Where do fish come from?

He had scales. His hands were big, bloated as if swollen with water - brackish water. A big golden ring, with a big dark gemstone was sticking from his finger while he carried descaling the Asian sea bass. In the west and in Australia we call this fish Barramundi. In the academic world, we call it Lates calcifer — always written in italic, bold or underlined.

Asian sea bass descaling at Songkhla Lagoon, Thailand. picture taken by Sara Barrento

I chose this species to illustrate where fish come from because this sea bass, the Asian sea bass, the Barramundi can live in freshwater, in brackish water or in seawater. This is not the case for all fish, some fish can only live in freshwater, others only in marine water. The image below shows the changes in salinity along a water body from a river (freshwater) to the sea (marine water). The salinity in this case is shown in conductivity units (siemens per centimetre) to learn more about salinity and other water quality parameters (e.g. pH, dissolved oxygen, etc.) click here.

Credit: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia license OzCoasts (Geoscience Australia) 2012

On the left column it is shown some of the typical animal groups that can be found along the waterway and have narrower salinity tolerance limits. But the Asian sea bass is special, so special we have a Greek word to illustrate this adaptation — do you know this word? — please answer the multi choice questionnaire below.

if you are reading on a phone you can answer the polling by scrolling down and submitting on the submit button. Then you find the correct answer below
The special Greek work is EURYALINE and it comes from a combination of two Greek words — Eury meaning in greek wide; and Halinos, meaning salt. An organism that can tolerate a wide range of salinities.

But we can also think of fish for human consumption. In this case the sea bass you find in the market, supermarket or restaurant, can come from two different production systems. How do we produce fish? How do fish get from the water to your plate?

They come from two big industries - fisheries and aquaculture. At this point we need to define aquaculture and fisheries… watch the video below to learn more.

The FAO — the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, predicts that in 2030 aquaculture will supply over 60 percent of fish destined for direct human consumption.

Today it is estimated that for every 2 fish you get one comes from aquaculture. Or in other words — 50% of fish destined for human consumption comes from fisheries. But this was not always the case and maybe there is something misleading about these statistics.

This is the theme of our next story - a story of numbers.

You are reading a short series of factual stories about the seafood production system — this is the first of four stories. I use storytelling to facilitate conversations about aquaculture, fisheries, and all the other industries along the way. If you are an educator you can use this site in blended learning — see below learning objectives, suggested activities and further reading.

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Below are some examples of Learning Objectives for this story

  1. To distinguish aquaculture from fisheries
  2. To distinguish euryaline species from marine and brackish water
  3. To describe Asian sea bass production in Songkla lagoon
  4. To connect the dots between ecology, biology and physiology of the Asian sea bass and human activities

Suggested activities

  1. The sea bass in the first two pictures: do you think it was fished or farmed? How can you find out more? Tip: check the picture caption for the location.
  2. Visit a fishing port and learn about the vessels the fishing gear, the landing process, the sanitary rules. Talk to the managers, the vets, the health inspectiors
  3. Visit a local market and ask the sellers where the seafood is coming from (aquaculture, fisheries, local, imported); what are the most popular species; what is the busiest day? Are people changing their consumption habits?
  4. Organize a field trip to an aquaculture farm
  5. contact the local association of fishermen or farmers and invite them to visit your institution to talk about their job
  6. If you can’t do any of this, suggest to your students to think about the questions they would ask if they were placed in any of these contexts; then try to invite the key people involved to come to speak to your institution, or arrange a Skype call.

Further Reading

  1. Scientific paper: Moving beyond the fish or farmed dichotomy
  2. Scientific paper: Does aquaculture add resilience to the global food system?

Please let me know how this content has supported your studies/teaching by leaving a comment or a clap. Please click below in the speech bubble icon to write a comment or in the hands to give a clap.

NEXT STORY: For every 2 fish you get one comes from aquaculture