🐟 Fishing series: From the fishing rod to ultra-productive fish farms
As average consumers, we are well aware that fishing does not limit itself to benevolent fisherwomen/men equipped with fishing rods. We know that fishing is more than often carried out by large ships equipped with gigantic nets which allow fish to be scooped out of the water by the ton. However, it is interesting to notice that the reality of the fishing industry is far form being widely known and that fishing does not necessarily mean catching fish.
The fishing industry is divided in 2 categories:
🎣 CAPTURE FISHERY: 53% of the industry
🚜 AQUACULTURE, also known as “fish farms”: 47% of the industry
When comparing these 2 percentages, it is quite astonishing to notice that the act of “catching fish”, aka “capture fishery” actually only represents half of the industry. The other half is organized around “fish farms”, a technic known as Aquaculture.
Let us also note that the value of capture fishery is said to have reached $130 billion in 2016, while aquaculture was estimated at $232 billion. This proves how profitable this quite “unknown” practice is and explains why it is considered to be the fastest growing sector of the food industry (around 6% growth per year). One reason to explain the lack of awareness in the western world towards the scale of Aquaculture production is the fact that Asia represents nearly 90% of the industry, with China alone producing 61.5%. 49% of China’s aquaculture production will then be exported to neighboring Asian countries, Americas and, at a smaller scale, Europe. Other large producers include: India (7%), Indonesia (6%), Viet Nam (4.5%), Egypt (1.7%) and Norway (1.7%).
How to explain the exponential growth of the sector? Appart from being extremely productive and practical, what Aquaculture allows in theory is to make use of land where the conditions of the soil and the chemical properties of the water make the land inhospitable for conventional food grain crops or pasture. This applies to, either polluted, over-farmed or deserted terrains. It also allows countries with limited access to the sea to produce fish at a large scale. More than often, however, fish farmers go as far as setting their farms on either: healthy soil, or terrains resulting from the deforestation of peat soils or mangroves.
So what is Aquaculture and “fish farming”?
Aquaculture, as its name entails, involves the cultivation of fish (such as carp, salmon, trout, etc…), crustaceans (such as shrimps or crabs), mollusks (such as oysters or mussels) and aquatics plants in a constrained environment.
The cultivation of these species is pursued either in a natural settings such as seas or lakes for instance, or in human-built pools which can either be dug in the ground or built and set on land.
Production of the aquaculture sector
Production of farmed fish
- 🐟 Fish: 54.1 million tons (69%)
- 🍤 Mollusks: 17.1 million tons (22%)
- 🐚 Crustaceans: 7.9 million tons (10%)
Most farmed species
- Carp (36% of the market)
- Shrimp (53% of the market)
- Oysters (28% of the market)
- Clams (25% of the market)
- 🐡 Carps: (89.9%) of worldwide production comes from fish farms
- 🐟 Catfish: (50.1%)
- 🐟 Tilapias: (47.1%)
- 🐟 Salmon and trout: (72.8%)
- 🐚 Mollusks: (39.1%)
- 🦀 Crabs and Lobster: (49.4%)
- 🍤 Shrimps and prawns: (33.9%)
- 🌾 Seaweed: (99.5%)
How do fish farms grow fish?
Fish farms can fall into 3 categories:
- Extensive farming: 🚜
These farms make use of large natural ponds. Their production relies on natural cycles, although the fish may be additionally fed with locally available crop waste. Very little or no processed feed is used.
- Semi-intensive farming: 🚜🚜
These farms often make use of natural patches of waters inland (lakes, inland seas etc…) but can also be located in a coastal marine environment. In these systems, natural productivity is enhanced thanks to fertilizers and industrial feed. The majority of Asian finfish aquaculture is produced thanks to these systems.
- Intensive farming: 🚜🚜🚜
Intensive farming requires human-built ponds, often dug or placed on land. These pools are maintained thanks to electric pumping systems. The fish is exclusively fed with industrially produced feeds.
So what is Capture fishery?
As its name indicates, Capture fishery refers to various practices involving the capture/harvesting of naturally occurring living resources in both marine and freshwater environments. If the industry involves the capture of finfish, mollusks and crustaceans, the largest part of its yield consists of finfish. Indeed, as capture fishing's most productive practices rely on dragging or setting nets in open waters, swimming finfishs will have a much larger chance of getting caught than any other species.
Production of the capture fishery sector
- Total production: 90.9 million tonnes
Most caught fish 🐟 species
- Alaska pollock 
- Skipjack tuna
- Yellowfin tuna
- Atlantic cod
Diversity of 🐟species
In comparison to the Aquaculture sector, the diversity of species resulting from Capture fishing is much larger. The first reason being that even though specific marine areas can concentrate a large percentage of a particular species, a fishing boat will, however, hardly be able select exactly which species will end up in its net. Moreover, not all species can be raised in aquaculture: humans did not “domesticate” so many of them, as we do not fully master their captive reproduction because we started later than for land animals. This explains why fishing stalls offer a much larger variety of species than that of the butcher’s. The second being that the choice of species farmed in Aquaculture depends on offer and demand, whereas capture Fishery relies only on geography.
