacity, people are turning to fish farming as a possible solution. Aquaculture has the potential to provide the world with enough seafood without increasing pressure on wild fish. In fact, aquaculture is the fastest growing food animal sector and half the seafood consumed by Americans is farmed. But there’s one big problem with this — most of our favorite fish are carnivores, so we have to feed them fishmeal and fish oil that comes from wild-caught fish.

View from inside a Hawaii offshore aquaculture cage. Photo credit: NOAA.

View from inside a Hawaii offshore aquaculture cage. Photo credit: NOAA.

To solve this problem, some fish farms are making the transition to plant-based feed. It sounds like a good solution, but it comes with its own set of problems. A new analysis from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) found that, unfortunately, switching to plants could impact the health benefits and environmental impact of certain types of seafood.

One of the biggest health benefits of seafood comes from omega-3 fatty acids (essential fats that our bodies can’t produce from scratch, so we have to consume them from other sources), which promote improved heart health. Dr. Jillian Fry, director of CLF’s Public Health and Sustainable Aquaculture Project and study leader explained that switching to plant-based ingredients in fish food can “change the fatty acid content in farmed fish, which can affect human nutrition.”

As for its environmental footprint, plant-based fish feed likely means that fish farming now comes with more nutrient and pesticide runoff from the crop production (mostly corn, soy, and wheat) necessary for fish food.

So, it’s possible that transitioning from wild-caught fish to plants doesn’t actually eliminate environmental pressure, but simply shifts it. The study authors note that more research is needed to fully understand the consequences.

“The nutritional content of farmed fish should be monitored,” Fry says. “The aquaculture industry should assess the environmental footprint and public health impacts of their crop-based feed ingredients and seek those produced using sustainable methods.”

To learn more:

Copyright © 2016 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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