Comparative assessment of the
environmental costs of aquaculture
and other food production sectors

Methods for meaningful comparisons

FAO/WFT Expert Workshop
2428 April 2006
Vancouver, Canada

Edited by

Devin M. Bartley
Aquaculture Management and Conservation Service
FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department
Rome, Italy

Ccile Brugre
Development and Planning Service
FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department
Rome, Italy

Doris Soto
Aquaculture Management and Conservation Service
FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department
Rome, Italy

Pierre Gerber
Livestock Information, Sector Analysis and Policy Branch
FAO Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department
Rome, Italy


Brian J. Harvey
World Fisheries Trust
Vancouver, Canada

Rome, 2007

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Table of Contents

The designations employed and the presentation of material in this information product do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) concerning the legal or development status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers, whether or not these have been patented, does not imply that these have been endorsed or recommended by FAO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.

The views expressed in this information product are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of FAO.

ISBN 978-92-5-105863-3
ISSN 1813-3940

All rights reserved. Reproduction and dissemination of material in this information product for educational or other non-commercial purposes are authorized without any prior written permission from the copyright holders provided the source is fully acknowledged. Reproduction of material in this information product for resale or other commercial purposes is prohibited without written permission of the copyright holders. Applications for such permission should be addressed to the Chief, Electronic Publishing Policy and Support Branch, Communication Division, FAO, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00153 Rome, Italy or by e-mail to [email protected]

Bartley, D.M.; Brugre, C.; Soto, D.; Gerber, P.; Harvey, B.(eds).
Comparative assessment of the environmental costs of aquaculture and other food production sectors: methods for meaningful comparisons. FAO/WFT Expert Workshop. 24-28 April 2006, Vancouver, Canada.
FAO Fisheries Proceedings. No. 10. Rome, FAO. 2007. 241p.


The global food production sector is growing. In many areas farming systems are intensifying. This rapid growth has in some cases caused environmental damage. In acknowledgement of the potential for adverse environmental impacts from food production, the first session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries Sub-Committee on Aquaculture recommended undertaking comparative analyses on the environmental cost of aquatic food production in relation to other terrestrial food production sectors. These proceedings include review papers describing methods for such comparisons as well as the deliberations of their authors, a group of international experts on environmental economics, energy accounting, material and environmental flows analysis, aquaculture, agriculture and international development discussed during the FAO/WFT Expert Workshop on Comparative Assessment of the Environmental Costs of Aquaculture and Other Food Production Sectors, held in Vancouver, Canada, from 24 to 28 April 2006.

Problems in making valid comparisons arise from the differences between the aquatic and terrestrial environments and the tremendous diversity of farming systems used in both. The values of environmental goods and services that may be impacted by farming need to be determined and included in comparisons. The way farms are managed will have a strong influence on environmental impacts and costs; a well-managed farm will have much less environmental impact and cost than a badly managed one producing the same commodity. Comparisons can be useful for addressing local development and zoning concerns, global issues of sustainability and trade and consumer preferences for inexpensive food produced in an environmentally sustainable manner. In order to be useful, however, methods to assess environmental costs should be scientifically based, comparable across different sectors, expandable to different scales, inclusive of externalities, practical to implement and easily understood by managers and policy-makers.

Environmental impacts can lead to environmental costs that can be incorporated into the analysis of the financial benefits or losses of the activity to which they are related. Environmental economists classify such costs as follows:
private costs (cost of the damage to the activity itself, e.g. damage to production factors);
external costs (primarily to the environment) including the cost of abatement and residual damages after control measures are in place;
user costs (where future uses are compromised); and
rehabilitation costs.