Regulations to prevent over-fishing as well as ecological variations however also constantly redefine the landscape of capture Fishery. The production of Anchovetas in Peru, for instance, was 3 times more developed than any other species before 2014. Due to the impact of Hurricane El Niño as well as strong regulations, the production was divided by 3 in 3 years, putting Anchovetas on the second step of the podium in 2016.
How is fish captured?
Capture fishing can roughly be divided in 2 categories: SOFT or HARD fishing.
Soft fishing: 🎣
Soft fishing or “sleeping art” concerns fishing devices which are put to rest in the water (for a few minutes or hours) and then dragged out. All of these technics are considered less impactful for the environment as they produce very little waste due to the fact that they offer the possibility to throw under-grown fish back into the water.
Technics falling into the “soft fishing” category:
- Fish traps
- Sleeping nets
- Walk fishing (with landing nets)
- Line fishing with fishing hook
- Purse Seine fishing
- Longline (multi fishing hooks)
- Hand/dive fishing (shellfish by shellfish)
HARD fishing: ⚙️
Hard fishing, also referred to as “dragging arts”, relies on boats dragging nets behind. Called trawlers, these fishing boats call on a heavy use of petrol and only allow a rough selection of the species they capture as they scrape waters at a large scale. If the depth of the fishing method may vary, nets are more than often ballasted with heavy weights which have a destructive impact on the seabed and marine biodiversity as they can violently come in contact with rocks and wild species.
Technics falling into the hard fishing category:
- Bottom trawling (Heavy nets dragged across the seabed)
- Long line trawling (long lines equipped with thousands of hooks)
- Drift nets/Gill nets (km long nets)
- Electric fishing (see related article “🐟 Fishing series: The scandal of electric fishing”)
Capture fishery involves a very large percentage of waste
Despite improvements in fish processing and distribution practices, loss or wastage between capture and consumption still accounts for an estimated 27% of landed fish. In 2011, it was estimated that the food loss and waste of the whole fishing sector amounted to 35% of global catches, with between 9 and 15 percent of these losses due to “hard” fishing technics, hurting fish populations with equipment or throwing injured fish back into the sea. But trawlers are not the only ones to blame: loss and waste are found along the whole value chain, from production to the consumer.
- Numbers given by the FAO in its 2018 report (numbers are often referring to 2016). Click here for report
- In the 90%, the aquaculture sector was growing at a double digit rate, ≈10% per year
- Estimated at 89.4% in 2016
- China alone produced more farmed-fish than the rest of the world combined every year since 1991
- Percentage by value
- Including fish, crustaceans and mollusks
- Various types of algue and seaweeds widely used in cosmetics or as textural agent in processed foods, etc.
- Chosen between well-known species
- Japanese carpet shells
- See related document “Share of Aquaculture”
- Finfish mainly refers to species of fish composed of bones and fines
- Pellets containing vegetable proteins, fish meal and fish oils
- Open seas, coastal regions, inland seas, etc…
- Lakes, rivers, ponds, streams, etc…
- “Pollock” is a white fish mainly used in processed food and the fast-food industry. It is famously used to produce McDonald’s filet o-fish but it can also be found in any premium or low quality processed fish sticks, or imitation crab meat “surimi”. Imitation crab makes use of the lesser-parts of the fish or bad quality pollock.
- “Anchoveta” (or Peruvian anchovy) is considered the most abundant fish species in the world and the most heavily exploited fish in world history. For a large part, Anchoveta is used to produced “fishmeal”, a fish-based feed unfit for human consumption. It is mainly produced to feed farm animals (land farming and fish farming combined).
- Also called pink tuna, very present in Asia
- The famous red tuna that we can easily find in our fish shops
- Famously salted and central fish of Portuguese cuisine
- “Two scenarios for the future of aquaculture are discussed: either the industry focuses on few truly domesticated species, similar to the path taken by agriculture, but avoiding its negative impacts or aquaculture proceeds with inter‐specific diversification by focusing primarily on the domestication of native species.” F. Teletchea, P.Fontaine, Levels of domestication in fish: implications for the sustainable future of aquaculture, Abstract, Fish & fisheries, vol.15, Issue 2, 2014.
- This practice relies on dragging a net or a line with hooks along the bottom of the ocean, or whatever body of water is being fished in.
- This practice relies on long fishing lines equipped with multiple hooks which is set float and drift in the water. This method creates by-catch and kills unwanted species. Lines can often break, float about and unintendedly hurt fish: this is known as “ghost fishing”.