Sustainable fish farming threatened by various ESG risks, investors warn

6th June 2019


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Author

Georgina Howell

Climate change, antibiotic resistance, and various other environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks threaten the sustainability of the $232bn (£183bn) global fish farming industry.

The warning was published yesterday in a report by the FAIRR Initiative, which said that aquaculture's annual growth of 6% is under threat unless these ESG risks are managed properly.

Fish farming in Southeast Asia – one of the world's largest aquaculture regions – is set to see a 30% drop in production by 2050 thanks to rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification, for example.

Climate change, dependence on wild fish stocks for feed, excessive use of antibiotics and poor governance are the main ESG risks identified by the researchers.

However, the report suggests investment opportunities in areas such as fish health innovations and alternative feeds, and highlights how probiotics should be encouraged to reduce antibiotic use.

“There are clear steps which must be taken to manage these risks,“ said FAIRR director, Maria Lettini. “For example, aquaculture operations should be certified against global standards that meet Food and Agriculture Organization guidelines.

“The market should also consider greater cultivation of species that remove marine pollution rather than contribute to it – such as mussels and oysters.“

The FAIRR investor group manages a combined $12trn of assets, and includes Aviva Investors, CANDRIAM, DNB Asset Management and Norwegian pension group KLP.

Yesterday's report explains how fish farming has overtaken wild fishing as the main provider of seafood since 2014, but warns that its growth is based on more intensive, high-density farming associated with ESG risks.

For example, Chilean salmon production is estimated to use antibiotic doses up to ten times higher than typically used in chicken production, leaving it “highly exposed“ to antibiotic resistance.

The researchers also warned that fish stocks could come under considerable pressure because farmed salmon and shrimp require fishmeal and fish oil in their diets, and aquaculture production is set to double by 2050.

“Average seafood consumption per head has effectively doubled since the 1960s and aquaculture now provides more seafood than fisheries,“ said KLP responsible investments advisor, Marte Siri Storakers.

“But investors and business operators need to ensure that any future growth is sustainable and does not endanger either the environment or human health.“

Image credit: iStock

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