Fish farm from the air Pasta Design

As our global population increases, and seafood consumption rises with it, the demand for fish has never been higher. So where will our fish come from?

How to feed a growing planet

As a nation, we have always relied on wild caught fish to provide our seafood. We are all familiar with the sight of fishing boats out at sea or in the harbour. It's part of our history, heritage and culture.

Wild fish were seemingly inexhaustible, but as technology improved, our ability to catch fish started to outweigh their ability to reproduce. We now find ourselves in a position where over 90% of all global fish stocks are unable to provide us with any more of this sought-after protein.

Globally, our population increases by about 80 million people a year, and seafood consumption rises with it (by around 1.5% a year). The demand for fish has never been higher.

So where will our fish come from?

93

%

of global fish stocks are either fully, or over-exploited

We need to manage our fish stocks better. In the UK, improved fisheries management could increase the amount of sustainable seafood we catch by 27% a year, providing more than 5,000 jobs. We are working hard to make this a reality. But in the past few decades, the shortfall in seafood supply has been met by the aquaculture industry.

Aquaculture (or fish farming) has been around for thousands of years, but its expansion in the past 30 years has been huge. It’s the fastest growing sector in food, averaging around 6% growth a year, and it now accounts for 50% of the seafood we eat.

Aquaculture accounts for 50% of the seafood we eat

Of the top five fish we eat – salmon, cod, haddock, tuna and prawns – two are farmed and three are wild caught. Warm-water prawns (the big juicy ones) are farmed and so is salmon, our nation's favourite fish. By diversifying the seafood that we eat, we can help take pressure off this tiny group of species.

What sustainable seafood swaps should I make?

Simple seafood swaps

Some species like mussels and oysters are perfect candidates for farming. Other larger predatory fish, like salmon and seabass, can require large amounts of feed to grow to marketable size, and pollution from these farms and escaped fish can be problematic for the marine environment. We are doing everything we can to improve aquaculture sustainability standards across the world, from farm to fork.

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Seafood has a much smaller carbon footprint than most land-based proteins. Innovative aquaculture techniques and well-managed fisheries will play a really important role in supplying our growing population with nutritious food.

Climate change and ocean health

How does climate change impact fish and other marine life?

Climate change has many impacts on the marine environment.

Rising sea temperatures are increasing numbers of harmful algal blooms, sea lice and diseases. In aquaculture, there is a risk that these can kill farmed fish unless treated with chemicals, which can be unfriendly to the surrounding environment.

In wild fisheries, increasing temperatures are affecting the geographical range and population sizes of some fish. Species including anchovy, seabass, hake and lemon sole have all been listed as likely to increase in UK waters, but colder-water species like cod, haddock and plaice have already (or are expected to) move deeper and further north, to stay in cooler waters.

Warmer water can also produce oceanic dead-zones or ‘blobs’ - unusually warm and oxygen depleted bodies of water. This can wreak havoc on any species in their path.

Another serious result of climate change is ocean acidification, which affects the ability of shellfish species (like oysters, mussels and prawns) to generate and maintain shell thickness.

Climate change also leads to sea level rise and increased frequency and severity of storm events and coastal inundation, which could damage wild and farmed fishing operations, as well as ports and processing infrastructure.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

MPAs are areas of sea that are set up to look after particular seascapes, habitats and species, just like nature reserves and national parks on land.

The planned network of MPAs around the UK is designed to protect the places that are home to rare or threatened plants and animals, as well as an array of important habitats.

They can also support sustainable fishers and sea anglers, who can benefit from increased numbers and diversity of fish inside and outside of MPAs.

Find out more about MPAs here.

Seafood and the carbon footprint

Whilst we recommend going local for your seafood to minimize food miles, improve traceability and support local businesses (read more here), our Good Fish Guide doesn’t currently factor in greenhouse gas emissions.

Our focus to date has been on the direct environmental impacts of fishing and aquaculture operations.

If you’d like to check on the carbon footprint of your seafood there are some great tools such as the Seafood Carbon Emissions Tool from Seafood Watch.

How sustainable is the seafood on your plate?

Find out now