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Aquaculture Sustainability: Myths and Reality


Aquaculture, or fish farming, has been the subject of heated debates when it comes to its sustainability. As a practice that involves the cultivation of aquatic organisms such as fish, mollusks, and crustaceans in controlled environments, aquaculture faces both criticism and praise in equal measure.

Therefore, let’s explore some of the most common myths and separate truth from fiction regarding the sustainability of aquaculture today.


Myth 1: Aquaculture is Harmful to the Environment

The main reason for the existence of most aquaculture operations today, especially in the European Union, is precisely the opposite of this idea.

First and foremost, aquaculture aims to address the consumption of fish by an increasingly growing population, thereby reducing pressure on marine species caused by overfishing. This allows us to continue consuming the same amount of fish without extinguishing species or disrupting ecosystems.

Another advantage of aquaculture is that, unlike wild fishing, there is no accidental capture of other species (bycatch), often endangered.

Furthermore, regarding this matter, it is also worth noting that aquaculture does not intend to replace wild fishing at all but rather to complement it so that both activities can coexist in balance without causing significant harm to the environment.

Moreover, in terms of agricultural practices, aquaculture has the lowest carbon footprint among animal production methods, which is relatively low, as can be seen in the following table:



Regarding the discharges resulting from aquaculture practices, they are organic and origin from two sources: unconsumed feed and fish excrement. Both are biodegradable and easily used by the majority of aquatic ecosystems. It’s worth mentioning that responsible waste management comes from effective management plans, proper location, and regulatory regimes that ensure the minimization of their negative impacts.

Additionally, modern operations adopt various sustainable practices, such as the use of water recirculation systems, which reduce waste and pollution, and the production of native species from the area where the operation is located, thereby avoiding impacts on the local ecosystem, as is the case with the Autonomous Region of Madeira (A.R.M.)

It’s always important to mention that all aquaculture production in the European Union is subject to strict rules and guidelines aimed at food safety and sustainable practices. Operations that do not adhere to these regulations cannot simply operate.

On the consumer side, there’s also an opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint of the sector regarding product transportation. Choosing locally produced fish decreases the footprint since the fish doesn’t require extensive transportation to reach the customer.

Another fact is that aquaculture doesn’t solely produce fish but also algae, mussels, clams, and oysters. These species don’t need to be fed as they filter nutrients from the water. This eliminates the need for using wild fish as food and improves the quality of surrounding waters.

In our case, besides complying with the rule set by the A.R.M. to produce a native species, we work with only one feed supplier, Biomar, making sustainable traceability of our gilthead seabreams easier. Moreover, it’s a supplier that takes pride in constantly seeking ways to make its product even more sustainable without compromising its excellent quality and nutritional benefits.

At the moment, we’re in the process of obtaining one of the sustainability certifications to prove that our aquaculture operations are truly sustainable.

In conclusion, it’s important not to generalize and to analyze each case individually since there are still environmentally harmful aquaculture operations in the world. However, the direction the sector is heading towards is one of becoming increasingly sustainable.


Myth 2: Aquaculture Contributes to Overfishing of Wild Species.

While this may have been true several years ago, nowadays, on a global scale, aquaculture relies less and less on wild fish in the feed for cultivated fish.

Currently, on average, about half a metric ton of wild fish is used for every metric ton of farmed fish. And this percentage is expected to decrease as the search for alternative sources providing the same essential nutrients continues, with some already successfully implemented.

Our feed supplier, Biomar, is a perfect example of this. As mentioned earlier, they are constantly seeking ways to make their product more sustainable, and reducing the use of wild fish in their feed composition is one of their main goals.


Little boat besides a large floating cage.


Myth 3: Aquaculture is Economically Unsustainable.

While aquaculture may face economic challenges like any other activity, it also presents significant opportunities for economic growth and sustainable development in the area where it is situated. Aquaculture provides jobs in coastal and rural communities and stimulates local and international trade by offering a reliable source of food protein.

With adequate investment in research and development, aquaculture has the potential to become an even more important part of the global economy.

In the case of our business group, we currently employ 16 people in the aquaculture production company, plus 80 people in the company responsible for processing and wholesaling the produced gilthead seabream.

Moreover, in terms of stimulating the local economy, beyond indirect benefits and the increase in the GDP of the Autonomous Region of Madeira, the export of the majority of the produced gilthead seabream significantly contributes to the increase of revenue in the region.


Floating cages at sea, with Madeira island landscape.


Myth 4: All Aquaculture Methods are Equal in Terms of Sustainability.

As in any other sector, there are various practices within aquaculture, some more sustainable than others. It’s important to recognize that not all aquaculture operations are the same and that some producers may be more committed to sustainability than others.

Consumers can also make a difference by supporting producers who adopt sustainable practices and by purchasing seafood with sustainability certifications, such as the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), and the Global G.A.P (Good Agricultural Practices).


In conclusion, sustainability in aquaculture is a complex topic that requires a balanced approach. While there are challenges to be addressed, there are also significant opportunities to promote more sustainable practices and ensure that aquaculture continues to play a vital role in global food security.

With the commitment of all stakeholders – from producers to consumers – we can all work together to create a more sustainable future.


If you want to acquire the excellent product that is the Madeira Gilthead Seabream, don’t wait and talk to us!