Science has not kept pace with aquaculture

Aquaculture – the breeding of fish, shellfish and other aquatic animals for food – has seen unprecedented growth in recent years, but largely without considering its effects on individual animals, finds a new analysis by a research team.

“The scale of modern aquaculture is immense and growing,” says Becca Franks, a researcher in the Department of Environmental Studies at New York University and lead author of the paper that appears in Science Advances. “We know so little about the animals we mass-produce, however, and the negative effects of the expansion of aquaculture on individual animals will just continue to accumulate.”

The study is the first to systematically examine the scientific findings on the welfare of the 408 aquatic species bred around the world – animals such as salmon, carp and shrimp. The researchers found that specialized scientific studies on animal welfare – generally defined as an animal’s ability to deal with its environment – were available for only 84 species. No information was available for the remaining 324 species, which make up the majority of aquaculture production.

Animal welfare laws are not new, but in recent years governments have passed laws aimed at improving enforcement and expanding animal welfare.

With traditional fishing in decline, aquaculture has been touted as both a solution to food insecurity and a means of reducing pressures on species in seas and oceans. However, the growth of aquaculture or aquafarming has not reduced the stress on wild populations. In 2018, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 250 to 408 billion individual animals of more than 400 species were bred in aquaculture – or around 20 times the species that were bred in animal husbandry on land.

The expansion of aquaculture raises concerns that the industry is moving forward without adequate knowledge of growing animal life. The lack of this information signals a risk as their operations and decisions are not scientifically based, say the researchers, and can lead to poor living conditions and suffering for the individual animals concerned.

To investigate this matter, the team, which included Jennifer Jacquet, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Environmental Studies, and Chris Ewell, a NYU student at the time of the study, attempted to determine which research literature was among the more than 400 species existed that will be bred in 2018.

Their results showed that only 25 species, or about 7 percent of aquaculture-bred animals, had five or more publications on the welfare of those animals. In contrast, 231 species had no welfare publications, while 59 had only one to four such publications. The remaining 93 had no species-level taxonomic information, which meant that there was a lack of sufficiently detailed evidence on these species.

“While the existence of animal welfare knowledge does not guarantee well-being, the lack of such information is worrying,” says Franks. “In summary, our research shows that modern aquaculture poses an unprecedented threat to animal welfare in terms of the global scale and number of individual animal lives affected.”

The authors point out that some aquatic species, such as mussels, which include oysters and clams, may have fewer welfare concerns at first and may be a more promising route for production.

“Although aquaculture has been around for thousands of years, its current expansion is unprecedented and involves great risks. However, since it is so new, we can take a different path,” says Franks.


DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.abg0677

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the correctness of the press releases published on EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of information via the EurekAlert system.

Comments are closed.