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2.4 Environment and Sustainability

Barg, U. and M.J. Phillips 1

Environmental interactions

Aquaculture, like many other farming activities, is dependent upon the use of natural resources such as water, land, seed and feed. It is essentially the use of these resources by aquaculturists as well as their access to appropriate quantity and quality of these resources that determines the nature and scale of environmental interactions. The major environmental interactions of aquaculture have already been reviewed in the literature (e.g. Chua et al., 1989; GESAMP, 1991; Barg, 1992; Pullin, 1993; FAO/NACA, 1995; Phillips, 1995a, 1995b; Rosenthal, 1997), and can be summarized in general terms as shown in Box 2.4.1.

Box 2.4.1. General overview of potential environmental interactions of aquaculture (adapted from Phillips and Macintosh, 1997, and Barg et al., 1997a)2

Diversity in aquaculture

Aquaculture has often been viewed as a single activity, but nowadays it is clear that it represents the aquatic counterpart of all terrestrial agriculture under the one name. In fact, many aspects of environmental sustainability are common to both aquaculture and agriculture, and there is much scope for benefiting from experiences made and lessons learned in other food-producing sectors (FAO 1993; FAO/AGLW, 1995; Ongley, 1996; De Haan et al., 1997; De Wit et al., 1997; FAO/UNDP/UNEP/World Bank, 1997; Mearns, 1997; Steinfeld et al., 1997a, 1997b; Upton, 1997). Such a broadened view is increasingly facilitating a more detailed consideration of technological, economic, social, and environmental issues as well as of institutional and legal factors governing aquaculture development. As with agriculture, in aquaculture there is significant diversity in species and farming systems, and in the farmers themselves (Barg et al., 1997a).

Figure 2.4.1
Figure 2.4.1.Aquaculture production
pyramid by major species class and feeding habit in 1995 (pyramid excludes 66,676 mt
of miscellaneous aquatic animals; from A. Tacon, pers.com.) Aquatic organisms under culture include a wide variety of taxa and species, and their specific biological characteristics require diverse farming systems within different environments. For example, there are major differences in culture practice and related requirements to provide nutrients, depending on feeding behaviour of the species cultured. Figure 2.4.1 shows the relative contributions of major species groups to global aquaculture production, according to their natural feeding habits.

Farming systems are very different as to the level of control and input of resources by the aquaculturist. Significant diversity in the various farming systems can be found with regard to the intensity of use of resources, such as land, water, seed, feed and fertilizer inputs. Most global production is based predominantly on semi-intensive and extensive systems, and on culture-based fisheries, producing affordable finfish for domestic rural markets and subsistence (Tacon et al., 1995). Intensive systems often produce moderate- to high-value species for export or domestic urban markets. However, shrimp, usually grown as a cash crop, can be reared in either extensive, semi-intensive or intensive systems. It is important that the diversity of farming practices and resource uses in aquaculture is recognized and addressed, to help identify feasible and effective management solutions to environmental interactions in aquaculture.

Significant differences exist not only between farming approaches and resource-use patterns, but also between the farmers themselves, and the needs for food security and rural development (Barg et al., 1997a). Nowadays, it is increasingly recognized that environmental interactions of aquaculture should be viewed and resolved within a wider environmental and political context, with due account of the social and economic circumstances in which aquaculture is taking place. Generally, the farming approach employed by aquaculturists in developing countries (in particular in LIFDCs) has been targeted more toward management for survival (Zweig, 1985) whereas the farming approach used in developed countries has been targeted more toward management for profit (Tacon, 1996). Traditional aquaculture in many developing countries of the South (Pillay, 1996; see also Pillay, 1997), evolved as small-scale peasant enterprises to suit rural economies. Major characteristics of such aquaculture include (i) family ownership, (ii) polyculture, (iii) integration with crop and animal farming activities, (iv) waste recycling and beneficial use of farm wastes, (v) diversification of food production and spreading of farmers’ risks among different commodities, (vi) provision of off-season work for farmers and wage-earners, and (vii) a general means of improving nutrition and incomes. Table 2.4.1 gives a general overview of some major differences, presented as two extremes of a continuous spectrum, in present aquaculture farming practices.

