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Habitat Damage


Offshore aquaculture operation (Photo © NMFS/NOAA)" title="Offshore aquaculture operation

Fishing's Future Depends on Habitat

Many types of farmed seafood, particularly those grown in coastal net pens and ponds, come at the expense of sensitive and important coastal habitat. Where and how fish are farmed can make all the difference.

Farming at the Ocean's Edge

In many tropical nations, coastal mangrove forests provide habitat for a diverse array of marine organisms, protect the coast against storms and improve water quality by acting as a filter. Coastal communities often depend heavily on the services that mangroves provide but many mangrove forests have been cut down and replaced with ponds for shrimp farming. After a few years of intensive farming, the accumulation of waste products and chemical pollution could force the farmers to abandon their ponds, clear a new section of mangrove forest and rebuild—an unsustainable cycle that impacts local people and local ecosystems.

Young Fish Need Shelter

Coastal habitats are important for wild plants and animals—including fish—because they provide food and protection. Many kinds of fish rely on wetlands as nursery areas for their young and without these protected waters these fish may never mature and venture to sea. By locating fish and shrimp farms inland and restoring once-destroyed wetlands and mangroves, coastal habitats are recovering and, along with them, the plant and animal populations that call them home.

A Closed Case

Farms that are open to the environment or that divert wastes and chemicals into adjacent waterbodies can pollute the habitats they are sited in. This includes floating net pens or ponds that exchange water with the ocean.

Some fish farmers are working to develop closed systems to manage wastes. For instance, some shrimp farmers are beginning to "close" their systems, filtering the water in their ponds and composting wastes to keep them out of neighboring waters.

Story of Hope

Farmed Seafood with Minimal Environmental Impacts

Several kinds of shellfish aquaculture are recognized as environmentally responsible, including the farming of bivalves like clams, oysters, mussels and scallops. Most environmental concern about aquaculture focuses on the farming of marine finfish and shrimp, which are often intensively cultivated carnivores.

In contrast, farming shellfish has few negative impacts overall. Most shellfish feed on naturally occurring particulates; because supplemental feeds are not used, shellfish farming does not increase nutrient inputs to coastal waters. In fact, increased abundance of shellfish in an area is often considered to have a positive effect on water quality.

What You Can Do

Search for Sustainable Seafood

Tuna travel the ocean. Some tuna populations are healthy and abundant while others are being fished faster than they can reproduce. Whenever possible, choose tuna caught by troll, pole or FAD-free purse seine. Tuna fished with these methods are generally a "Best Choice" or "Good Alternative" because they have very little bycatch.

Carry a Consumer Guide 

Our printable guides are broken down by region so you can find ocean-friendly seafood wherever you live or travel.

Learn about wild seafood Related ocean issue resources