The aquaculture industry is facing a series of challenges due to intensification, expansion, and their social and environmental impacts. There is an increasing consensus that a greater focus on governance is needed to drive significant progress toward sustainability transformations.
These transformations in the aquaculture industry involve deliberate changes in the socioecological systems of aquaculture to enhance human well-being and mitigate environmental impacts. However, successful governance agreements are required to guide social interaction through a set of laws, regulations, institutions, power dynamics, and organizational hierarchies.
Through a process of review and expert consultation, an international team of researchers from the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT), Wageningen University, The Alliance Bioversity International-CIAT, Leiden University, Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT), and WorldFish identified five areas of participation to advance a governance agenda for the transformation of aquaculture sustainability.
This article delves into the critical importance of governance in the aquaculture sector, emphasizing how concerted efforts can move it beyond fragmented technical concerns and toward system-based solutions for interconnected sustainability issues.
The Imperative of Governance
Sustainability in aquaculture extends far beyond the realm of ecological practices. It encompasses a holistic approach that considers economic viability, social equity, and environmental responsibility.
Effective governance is the cornerstone that can guide the sector toward this broader perspective.
Five Key Areas of Participation
Through an extensive review and expert input, researchers have identified five critical areas of participation that form the foundation of a governance agenda for the transformation of aquaculture sustainability.
Researchers also acknowledge that these five areas of participation are not mutually exclusive but offer a conceptual simplification. Together, they facilitate an understanding of aquaculture within the context of food systems.
Establishing Sustainability Transformation Goals
The aquaculture sector must collectively define clear and ambitious sustainability objectives. This will provide a unified direction and inspire innovations and solutions.
These objectives should address challenges such as climate change, environmental performance, and food and livelihood security, aligning with the capabilities and practices of stakeholders across the aquaculture food system.
Recognizing that aquaculture operates within complex ecosystems, governance efforts should encourage collaboration and dialogue between different sectors, such as agriculture and fisheries, to promote sustainable practices. However, the institutions governing aquaculture in relation to other sectors and social objectives are often misaligned, posing the risk of a variety of unintended and undesirable outcomes.
Aquaculture often encompasses terrestrial and aquatic environments. Effective governance must address the relationships between land, water, and sea, recognizing their interdependence and promoting responsible practices.
Production systems face biosecurity risks and escape incidents, issues that influence profitability, food security, and aquatic environments linked at the land-sea interface.
Knowledge and Innovation
Continuous learning and innovation are crucial for sustainability. Governance mechanisms should encourage research, information exchange, and the adoption of best practices.
The study highlights the need for more diverse forms of knowledge to enable sustainability transformations in the aquaculture sector that go beyond simple technical solutions.
A sustainable aquaculture sector extends its focus beyond the fish farm to encompass the entire value chain, from production to consumption. Governance efforts should consider how each step in this chain contributes to sustainability.
“Sustainable aquatic food value chains require collaboration among the full range of actors and their successive activities to produce, transform, and ultimately consume nutritional products that provide equitable benefits and minimal environmental impact. Processing, transportation, trade, and post-consumption disposal face the challenge of improving their sustainability,” cited the study authors.
Roles of Different Actors
Effective governance in aquaculture requires the involvement of various actors, including government agencies, industry stakeholders, non-governmental organizations, and local communities. Each has a distinct role to play in advancing sustainability transformation:
- Government: Policymakers should create regulations that promote sustainable practices, provide incentives for adoption, and enforce compliance.
- Industry: Private sector stakeholders can drive change through investments in sustainable technologies and processes, setting benchmarks for responsible production, and participating in transparent reporting.
- NGOs: Non-governmental organizations can act as guardians, advocates, and knowledge disseminators, ensuring accountability and promoting best practices.
- Local Communities: Communities living near aquaculture facilities are an integral part of the governance process, as their livelihoods and environments are directly affected. They should have a voice in decision-making and benefit from sector growth.
Implementing the Governance Agenda
To translate this governance agenda into action, researchers, professionals, and policymakers must collaborate on multiple fronts:
- Research: Researchers should explore innovative solutions, assess the impacts of existing practices, and share knowledge to inform sustainable decision-making.
- Professionals: Those working directly in the aquaculture sector should adopt and advocate for sustainable practices, invest in technology, and consider the broader impacts of their actions.
- Policy Makers: Governments should enact and enforce regulations that support sustainability while promoting innovation and collaboration among stakeholders.
The future of aquaculture depends on its ability to adopt governance as a vital tool for achieving sustainability transformations. This means going beyond fragmented technical concerns and addressing interconnected sustainability issues through a systemic approach.
As we navigate the path toward a more sustainable aquaculture sector, it is imperative that stakeholders come together in a shared commitment to responsible governance, setting ambitious goals and working collaboratively to ensure that sector growth is ecologically rational, economically viable, and socially equitable.
The study was funded by the Comparing Aquaculture Systems Sustainability (COMPASS) project, supported by the German Ministry of Research and Education (BMBF) under the Bioeconomy program.
Center for Life Ethics, University of Bonn, Germany
Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT), Bremen, Germany
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Reference (open access)
Stefan Partelow, Furqan Asif, Christophe Béné, Simon Bush, Aisa O Manlosa, Ben Nagel, Achim Schlüter, Vishnumurthy M Chadag, Afrina Choudhury, Steven M Cole, Richard S Cottrell, Stefan Gelcich, Rebecca Gentry, Jessica A Gephart, Marion Glaser, Teresa R Johnson, Malin Jonell, Geshe Krause, Andreas Kunzmann, Holger Kühnhold, Dave C Little, Melissa J Marschke, Darien D Mizuta, Adiska O Paramita, Nie Pin, Nerissa D Salayo, Grant D Stentiford, Joshua Stoll, Max Troell, Giovanni M Turchini. Aquaculture governance: five engagement arenas for sustainability transformation, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Volume 65, 2023, 101379, ISSN 1877-3435, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2023.101379.