What are the social benefits of aquaculture?

Increasingly, governments are emphasizing aquaculture as both a contribution to food security and a supplement to decreasing fish catches resulting from overharvesting. However, despite the rapid development of aquaculture, western societies have largely failed to address the social effects, according to the members of ICES Working Group on Social and Economic Dimensions of Aquaculture (WGSEDA).  In their recently published paper they point out that “social and cultural aspects of aquaculture production have taken a backseat compared to trade, technology and biological implications". Failure to meet key social components on multiple geographic scales, they argue, will render aquaculture production unsustainable in view of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Indeed, the SDGs explicitly include social and economic goals that need to be recognised side by side if aquaculture is to fulfil its sustainability potential. Global attention has been gained on protecting marine biodiversity (SDG 14) while utilising marine areas, such as aquaculture to ensure marine food security, creating income options, and viable working waterfront communities, among others (SDG 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 11, 12).

Under the inclusive umbrella of the SDGs, finfish aquaculture seems to be more impactful from a social perspective than rope mussel farming, however the latter can hold important cultural values and contributes to place-based understanding. As this supports connecting people with place and identity, it plays a vital role in maintaining the working waterfront. Aquaculture hence hosts a potential as pull-factor to incentivize people to remain in the area, keeping communities viable.


The group's paper presents case studies from across the North Atlantic and includes local/regional stakeholder knowledge in addition to scientific expert knowledge. Such knowledge inclusion is of importance, as social acceptability, as well as the definition of sustainable development, are social constructs and therefore their perception also depends on the cultural structures of each society. Therefore, the construction of social indicators such as those proposed in this work can provide information for trade-offs to be considered in decision-making. The group hopes that by visualizing the social effects of aquaculture, a door may be opened for new narratives on the sustainability of aquaculture that render social license and social acceptability more positive.


The full article can be found at ices.dk