What is Fish Farming?

Phil Shepley

Fish farming, also known as aquaculture, is the process of raising fish in an enclosed area for use in the fishing industry. A farm can be built on land or over naturally occurring bodies of water, such as off of an ocean shore. Within the body of water, a wide variety of fish, shellfish, and aquatic plants can be raised. Every year, such farms throughout the world produce over 65 million tons (59 million MT) of many varieties of sea life for harvesting.

Fish farms may be built in natural lakes.
Fish farms may be built in natural lakes.

It's not always necessary to build a fish farm, and a body of water such as a small pond or lake can be used instead. Many are highly technological, however, and man-made facilities are designed to control every aspect possible for raising aquatic life. The purpose of these kinds of farming structures is to decrease the possibility of many outside factors, such as contaminants and predators, while creating an environment within which the fish will thrive. Farms can also be important for maintaining endangered wild fish populations, such as salmon and trout, by growing them and then returning them to the wild.

Farmed fish do not have as much of a nutritional benefit as those that are caught in the wild.
Farmed fish do not have as much of a nutritional benefit as those that are caught in the wild.

Fish farming also gives the farmers the unique ability to create a habitat for raising one specific type of fish. This not only allows them to be able to focus on the species that is intended to be raised, but also removes the difficult process of separating out unwanted types of fish and sea life when harvesting a catch. Different types of sea creatures also need specific varieties of food to survive, and a fish farmer can cater to the needs of a specific species.

Many salmon are raised on farms.
Many salmon are raised on farms.

Since fish can go bad quickly because of bacteria, harvested ones must be processed quickly and in ways that have been designed over the years to keep them fresh for longer periods of time. Fish farming aids in this process because it is much simpler to transport the fish that are also more easily harvested. Many countries throughout the world use these techniques to bolster their economies. China uses aquaculture more than any other, but other countries with many farms include the United States, Japan, Chile, India, and Thailand.

Allergies to shellfish, like oysters, are common.
Allergies to shellfish, like oysters, are common.
Many salmon fillets bought from the grocery store are farm-raised.
Many salmon fillets bought from the grocery store are farm-raised.

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Discussion Comments


@genevamech: it's all about natural selection. in the wild, the strongest, best fish live, and these are usually the highest quality fish you can eat. in the farm they are pampered. the selection process is gone and they are no longer the best of the best.


@ FrameMaker- While shellfish and tilapia fish farming practices are reasonably sustainable many fish farming practices pose other risks. Pollution, escapes, and disease are problems posed by open pen farming techniques.

Fish farmed in closed systems like fish tanks are more environmentally friendly. Closed systems allow fish farmers to manage the feed, antibiotic, and fecal waste of farmed fish. This prevents the spread of disease into the local ecosystem that would be present in open pen systems. Closed pen systems also prevent carnivorous fish from escaping and ravishing wild fish populations.


@ GenevaMech- One of the biggest problems with aquaculture fish farming has to do with the feed for the fish. Many of our favorite fish like salmon, tuna, and eel are carnivorous. The problem with carnivorous fish is their feed is made of wild caught fish. These carnivorous fish require about three pounds of feed for every pound of growth.

Overfishing is leading to the depletion of these wild feeder fish. Because these feeder fish are lower on the food chain, their depletion leads to food shortages for the wild carnivorous fish populations.

The best types of farmed fish to buy are fish like tilapia, catfish, and shellfish because they are not carnivorous. The industry is developing sustainable feeds for carnivorous fish, so if you buy these species look for sustainably grown varieties.


This article made fish farming techniques sound great, but I have heard from friends that buying some farmed fish is actually worse than buying wild fish. Why is this so? How do I know if the fish farm I get my fish from is using sustainable practices or if it comes from a farm doing more damage than good?

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