Global awareness

During the last decade, issues such as sustainable development, environmental interactions and long-term sustainability of aquaculture received increasing attention at local, national and international levels (e.g. Chamberlain and Rosenthal, 1995; Reinertsen and Haaland, 1995; Bardach, 1997). Special attention is also given to these issues as relevant to developing countries (Pullin, 1993; FAO/NACA, 1995; Bagarinao and Flores, 1995; ADB/NACA, 1996; NACA, 1996; Nambiar and Singh, 1997). The need to address environmental interactions and sustainability issues for the benefit of sustainable aquaculture development has been reiterated at several global intergovernmental conferences, including the World Food Summit (WFS, 1996), the International Conference on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security (FAO/Japan, 1995), and the FAO Ministerial Conference on Fisheries in 1995 (FAO Ministerial Conference, 1995). Awareness of the major beneficial and adverse environmental interactions of aquaculture is also reflected in UNCED Agenda 21, Chapters 14, 17 and 18. Following the 1992 Cancún Conference on Responsible Fishing, FAO was requested by its member countries to draft an international Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The Code was adopted by FAO Member States during the 28th FAO Conference in 1995 (FAO, 1995). The Code’s Article 9 on Aquaculture Development contains provisions relating to aquaculture, including culture-based fisheries, and their responsible development in areas of national jurisdiction and within transboundary aquatic ecosystems, to conservation of genetic diversity and ecosystems, and to responsible practices at the production level. Presently, many government authorities and institutions, regional organizations, non-governmental organizations, and private sector associations refer to the principles in the Code when addressing issues of environmental sustainability in aquaculture and fisheries.

Creating an "enabling environment" for sustainable aquaculture development

There appears to be a tendency in the more recent debate on environmental sustainability of aquaculture to neglect the actual and potential adverse environmental effects on resources used in aquaculture, in particular, water, seed and farmed or enhanced stock. Adverse effects of increasing aquatic pollution and habitat degradation on culture-based fisheries, as well as on aquaculture practices and production and the related consequences of such effects on supply of fish as an affordable food commodity, appear to be equally relevant in the ongoing discussion. The current debate is primarily focusing on environmental sustainability of salmonid and shrimp culture, which apparently is leading to attempts to control such types of coastal aquaculture. Much less attention is being given to the need to support and develop sustainable inland culture systems producing food affordable to poor consumers (Bailey and Skladany, 1991; Bailey, 1997).

Given the diversity in aquaculture and the sometimes different perceptions of "sustainability", more balanced and informed approaches are required to address developmental and environmental issues at any given location (FAO Fisheries Department, 1997). While it is well recognized that certain environmental issues in aquaculture need to be addressed and/or resolved, it is equally important to identify those solutions that are viable in the wider context of poverty alleviation and the need to ensure sustained supply of food, particularly in areas where resource-poor segments of rural and urban populations are facing food security problems.

Most aquaculturists, like many of their counterparts in agriculture, continue to attempt to solve problems on their farms while struggling with such constraints as inadequate access to resources, natural and financial, insufficient institutional and legal support, or unavailability of appropriate information (Barg et al., 1997a). A key challenge here is to enable aquaculturists to overcome such problems, with a view to improving farm management and, where necessary, adopting more environmentally sound farming practices. In addition, more opportunities should be given to aquaculture farmers to voice their interests and concerns within existing institutional frameworks, in order to increase their involvement in decision making regarding environmental issues and multiple uses of resources. This may be achieved, for example, through consultations with farmers and their regular participation in public fora (government authorities, research institutions, etc.), possibly supported by the establishment of specific farmers’ associations. Further, there are rural development options that offer promise of reducing rural poverty and raising agricultural productivity, while minimizing damage to the environment, such as: (i) improving household health and nutrition by working with women; (ii) tapping unused local knowledge; (iii) giving smallholders access to services, knowledge, and technology; (iv) better managing of common-property resources; and (v) giving rural people a voice in the formulation and implementation of development programmes (World Bank, 1996; see also World Bank, 1997). Such strategic options in many cases may well also apply to aquaculture, and will certainly prove instrumental in ensuring that many aquaculture practices develop in an environmentally sustainable way.

