Once hailed as a way to reduce stress on fish stocks, fish farms turn out to make things worse in a range of cases. As the fishing industry globalised, the grabbing of fish has even given rise to a term: ocean grabbing, warns the ENT Foundation, member of Seas At Risk.

Aquaculture Industry Turkey Use for free


As global demand for seafood surges, fishing industrialised on unprecedented scales. Fish is being caught ever further, deeper and earlier: further from shore, from deeper down and earlier in the food chain. Faced with the ecological limits of wild fish stocks, aquaculture increased its production by 8.6% per year in the last three decades. Around half of the fish supply for human consumption is now provided by aquaculture. In that process, Europe also became the largest importer of seafood products.

Fish farms were once presented as a solution for overfishing, but does the scientific evidence back that up? Some studies already showed the ecological, social and political problems caused by shrimp and salmon farms in Asia or Latin-America but until recently little was known about fish farms in places like Europe and the wider Mediterranean. A good place to look is the eastern Mediterranean, in Turkey, where the production volume quadrupled between 2000 and 2016 and from where 75% is exported to the EU.

Turkish boats target African waters for EU consumers

When the competing uses of marine space started to become conflicting in European coastal countries like Greece and Spain, a geographical expansion to the largely unspoiled waters of Turkey suddenly became the next great business opportunity. However, the amount of feed needed for carnivorous farmed fish—such as sea bass, sea bream or salmon—to gain a kg of body weight depends on small wild fish. This means that most fish farms need to use a higher amount of capture fish to feed the farmed fish. According to an industrial fisherman and fishmeal producer in Turkey—who preferred that his name remains anonymous in order to avoid political tension with other actors from the fishing or aquaculture sector or the state—, “this creates its own capture fishing economy and increases the pressure on wild fish stocks instead of decreasing it. So, it leads to a paradox between capture fisheries and farmed fish production.”

In Turkey, this paradox manifests itself in the European anchovy catch in the Black Sea, which is the most preferred species for fish feed production. Captures by the Turkish fleet have been a significant pressure on European anchovy stocks in the Black Sea at least from the 1970s onwards. After the decline in bigger high-value commercial species, anchovy and sprat stocks also collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although they had gradually recovered in 2000s, the catch rate in Turkey is still at least 1.5 times above its maximum sustainable yield—the maximum amount of a species that can be caught to allow its reproduction and maintain healthy stocks.

But the story of anchovy is also a story of exclusion of people and creating inequality. Between 1950 and 1960, 90% of European anchovy landings in Turkey were used for direct human consumption, whereas currently 56% of it is used for fish meal and fish oil production. The common use of anchovy shifted away from direct human consumption, thus decreasing access to small and cheap fish to eat.

A small-scale fisherman argued that the only ones benefiting from this shift are fishmeal factory owners: “The anchovy ‘we’ should eat goes to factories. They [industrial fishermen] catch hundreds of tons of anchovy in just one night. If its stock collapses, we would have no fishermen left. You can't use the small fish for feed; this has no end. There is no such ‘feed’ in the sea.”

With fewer fish left in the Black Sea, industrial fishers from Turkey have begun to go towards West Africa, especially Mauritania as a new destination. They capture small fish in the seas of Mauritania to be turned into fish meal and fish oil and eventually fish feed in factories. In this process, the social and ecological costs are massive, and a form of environmental injustice becomes inevitable. These trends are now as if a rush to resources is extended to the high seas.

From land grabbing to ocean grabbing

The story that aquaculture helps to save wild fish from overfishing is a myth in current circumstances. Instead of providing a solution to depleting fish stocks, the intensive farming of carnivorous fish species creates an extra source of pressure on fisheries, where exploitation leads to further expansion and intensification. Continuous expansion and the growth imperative of capital imply that the main aim of seafood companies is not overcoming social or ecological crises related to declining stocks and capture fisheries, but overcoming risks to a profit decrease.

Industrial fish farms are only one of the capital-intensive investments that lead to the larger phenomenon of “ocean grabbing”. As another version of land grabbing, grabbing of marine and aquatic resources is currently taking place on ever more seas and oceans. This leads to the loss of access to marine area and seafood, displacement of local communities and fisher people; and to a range of environmental injustices. Many fisher folk organizations not only in Mediterranean and Europe, but also throughout the world confront and resist such capital-intensive investments that grab their marine resources. Cases of ocean grabbing that lead to socio-environmental conflicts of fisher communities as well as their resistances are documented and visualized in the global Environmental Justice Atlas.


This article is a media friendly summary of the peer reviewed publication “The expansion of intensive marine aquaculture inTurkey: The next-to-last commodity frontier?” by Irmak Ertör from ENT Foundation and Miquel Ortega Cerdà for the Journal of Agrarian Change.


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