Aquaculture, or fish farming, is a general term for the farming of aquatic species, from fish and shellfish to seaweed. It incorporates everything from a few mussel ropes on a Scottish croft to huge salmon farming companies on the New York stock exchange.
It is the fastest growing food production sector, growing at a rate of 5.5% per year. In 2016, aquaculture produced over 114.5 million tonnes, including plants. Over 82 million tonnes of this were food fish. In 2018, over 600 species were farmed globally, via an array of scales and methods.
Atlantic salmon is the most commonly farmed fish in the UK. In 2019, 203,881 tonnes of salmon were produced from farms off the coast of Scotland.
Should salmon farming be red-rated?
Salmon farming does have its problems, and the main concerns include sea lice, disease management and impacts on wild salmon populations.
However, it has also made some great improvements in recent years, such as responsible sourcing of feed ingredients. Compared to other fish farms globally, Scotland has a comprehensive regulatory regime.
A 2019 review of the Scottish salmon farming industry highlighted the remaining concerns regarding the environmental performance of salmon farming and identified mechanisms to improve them, including a regulation review. We’re working to ensure that these concerns are fully addressed and improvements are delivered.
Read our position statement on salmon farming:
Should we be feeding fish to fish?
Farmed fish such as salmon, prawn, bass and bream all require feed for their health and welfare.
Aquaculture feed comes in the form of pellets, which include ingredients like fishmeal, fish oil, wheat gluten, soya meal and a variety of other plant-based proteins and oils. The proportions of each of the ingredients in the pellets varies depending on the species they are being fed to.
If there is fishmeal and fish oil in the pellets, they have been derived from either whole fish or trimmings. Most of the fish that is used to make fish feed comprises species that we don’t eat much of – blue whiting, Peruvian anchovy, menhaden, etc.
Alternatively, the fish might come from trimmings from factories that are processing fish for human consumption.
We feel that it is vital that the fish used to make feed are initially made available for human consumption. Only when that market has been filled should alternative uses for fish be sought. It is also important that the fish content of feed comes from trimmings and processing waste as much as possible.
It is essential that fish caught to make feed are sustainably managed.
We also believe that all farmed fish should be net producers of fish protein. This way, we encourage the industry to use innovative ingredients to replace as much fish as possible, such as algae oil, insect meal and protein from fermentation.
As 94% of global fish stocks are fully or overexploited, we are increasingly reliant on aquaculture to meet global demands for seafood. It is critical that we meet our future protein needs whilst ensuring the health, diversity and productivity of our marine environment.