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, in its Article on Aquaculture Development, also recognizes the opportunities of enhancing participation of aquaculturists and rural communities in the promotion of responsible aquaculture management practices (FAO Fisheries Department, 1997). However, when negotiating or assigning responsibilities for sustainable aquaculture development in local areas, obligations do not rest only with aquaculturists and their communities. Responsibilities beyond the farm level need to be shared by many players. It is increasingly being recognized that, providing an "enabling environment" for sustainable development in aquaculture, is the responsibility of governments and their institutions, the media, financial institutions, associations and non-governmental organizations, as well as of social and natural scientists, manufacturers and suppliers of inputs, processors and traders of aquaculture products. Collaboration for sustainable aquaculture development will need to recognize the diversity of aquaculture practices as well as the diversity of the political, social, economic and environmental conditions in which they are or will be taking place (FAO Fisheries Department, 1997).

There is also considerable scope in encouraging collaboration among aquaculture producers, with a view to promoting environmentally sustainable production practices. Major benefits to farmers can be derived, for example, from association in producer organizations, and from the development and adoption of self-regulatory codes of practice in aquaculture (Box 2.4.2).

Box 2.4.2. Potential benefits of association and self-regulation (adapted from Phillips, 1997; FAO Fisheries Department, 1997; Barg et al., 1997a)

Nowadays, there are numerous initiatives at international and national levels to address issues of environmental sustainability in aquaculture. A number of these initiatives are specifically aiming at providing assistance to developing countries. For example, a regional study on aquaculture sustainability and the environment, supported by the Asian Development Bank and implemented by the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA), provided significant insight on environmental performance of Asian aquaculture farms, and resulted in the formulation of a regional Aquaculture Sustainability Action Plan (ADB/NACA, 1996). Efforts are under way on a global scale through FAO to launch an Inter-regional Programme of Assistance for the Implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, with components designed to help governments in formulation and application of policy and regulatory measures related to aquaculture development. NACA and FAO have been collaborating on the development of a code of responsible practice for sustainable shrimp culture, and an upcoming FAO consultation is expected to generate guidance on the formulation of policies for sustainable shrimp culture. Other efforts aim at the development of technical guidelines on specific aspects, for example, feed manufacturing, use of introduced species, quarantine and health certification for responsible movement of aquatic organisms (FAO Fisheries Department, 1997). International expert meetings have been held, for example, to review the use of chemicals in aquaculture (GESAMP, 1997; SEAFDEC/FAO/CIDA, in press), and to formulate guidance documentation on monitoring of ecological effects from coastal aquaculture wastes (GESAMP, 1996).

Environmentally sustainable increases in food supplies from aquaculture

In 1996, the World Food Summit agreed "to promote the development of environmentally sound and sustainable aquaculture well integrated into rural, agricultural and coastal development" (WFS, 1996). The challenges for aquaculture to continue its impressive growth and contribution to food supplies are in many ways related to its environmental interactions. Growing awareness of environmental interactions of aquaculture is leading planners, decision makers, investors and aquaculturists to view aquaculture developments within a wider context of resource use, both at local as well as larger ecosystem levels. It is generally recognized that aquaculture will face competition for finite resources, particularly freshwater and, in some areas, land. It is less widely recognized that aquaculture--properly integrated into agricultural farming systems and coastal land use--can add value to both water and land resources. However, pressure on resources continues to increase due to population growth, coupled with unequal distribution of food, other goods and services, and increasing degradation of aquatic environments (e.g. Chua et al., 1989; Dudgeon, 1992; Petr and Morris, 1995; Muir, 1995; Barg et al., 1997b). Regulatory measures to reduce environmental degradation by major offenders are sometimes lacking or not enforced. In contrast, aquaculture, a relatively minor offender, is often not recognized as a legitimate resource user, whether by government authorities, other resource users, major polluters, or the public in general. This has produced a climate under which there is little protection of the aquaculturists' needs for adequate quality and quantity of resources (Van Houtte, 1994; FAO/NACA, 1995), and may increase the investment risks in the sector. Long-term consequences of uncoordinated resource use in river basins or coastal areas are sometimes ignored or neglected, particularly with regard to the social and economic value of goods and services provided by aquatic ecosystems, their genetic resources and biodiversity. Neglecting these considerations may affect not only the sustainability of aquaculture and culture-based fisheries, but also the sustainability of many inland and coastal fisheries.

