Sustainable aquaculture



Aquaculture is the controlled cultivation or farming of fish, shellfish, and aquatic plants. The purpose is to create a source of aquatic-sourced food and commercial products in a way that will increase availability while reducing environmental harm and protecting various aquatic species. There are several different kinds of aquaculture and each has varying degrees of sustainability (ear-shore open pens, experimental offshore open pens, land-based “closed” systems, and “ancient” open systems). Each of them has its environmental footprint that varies from sustainable to highly problematic.

Offshore aquaculture (often called open ocean or open water aquaculture) is seen as a new source of economic growth, but it ignores a series of environmental and ethical issues of a few companies controlling vast resources through privatization. Offshore aquaculture may lead to the spread of disease, promote unsustainable fish feed practices, cause the discharge of bio-hazardous materials, entangle wildlife, and lead fish escapes. Fish escapes are when farmed fish escape into the environment, which causes significant harm to the wild fish population and the ecosystem as a whole ( )

Taking a holistic view, the Global Sustainable Aquaculture Roadmap ( identifies four key pathways for action that can create change at scale and shift aquaculture systems towards a more sustainable future (World Economic Forum, 2023):
  1. Responsible production: A planet-first approach to production can ensure the long-term supply of healthy food from aquaculture is sustainable. Maintaining the breadth of aquaculture species and systems is key to strengthening the resilience and nutritional value of blue foods.
  2. Improving livelihoods: Systemic change across industry value chains is crucial to rebalancing inequalities, empowering collaboration and community cooperatives, reducing poverty and building a fairer sector for people.
  3. Healthy consumption: A pivotal part of building sustainable aquaculture systems is improving the availability and affordability of these foods for all consumers. Advocates should raise awareness among retailers, distributors and food service providers about the benefits of eating a variety of blue foods.
  4. An enabling environment: Policies from local to international levels are needed to incentivize and enforce more responsible and inclusive practices, and stimulate investment. These investments can support innovations and platforms for data sharing that demonstrate models for sustainable growth.
  1. European Commission, Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, A new strategic vision for sustainable aquaculture production and consumption in the European Union – Blue farming in the European Green Deal, Publications Office of the European Union, 2021,
  2. The Global Sustainable Aquaculture Roadmap: Pathways for Systemic Change, World Economic Forum, 2023