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Snapper

Cobia in cages

Cobia in cages

Cobia in cages

Cobia in cages

Cobia in cages

Cobia in cages

Cobia in cages

Cobia in cages

Snapper

 

Aquaculture know-how has been evolving for around 5000 years.

IN THE BEGINNING.... The earliest accounts of aquaculture can be traced back to ancient China. The concept most likely arose when it was noticed that fish, and other aquatic organisms, were often washed into ponds by the monsoon floods. These captive animals would have provided families with a convenient supply of food, especially at times of year when other sources were scarce. The idea of "stocking" the pond would have been a natural progression. Similar observations were probably also made by rice growers. After floods had abated carp would often remain behind in the water-laden paddy fields. The realization that two crops, not just one could be obtained from their plots, would have inspired farmers to learn more about how to culture fish in captivity. During tomb excavations in China, models of paddy fields have been discovered which contain carp, frogs, soft-shelled turtles, eels, and other aquatic animals. Rice-fish culture is still practiced in China today.

EXTENSIVE & INTENSIVE When our ancestors decided to stock fish in ponds, rather than let nature take her course, they initiated a learning curve that we are still journeying today. They noted that stocking a pond with a high density of fish caused mortality and disease so they kept numbers low to avoid these problems. This type of set-up is termed an "extensive production system", so called because, relative to the amount of fish in the pond, the growing area is large. Such a system is very low maintenance but the yield of fish is also low. There are still many examples of extensive aquaculture around the world today.

Through time, the desire for higher fish yields encouraged experimentation. To avoid problems when stocking densities are high, it becomes necessary to closely monitor and adjust water quality parameters; supplemental aeration and food must be provided and waste products must be removed from the system. This type of system, called an "intensive production system", is much more labor intensive but yields are correspondingly higher. Good examples of this type of aquaculture are the many catfish farms that have developed in the United States since the 1950's.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF AQUACULTURE A pond habitat is just one of many environments in which aquatic organisms live. Freshwater, brackish and marine environments all differ greatly in the life that they support. The earliest aquaculturists started their discoveries with freshwater species that were allowed to spawn naturally in a confined environment. In the proceeding centuries, rudimentary coastal and brackish water aquaculture emerged, initially consisting of simply constructed coastal pools designed to trap organisms washed in on the tide, which were then grown out and harvested. These early fish farming techniques were conducted on a very small scale and were likely only used to supply a family or small group of people.

The possibilities offered by primitive aquaculture methods were very limited and it is not until more recent times that we have been able to culture a greater diversity of species. Early practices focused on animals such as carp and tilapia, which are very hardy and easily spawn naturally in captivity. Marine species tend to be much more complex to rear than their fresh and brackish water counterparts. Advances in modern aquaculture are such that we can now culture a wider range of aquatic organisms in captivity. Farmed salmon and catfish have been a familiar supermarket product for many years now and farmed shrimp and clams are becoming increasingly common. The next step in the evolution of aquaculture is the commercial rearing of marine finfish.

Cobia in cagesWHY IS AQUACULTURE IMPORTANT Fish is an excellent source of dietary protein and has been a cherished food since time immemorial. Throughout the ages the world's rivers, lakes, and oceans have provided a bountiful supply of fish to anyone who cared to cast a net, spear, or hook into the water. In recent decades, however, all that has started to change. The planet's human population has doubled within the last 40 years to 6 billion. About 216,000 humans are born each day... and counting. All these mouths to feed, compounded with the hi-technology used by commercial fishing fleets, and increasing industrial and domestic pollution, is proving to be just too much for our oceans, rivers, and lakes to sustain. In many ways, it is remarkable that they have provided us so well for so long. After all, fisheries are the only wild harvest of consequence that still exists today.

Some parts of the world have very destructive fishing practices, especially those places where poverty over-shadows the importance of environmental protection. Entire coral reefs are being destroyed by dynamite and cyanide fishing. Destructive fishing techniques, such as these, are often carried out by impoverished fishermen, desperate to feed their families, and incapable of using conventional fishing methods because long-liners and trawlers have fished everything to near extinction. Cyanide fishing is also destructive to its perpetrators. Once an area is decimated in this way, natural re-stocking becomes impossible. Although cyanide and dynamite fishing do not occur in the, so called, developed countries of the world, we are still using many unsustainable fishing practices. Shrimp trawlers are particularly devastating: for every one pound of shrimp there is approximately nine pounds of bycatch. Most of the bycatch is composed of juveniles or non-edible fish that die needlessly and which overload the ocean with nutrients if they are discarded dead, or dying, back into the sea. Fishing techniques have become increasingly sophisticated in recent years with instruments that enable fishermen to home in on schools of target fish. Despite these advances, global fisheries production has not increased but has leveled off due to diminishing wild stocks.

Cobia in cagesTHE CHALLENGE AHEAD Aquaculture clearly has a great challenge to meet. Until very recently, only brackish and freshwater fish and shellfish had been cultured by humans. Historically, of course, these were the species most accessible to early hunter-gatherers, therefore the species easiest to corral and grow in captivity. Nowadays, we humans hunt and gather food from every corner of the world's oceans; our excellence at hunting has allowed the last wild resource to be harvested so efficiently that many species are now extinct, endangered or threatened. Responsible aquaculture represents the only hope of halting the decline of wild stocks. The preservation of our oceans is not only dependent on aquaculture but also on responsible usage and management of our land resources, which has a human population in excess of six billion to sustain. Marine hatcheries are the most recent development in aquaculture. Compared to fresh and brackish water species, very little research has been done with the aquaculture of marine fish. Marine fish have a significantly different reproductive strategy from both estuarine and river fish in that their wide open environment necessitates the release of many millions of eggs to ensure survival of a few (as opposed to perhaps a only a few hundred, but more robust eggs, released by a river fish). Because there are so many eggs, they are extremely tiny and therefore much more fragile and vulnerable - a fish that makes it to adulthood in the wild in the ocean is truly a lottery winner. Even though a marine hatchery can significantly better the odds of a fertilized fish egg in the wild, they still only manage to achieve a few percent survival at best. Recent breakthroughs have occurred with a couple of species such as cobia, flounder, sole, cod, sea-bream, sea bass, barramundi and moi. Hopefully we can achieve excellence in marine aquaculture before the broodstock of potential new aquaculture species vanish from the wild.

The text and photos for this page were taken from the website of Aquaculture Center of the Florida Keys, Inc.

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