The pressure on aquaculture to use resources more efficiently, to increase competitiveness and to respond to market forces is resulting in some areas in trends toward intensification of aquaculture production. These are associated with more sophisticated farm management, shift to monoculture of high-value species, and the targeting of affluent consumers. There is an increased risk that such trends to intensification will increase environmental impact and economic losses due to disease if inappropriate planning and management of such farming systems and, in particular, the inefficient use of resources and inputs such as equipment and chemicals, are not avoided (Barg et al., 1997a).

However, more intensive production systems can help reduce environmental and resource-use problems. For example, extensive systems require large areas (space) of land or water, potentially contributing to degradation of habitat in some areas. More intensive systems require less area and can be more efficient in terms of resource use and production. A good example is shrimp farming: the majority of shrimp farms are extensive or semi-intensive, and the highly publicized problems of wetland degradation are often associated with extensive systems. Intensive systems obviously may create pollution problems due to high inputs and high waste output, but this greatly depends on very site-specific characteristics, and, in particular, of the assimilative or environmental capacity of the recipient water body. In general, effectiveness of measures and efficiency in management at the production level may well be very important criteria for consideration when promoting sustainable development of aquaculture.

Politically, food production remains an over-riding priority, and intensification as well as diversification in food production are both avenues which cannot be discarded, at least not generally. The question may be raised, however, if it would not be more appropriate to promote food production in inland rural areas, thereby helping to reverse migration to cities and coastal areas, and to reduce pressures on coastal resources and environments. It has also been suggested that semi-intensive systems may be more environmentally friendly and more socially acceptable, due to their significant potential to use less exogenous supplementary feed inputs, while providing many opportunities of efficiently converting locally available nutrient resources (such as naturally available food organisms, and agricultural by-products and wastes) into production of fish affordable to a wide range of consumers in rural communities and urban centres (Tacon et al., 1995; Bailey, 1997). In addition, as suggested by Bailey (1997), such systems often are within the reach of a wider range of resource-poor producers, being significantly less dependent on capital investment, and are therefore more likely to contribute to local economies and to enhance the ability of local communities to maintain social and economic viability.

In the long term, there may be limits in some areas to increases of supplies of affordable food from certain types of aquaculture, resulting from resource constraints or adverse environmental interactions. There appear to be significant opportunities for widening development perspectives toward alternative, more sustainable, increases in food supplies, away from too narrow a focus on promotion of sophisticated capital-intensive aquaculture production systems. There is considerable scope for much greater integration between fisheries, aquaculture and water resource management. Roberts and Muir (1995) suggest that where social and other conditions permit the management and regulation of fisheries, or where existing natural resources are threatened by other activities, aquaculture techniques such as broodstock selection and hatchery production may become more important in supporting or enhancing fisheries (see also Coates, 1995; Muir, 1995; Welcomme, 1997a).

There is increasing recognition that there are many water bodies, man-made and natural, where there is potential for significant production increases and associated benefits via fisheries enhancements (FAO/DFID, 1997). "Biomanipulation", using aquaculture-based knowledge or techniques to enhance productivity of such water bodies may widen opportunities for lower-cost food production. There is a considerable range of management practices intermediate between aquaculture and capture fisheries (including stocking, introduction of new species, fertilization, environmental engineering, etc.; see Welcomme, 1997a), which may benefit subsistence fisheries in less developed rural areas, but also commercial and, increasingly importantly, recreational fisheries. These techniques may well provide additional means for managing aquatic environments and resources, for the purposes of enhanced food production, environmental rehabilitation and re-development, particularly if well integrated into sustainable water resource management schemes, including those designed for irrigation and hydropower generation (see also Goodland, 1996; Barg et al., 1997b; Biswas, 1997). However, the financial and social need for fishery enhancement measures should be established, and impacts on natural systems should be monitored as closely as possible (Welcomme, 1997b; see also FAO/DFID, 1997).