Methods for comparing the environmental cost of aquatic and terrestrial food production systems include cost-benefit analysis, material and energy flows analysis, human appropriation of net primary productivity, life cycle analysis, ecological footprint analysis, risk analysis and environmental impact assessment. Comparative analysis requires normalization of the unit of assessment and the scope of the consequences of the activity for the environment. Because there will be trade-offs between economic gains and environmental costs, multicriteria decision analysis methods that prioritize benefits and costs (e.g. life cycle analysis) are useful. However, the interpretation and communicability of these methods to policy-makers is more difficult than for methods that produce aggregated single measures or indices (e.g. ecological footprint). No method is robust enough to capture the full suite of environmental impacts and costs associated with food production. Many of the methods can, and should, be used together where information from one links or feeds into another.

A balanced picture of the environmental costs of all food-producing sectors will lead to environmental policies that deal with the impacts of all sectors. Developing this balanced view will require a multidisciplinary team of ecologists, economists and social scientists working with the appropriate food production sectors. Their conclusions will need to be communicated to:
policy-makers to establish environmental regulations, environmental impact mitigation measures and zoning of aquaculture/agriculture;
farmers to plan production, understand and comply with environmental regulations and implement good management practices; and
consumers to make informed choices on food production and drive appropriate policy and farming practices.

Participants discussed a variety of actions that FAO and others could undertake to help analyse environmental costs and stressed the importance for including such analyses in responsible aquaculture development.

©FAO 2007


Preparation of this document  (Download pdf 874 kb)

Genesis of the workshop  (Download pdf 332 kb)

Food production: intensification and environmental impacts

Workshop findings
The need for a level playing field
Is there overregulation of aquaculture?
Effects of economic and technological growth and public perception
The need for communication
Comparison of the existing methods for assessing environmental costs
    of food production
Identifying the most important impacts
Kind and magnitude of environmental cost
Choosing units for comparison
Trade offs and fair comparisons
Information and communication needs
A potential role for FAO References

Annex 1 -  Agenda

Annex 2 -  List of participants

Annex 3 -  Proposed framework for case studies that examine
                 the environmental cost of food production


Comparative environmental costs of aquaculture and other (Download pdf 319 kb)
food production sectors: environmental and economic factors
conditioning the global development of responsible aquaculture

D.M. Bartley and A. Toledo

Environmental impacts of a changing livestock production: (Download pdf 358 kb)
overview and discussion for a comparative assessment with
other food production sectors

Pierre Gerber, Tom Wassenaar, Mauricio Rosales, Vincent Castel and Henning Steinfeld

Environmental economics approaches for the comparative (Download pdf 223 kb)
evaluation of aquaculture and other food-producing sectors
Duncan Knowler

Valuation of ecosystem services supporting aquatic and other (Download pdf 353 kb)
land-based food systems
Edward B. Barbier

Use of life cycle assessment (LCA) to compare the environmental (Download pdf 308 kb)
impacts of aquaculture and agri-food product
Rattanawan Mungkung and Shabbir H. Gheewala

The potential use of the Materials and Energy Flow Analysis (MEFA) (Download pdf 660 kb)
framework to evaluate the environmental costs of agricultural
production systems and possible applications to aquaculture

Helmut Haberl and Helga Weisz

Considerations for comparative evaluation of environmental costs (Download pdf 288 kb)
of livestock and salmon farming in southern Chile
Doris Soto, Francisco J. Salazar and Marta A. Alfaro

Assessing the environmentalcosts of Atlantic salmon cage culture
in the Northeast Pacific in perspective with the costs associated
with other forms of food production

Kenneth M. Brooks
 (Download pdf 514 kb –pdf 575 kb –pdf 584 kb –pdf 552 kb –pdf 315 kb)

Comparative analysis of material flows in low input carp and poultry (Download pdf 348 kb)
farming: an overview of concepts and methodology
Mark Prein

Exploratory analysis of the comparative environmental costs of (Download pdf 433 kb)
shrimp farming and rice farming in coastal areas
John W. Gowing and Patricia Ocampo-Thomason

Comparative analysis of the environmental costs of fish farming (Download pdf 264 kb)
crop production in arid areas
Randall E. Brummett

Biophysical accounting in aquaculture: insights from current (Download pdf 573 kb)
practice and the need for methodological development
Peter Tyedmers and Nathan Pelletier

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