The environmental impact of marine fish culture: Towards a sustainable future

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The environmental impact of marine fish-farming depends very much on species, culture method, stocking density, feed type, hydrography of the site and husbandry practices. In general, some 85% of phosphorus, 80-88% of carbon and 52-95% of nitrogen input into a marine fish culture system as feed may be lost into the environment through feed wastage, fish excretion, faeces production and respiration. Cleaning of fouled cages may also add an organic loading to the water, albeit periodically. Problems caused by high organic and nutrient loadings conflict with other uses of the coastal zone. The use of chemicals (therapeutants, vitamins and antifoulants) and the introduction of pathogens and new genetic strains have also raised environmental concerns. 

Despite the high pollution loadings, results from various studies show that some 23% of C, 21% of N and 53% of P of feed input into the culture system is being accumulated in the bottom sediments and the significant impact is normally confined to within 1 km of the farm. The major impact is on the sea bottom, where high sediment oxygen demand, anoxic sediments, production of toxic gases and a decrease in benthic diversity may result. Decreases in dissolved oxygen and increases in nutrient levels in the water are also evident but are normally confined to the vicinity of the farm. Tributyltin (TBT) contamination and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been reported near fish farms. The stimulating effects of vitamins/fish wastes on growth of red tide species have been demonstrated in a number of laboratory studies. Nevertheless, there is no evidence to support the suggestion that the present use of therapeutants, vitamins and antibiotics and the introduction of pathogens and new genetic strains would pose a significant threat to the environment. 

Marine fish culture can be a sustainable development, provided pollution loadings generated by fish farms are kept well below the carrying capacity of the water body. Effects can be significantly reduced by careful site selection, control of stock density, improved feed formulation and integrated culture (with macroalgae, filter-feeders and deposit-feeders). An example of the application of computer modelling in mariculture management is demonstrated. Environmental impact assessment and monitoring should also be carried out to ensure culture activities are environmentally sustainable. Copyright © 1995 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-166
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
Issue number4-12
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1995


Wu, R. S. S. (1995). The environmental impact of marine fish culture: Towards a sustainable future. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 31(4-12), 159-166. doi: 10.1016/0025-326X(95)00100-2


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