For future increases in aquatic food supplies from inland and coastal environments to be environmentally sustainable, it appears preferable, if not essential, that aquaculture (as well as wild and enhanced fisheries) is developed with due account of the linkages between resource use at the production level and the environmental goods and services available in upstream, downstream and coastal environments (see e.g. Muir, 1996). Approaches of integrated assessment and management of resources available within larger ecosystems such as river or lake basins and coastal zones are increasingly being suggested for application to aquaculture developments, in both developed and developing countries (Barg, 1992; Kapetsky, 1994; Kapetsky and Travaglia, 1995; Rosenthal and Burbridge, 1995; Muir, 1996; Barg et al., 1997b; Chua, 1997; ICES, 1997, Kapetsky and Nath, 1997; Phillips, 1997; Rosenthal, 1997; FAO, in press). An upcoming GESAMP working group meeting is expected to generate more detailed analysis of experiences on the integration of aquaculture into coastal management. Given that there have been cases of serious disagreement and severe social contest over environmental issues and/or access to resources shared by aquaculturists and other resource users, it is increasingly being recognized that such conflicts can and should be addressed, for example, through conflict resolution techniques (e.g. facilitated dialogues, mediation, arbitration, etc.) and enhanced involvement of local stakeholders in resource allocation and management decisions (see e.g. Townsley, 1996).

Defining sustainability of aquaculture development

It appears that there is an urgent need to overcome the extremes of current experiences in aquaculture development, which were characterized above as management for survival and management for profit, and to provide practical and conceptual solutions that combine their positive features for the benefit of sustainable food supplies from aquaculture. Sustainability issues in aquaculture are becoming increasingly important and the extent of the problems can be such that they can no longer be ignored (Beveridge et al., 1997). Greater attention will need to be given in aquaculture to management for sustainability (Phillips, 1997), and a systems approach has been suggested by Muir (1996) to address these problems. However, not only the current debate but also many policy and management decisions on sustainability in aquaculture often are constrained by a lack of agreement on, or clear understanding of, the meaning and practical applications of the sustainability concept. While there are many different definitions of sustainable development, some authors have emphasized that bringing such definitions into a more practical development framework involves consideration of technical, social, environmental, economic and institutional issues, as well as inter- and intra-generational equity (e.g. Muir, 1996). In this context, a recent perspective on the concept of sustainability is given, for example, by Goodland and Daly (1996) who distinguish social sustainability and economic sustainability from environmental sustainability.

Because sustainability is a complex issue involving a number of considerations related to the ecosystem and society, a system of indicators is needed, the scope of which should cover both the resources to be used sustainably and the goods and services obtained from the system, as well as relevant societal parameters (Garcia, 1997; Garcia and Grainger, 1997). Further development of sustainability criteria and indicators which are practical and which reflect trends in aquaculture development as well as changes in aquaculture practice would be a step forward in helping to guide management and policy decisions in aquaculture. Such definitions may provide a basis from which management options might be evolved in aquaculture projects as well as potentially important ‘targets’ in developing aquaculture projects. The development of indicators for sustainable development of fisheries is already in progress (Garcia, 1997; Staples, 1997). The FAO Fisheries Department is currently preparing for a technical consultation on indicators for sustainable development of aquaculture, including criteria for use and allocation of resources for aquaculture, to be held in 1999 in collaboration with interested partners.



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1 Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA)
2 Box 2.4.1. only contains a generalized summary of potential interactions. Magnitude and effects of such interactions are highly site-specific and would require to be ascertained at any given location.