Gulf Marine Institute of Technology

The Industry

Fish farming, or aquaculture, which started in China approximately 4,000 years ago, is becoming as sophisticated as beef and chicken husbandry in the United States.  Techniques that have been developed in university laboratories and in private research in the last decade are now being put to commercial use.  These innovations, along with an expanding market for seafood and increasing governmental support, have fostered significant growth in aquaculture.  Aquaculture has increased the variety of fish available to consumers and has helped to restore supplies of some species like sturgeon, salmon, redfish, striped bass, and grouper that became scarce as their natural habitats disappeared or were overfished.

The demand for seafood as a primary diet for people is increasing worldwide.  Several estimates suggest that harvest from world oceans has approached the limits of wild fish stock productivity.  The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Strategic Plan noted that this deficit cannot be entirely mitigated by the rebuilding of wild stocks.  Even a significant rebound in wild stocks will not be able to meet the growing global demand for seafood with one hundred million new people a year joining Earth’s population.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that production of seafood for human consumption needs to increase by approximately 20 million metric tons over the 1993-level in order to maintain present per-capita fish consumption levels.  This would require a 28% increase in wild-fishery harvests, which is not feasible.   The U.S. demand for seafood is expected to increase by 1.4 million metric tons annually due to population growth alone. 

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences reported in April 1995 that “human actions have caused drastic reductions in many of the preferred species of edible fish and that manmade changes have reduced the composition and abundance of marine animals and plants extensively enough to endanger the functioning of our entire marine ecosystem.”  The FAO reports that on average, 27 million tons of bycatch, unwanted fish, are thrown back each year.  Twenty-seven million tons represents more than one-half of all fish produced annually from marine capture fisheries for direct human consumption.  Most often the bycatch is thrown back dead because the fish were undersize or the wrong species.  This process is greatly reducing the numbers of juvenile fishes in the world’s oceans.  Marine scientists and fisheries resource managers have committed disastrous errors of thinking in marine management which has resulted in reducing numerous fish populations to extremely low levels, destabilizing major marine ecosystems and impoverishing many coastal communities all over the world.

Overfishing has been exacerbated by government subsidies, which encourage the growth of the commercial fishing fleet.  Evidence of overcapitalization includes a 1989 global harvest valued at $72 billion (FAO, 1993, U.N. Conference).  Although the world’s commercial harvest has been stable for the past several years at approximately 89 million metric tons, the economic value of the harvest has declined.  Fishermen are forced to harvest less desirable species because of the decline of more commercially-valuable stocks.  World fishery stocks are at a critical point.  Forty-fournt of harvested fish species are at maximum sustainable yields.  Twenty-two percent are considered to be overfished or depleted.  While the commercial harvest of marine fishes is causing drastic declines in many important food fish stocks, the world’s human population continues to grow by 100 million people each year.

Under current fishing regimes, (where some 60 to 70% of stocks require urgent intervention as they are over-fished or fully fished), the FAO estimated that in 1996, the world’s potential harvest through capture fisheries was between 85MMT to 90MMT annually.  A recent study stated that the U.S. already imports more than $15 billion worth of seafood annually and runs up an annual fisheries trade deficit of $7 billion.  The NOAA believes that aquaculture and mariculture may play an integral role in the future of the U.S. fisheries.  Ocean aquaculture (mariculture) is in its infancy in the U.S. with only a few private companies and research programs in operation according to NOAA’s Penny Dalton, NOAA Fisheries Director.

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