Organic aquaculture

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Organic aquaculture protects consumer health by reducing the overall exposure to toxic chemicals from pesticides that can accumulate in the ground, air, water and food supply. Organic aquaculture doesn’t use toxic pesticides also helps prevent topsoil erosion, improves soil fertility, protects ground water, and conserves energy.


Why should I be aware of this?

  • Organic aquaculture is environmentally sustainable,
  • Organic seafood reduces health risks,
  • Organic farms respect our water and soil resources
  • Organic Certification offers small rural farmers the ability to command fair prices for their products,
  • Organic aquaculture offers continual access to markets where trade barriers often restrict sales
  • Organic seafood tastes great

As organic standards and industry practices do not allow the use of Genetic Engineering in the production and processing of organic products, organic aquaculture gives consumers who wish to avoid genetically modified seafood a choice in the marketplace.

All about organic aquaculture

There are still sharp differences about how aquatic animal and plant production systems can qualify as “organic”, as the definition must be a multi-faceted one. Organic Food production connotes standards and certification – a verifiable claim for the production process and production practices. There are also definite associations and consumer expectation for food quality and safety and general environmental, social, and economic benefits for farmers and for society.

Aquacultural systems produce a vast variety of species, some of which may prove quite difficult to adapt to a traditional “organic” system.

According to a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, the market potential for organic aquaculture seems to be promising in Europe as well as in the USA. Production takes place primarily in Europe, where certified organic salmon, carp, and trout are grown and sold. Certified organic mussels, Tiger shrimp, white shrimp, and tilapia also are cultured in such diverse places as Vietnam, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, New Zealand, and Israel.

However, creating a set of universally accepted organic standards has proven difficult in aquaculture. In many ways, this ambiguity alone has prevented the movement from flourishing.

Aquaculture and organic labelling

Organically grown fish are understood to be those that matured without the use of pesticides, dyes and antibiotics usually employed in conventional aquaculture. But for a fish to be certified organic, it takes more than meeting this definition. Organic fish farming in its complete essence requires adherence to specific standards in terms of location of production, health of the fish, breeds and breeding, nutrition and harvesting.

The organic debate

In 2000 the US Agriculture Department named a task force to evaluate requests from fish farmers for organic eligibility.

The farmers were of the view that with demand for seafood growing and many wild fisheries being depleted, farm-raised seafood should be given preference in organic certification. The task force ruled out the possibility that wild fish could be labeled organic on the grounds that catching wild animals isn’t agriculture. Instead they recommended that farm-raised fish could be labeled organic as long as their diets were almost entirely organic plant feed.

The Agriculture Department shelved those recommendations and convened a second task force in 2005. This group came out with less stringent rules including three options for what organic fish could eat:

  • an entirely organic diet;
  • non-organic fish during a seven-year transition period while fish farms shift to organic fish meal; or
  • non-organic fish meal from “sustainable” fisheries. Sustainable fisheries are those that ensure that their fish stocks do not become depleted.

Other recommended criteria

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an elected body that guides USDA's policy decisions regarding the National Organic Program (NOP), on the topic of certified organic aquaculture, recommended the following criteria for calling fish organic:

  • Fish to be fed non-organic feed. Currently, certified organic livestock have to be fed 100% organic feed.
  • Farmed fish to be fed fishmeal made from wild fish, which can carry mercury and other toxins.
  • Fish to be raised in open net pens. These cages lead to pollution from concentrated waste and can spread disease and parasites to wild fish populations.

Market trends

According to a new report the emerging organic foods market is expected to reach global high of US 70.2 Billion by the end of 2010 and now it seems the aquaculture industry is set to make a splash there too.

As organic standards for fish farming have only recently been developed in a few countries and are still being developed at EU-level, there are no exact figures about the market share of organically farmed fish.

The trends seen in the growth of other organic livestock sectors, and in the sales of “natural,” hormone-free, and antibiotic-free fish and shellfish shows that there is good demand for organic aquaculture products. This increasing demand has started to drive producer and retail interest in aquacultural products that have a “certified organic” label.

90 degrees

The organic label remains elusive in today's world of aquaculture, but never has there been a time when its application has been so necessary. Just as the organic movement in livestock was borne from a public response to the damaging and unethical aspects of intensification, now the same concerns have come to bare upon the aquaculture industry.

The rapid aquaculture boom lies at the root of these unsustainable practises. Rather than being hailed as the saviour of wild fish populations, a large amount of research has focused on the negative impacts of fish farms. In order for the consumer to embrace aquaculture, aquaculture must first embrace scientific solutions. [1]


  • Environmental and Social Aspects of Organic Aquaculture
  • Organic Production in Aquaculture
  • Free or Farmed, When Is a Fish Really Organic?


  1. TheFishSite