Organic Fish Farming in Thailand?

April 7, 2015 -- Progress Thailand Many are familiar with the benefits of organic food. We associate it mostly with fruits and vegetables and to a lesser degree poultry and livestock. But perhaps the least amount of attention falls on fish farming otherwise known as aquaculture.

Fish farming offers many benefits versus fishing, including the protection of natural fish populations in our lakes, rivers, and seas. However, just like with fruit, vegetable, and livestock farming, conventional fish farming involves chemicals, medication, and other unpleasant features we should know better to avoid.

Organic aquaculture is a movement that seeks to clean up the fish farming industry and provide just as many options as the organic food movement offers today regarding fruits and vegetables. Certifications and best practices are also being developed to help with this process.

A well-researched and informative article featured on Modern Farmer titled Dear Modern Farmer: Is Fish Farming Sustainable? covers the current pitfalls of conventional fish farming versus the features of organic fish farming.

The common problems with conventional fish farming include:

  • Removes unsustainable quantities of water from rivers or ground sources 
  • Returns contaminated water to local water bodies 
  • Employs hormones, antibiotics and aquatic biocides that damage local ecosystems and have negative effects on public health 
  • Raises fish on pelleted feed made with unsustainable ingredients, such as GMO soybeans and the waste products of factory-farmed livestock 
  • Fails to prevent the escape of farmed fish into nearby waterways, where they may behave as invasive species and spread disease
This is in contrast to the features of organic fish farming: 
  • Recirculating aquaculture systems where water is reused and plants and microbes are employed to remove waste products (often called aquaponics) 
  • Raising herbivorous species (catfish, tilapia and carp, for example) which require fewer inputs of high-protein fish food to produce a pound of fish than carnivorous species (such as salmon and trout) Using cultural practices to control disease rather than antibiotics (by reducing stocking rates, for example) 
  • Utilizing a supply chain of sustainably-sourced inputs
As Thailand's organic food movement continues to grow, there will be temptation to branch off or even focus entirely on organic aquaculture. Modern Farmer's article also discusses how North America is lagging behind Europe in establishing regulations, labeling, and best practices for organic fish farming and how independent projects and certification schemes are filling the gaps. Thailand can learn from what Europe has done, what organic fish farmers are doing in North America to make up for a lack of existing certifications, and from what is already being done in Thailand successfully regarding organic agriculture.

Fruits and vegetables are a good start. Extending sustainable, healthy, and decentralized food production to include aquaculture and livestock is the next logical step, and the next area of opportunity for Thailand's growing organic movement. 

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