question: what is aquaculture and why is it important?

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations defines aquaculture as “the aquatic farming of marine creatures including fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and water plants.” This includes intervention in the rearing process to increase output by means such as predator removal, feeding and regular stocking. Output from these operations can be used for human consumption, ornamental species or as raw materials to be used by various industries. Aquaculture systems can be implemented in almost any aquatic environment. Farming efforts can be intensive, semi-intensive or extensive. Extensive efforts allow stocks to grow independently without additional inputs. Intensive and semi-intensive efforts are dependent on outside inputs.

Production in capture fisheries peaked in the 1980s helping aquaculture to become a booming business. In fact, the fish produced by aquaculture now accounts for 50% of all the fish produced in the world. New production systems are being built throughout the world and they are the fastest growing agriculture sector in the world. In Vietnam, for example, there has been nearly 50% increase in the last 5 years in hectares in aquaculture production and over 100% per year increase in tons produced every year for the last 16 years. In 2006 aquaculturists produced 51.7 metric tons of aquatic organisms.

Mansfield, B. (2011, March). Is Fish Health Food or Poison? Farmed Fish and the Material Production of Un/Healthy Nature. Antipode, pp. 413-434.
Welch, A., Hoenig, R., Stieglitz, J., Benetti, D., Tacon, A., Sims, N., & O’Hanlon, B. (2010, June). From Fishing to the Sustainable Farming of Carnivorous Marine Finfish. Reviews in Fisheries, pp. 235-247.

a concise description of incentives and labeling in marine environments

To-date, struggles between management and fishers have resulted in continued difficulties in establishing effective methods to sustainably manage fisheries throughout the world (with notable exceptions). Such struggles can likely be attributed to top-down management styles that focus on input controls and Competitive Total Allowable Catches (TAC), which promote input substitution, effort creep and race-to-catch behavior. Moreover, standard management techniques fail to account for fisher behavior and do not provide an effective incentive, i.e. reward, system thereby reducing or eliminating fisher interest in participation and cooperation and even (inadvertently) encouraging counterproductive practices. Progress has been seen when using Ecosystem-based approach, but even this technique is not comprehensive enough, which is why new approaches – those that are characterized by incentives – have been introduced.

Incentive-Based Approaches to Fisheries (IAF) are those that provide an economic benefit to fishers. IAFs are often based on some form of complete territorial rights that provide fishers with a sense of ownership, which can instill feelings of accountability and responsibility. In other words, the fishers bear the burden of poor fishery health and reap the benefits of healthy fisheries. This method is not without its fault and is not always successful, e.g. when fish mining is economically rational or the interests involved are too divergent, making cheating continuously lucrative, despite best efforts, and has been harshly criticized as being just another form of permit systems (see Bromley, 2011).

The labeling of products can provide a form of incentives, which provides both economic rewards for fishers via price markups and tools for consumer education. It can also serve as a means for encouraging changes in consumer behavior. However, if improperly managed, e.g. mislabelled, consumer trust may be lost, effectively eliminating any net benefits and discouraging future consumer support.

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is regarded of as the most well-known certification scheme for fisheries in the world. Established in 1997 by the WWF and Unilever in response to dissatisfaction with the lack of positive outcomes associated with government management techniques, the MSC represent various stakeholder interests in a sustainability-supporting certification system. The 31 Principle Assessment evaluates the health  of the target species, the ecosystem in which the target species lives and the management techniques used within the fishery. While the popularity of certification schemes continues to grow, criticisms exist in the form of, for example, a lack of specificity and non-standard enforcement.