Aquaculture is the growing of aquatic plants or animals for all or part of their life cycles, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. The practice is mainly known for its application to fisheries, but that is not the only thing aquaculture can be used for. It also applies to oysters, shrimp and other animals not traditionally thought of as aquaculture.
Aquaculture has a number of benefits. Primarily, it allows natural populations of fish to reproduce while farmed-raised versions are being used for food. This helps the sustainability of some heavily-demanded fish. It also means the fish is easier to find.
Pearls are another product produced via the use of aquaculture. These are known as cultured pearls, and are produced both in freshwater and saltwater. Oysters are implanted with a core that it will eventually use to form the pearl, which takes chance out of the equation. While natural pearls, in many cases, are far more valuable, cultured pearls are easier to produce and more plentiful, which is why their value is lower.
In the United States, catfish and trout are two of the most commonly-raised fish produced via aquaculture. These species do well in a controlled environment and produce a profit relatively quickly. While they normally do not get as large as their natural counterparts, simply because they do not live as long, they often grow faster, being fed supplements in addition to natural food.
In some circles, aquaculture has come under some criticism for the way it raises its products and some of its environmental impacts. For example, farm-raised salmon often do not have the same health benefits of wild salmon, because of dietary issues and lack of ability to swim in large open spaces, as naturally intended. Further, they are given supplements that affect growth, hormones, and even the color of the meat.
Those critical of aquaculture also suggest the practice supports major farming corporations, rather than small farmers and fishermen. The costs of starting and maintaining an aquaculture operation can sometimes be prohibitive for many wanting to get involved. Therefore, in many cases the only ones able to get into the business are those who have substantial capital to outlay. These are usually large companies.
Others say that aquaculture is an important part of environmental stewardship. Technology has now reached a point where species can be harvested at rates which greatly outpace the species' abilities to reproduce. Therefore, the only way to sustain wild populations may be to supplement those populations with farm-raised versions of the species. Indeed, those supporting aquaculture activities believe the practice is the key to good environmental practices.