Fish and Filth: The Dangers of Tilapia Farming

Do you love tilapia? I do. But after reading yesterday’s New York Times article about unregulated tilapia farming, I’ll think twice before I order my next fillet. Last year, more than 52 million pounds of fresh tilapia were exported to the United States, mostly from Latin America, as well as 422 million more pounds of frozen tilapia, both whole and fillet, nearly all from China. It’s a booming industry, but it’s doing a lot of damage to the natural world, not to mention the survival of a species.

Environmentalists argue that intensive and unregulated tilapia farming is damaging ecosystems in developing countries with practices generally prohibited in the United States — like breeding huge numbers of fish in cages in natural lakes, where fish waste pollutes the water. The problem is especially severe in Nicaragua.

From the article:

Dr. McCrary has spent the past decade studying how a small, short-lived tilapia farm degraded Lake Apoyo in Nicaragua. “One small cage screwed up the entire lake — the entire lake!” he said of the farm, which existed from 1995 to 2000.

Waste from the cages polluted the pristine ecosystem, and some tilapia escaped. An aquatic plant called charra, an important food for fish, disappeared, leaving the lake a wasteland. Today, some species of plants and fish are slowly recovering, but others are probably gone forever, said Dr. McCrary, who works for the Nicaraguan foundation FUNDECI.

Fortunately, there are new sustainability standards being developed for aquaculture to protect the water sources that so many people in the developing world rely on.

Learn more.