Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal


The world’s ocean fish stocks are in peril. A 2011 report issued by an international team of marine scientists found that the world’s marine species face threats “unprecedented in human history” with “loss of both large, long-lived and small fish species causing widespread impacts on marine ecosystems.” Nutrient runoff, introductions of non-native species, climate change, over fishing, and physical disturbance are all contributing to the oceans’ decline. Meanwhile, global per capita seafood consumption is at an all-time high, as the Earth’s growing population continues to enjoy healthy, protein-laden nourishment.

The resulting situation is a stark example of what ecologist Garrett Hardin famously called “the tragedy of the commons,” the concept that overexploitation of a limited public resource inevitably occurs when multiple individuals act independently in their own self-interests. The once-bountiful resources of the sea have now been exploited to a point where both marine-scientists and food-economists question the future of this essential food source. While technology undoubtedly played an important role in expediting the loss of ocean resources, technology in the form of aquaculture is now seen as the solution. But can the practice of farming fish resolve the problem of a sea short of seafood? A burgeoning global aquaculture industry believes that aquaculture can satisfy a growing demand for seafood while alleviating damaged ocean ecosystems—an optimistic vision that nevertheless leaves many questions unanswered. Central to the inquiry over ocean resource renewal is the viability of environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods and the legal framework that will ensure ecologically sound practices.