Aquaculture Food Systems

Right now is fish fry season! For many that observe Lent or live in communities that practice Lenten traditions, the Friday fish fry is a common practice in the 40 days that precede Easter. Growing up I was largely vegetarian/pescatarian (a hard thing to do surrounded by Texas BBQ) so I rejoiced this time of year where fish was plentiful and commonplace on menus. For others in my family this was the only time of year they eat fish. This time often brought up a lot of confusion in which fish to eat, or reservations about how “fishy” it was going to taste.

Fish can be downright confusing. For instance, there exist tradeoffs in nutrition and taste. Many fish are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (the “good” fat), but this contributes to the “fishy” ocean taste, so more palatable fish have lower levels of omega-3s. There are also a variety of fish categories: wild caught, farmed (aquaculture), and shellfish. Becky Mansfield (2004) observed the debate over organic certifications for fish, and found that many views relate to the way fish elude classification. Her research highlights the ways people draw distinction between soil and water-based agriculture, and the troubles in defining ‘livestock’ or ‘wild’ and outside of producers’ control.

“Fish are different from everything else, but just what makes them different is not clear.” Mansfield, pg. 230

Fish also provide an avenue for examining connections between food production and sustainability goals. Much of the basis for expanding aquaculture is predicated on global fishery collapse. Aquaculture now makes up over half of the relative contribution of fish for human consumption (FAO, 2020). Sustainability is touted as a driver for expanding aquaculture production, however it also remains a point of contention against the industry. Aquaculture growth will increase demand for groundwater, and farm systems present contamination risks due to their large wastewater holdings. Growing fish on land still takes large amounts of marine inputs. Fish oils and protein for feeding raised fish have increased strain on wild stocks of input fish, like sardines and anchovies. Feeding fish alternatives, like plant proteins (ie. corn and soybean) encourage the problem of monocropping in the US and have nutritional compromises in the final fish product.

From a consumer standpoint it is extremely difficult to make purchasing decisions. As Michael Pollan made famous through “Vote with your fork,” food decisions are political and our choices can transform the food system. Julie Guthman (2007) provided a thought provoking account of subjectivities at play in these discourses, specifically in relation to the “epidemic of obesity.” She writes that Pollen and others “see themselves as morally superior to fat people in the sense that they characterize fat people as being short of subjectivity.” The core issue is that these types of food writers push a politics that is to do as they do. In Pollan’s case it is eating as an affluent thin white man.

In this vein I will resist telling you which food decisions to make, as is often the relation between academic “subject” writer and “object” reader needing intervention. Instead, I think talking about food should instead spur creativity and nuance in the ways we identify problems and propose solutions. Sustainability is vague and needs to be more specifically defined in conversations. When promoting “better” outcomes we should be explicit in the people considered in those politics. I want a food system that works for everyone- across race, class, ability, and gender.

Finally, I will tell you what I have enjoyed in my own exploration into Midwest aquaculture. Fish offerings are much different here than when I grew up in Texas. Redfish isn’t on the menu but Walleye is. I was also surprised to see how many farms there were in the Midwest (see below). You can, in fact, get fresh live shrimp over 800 miles away from an ocean. I plan to continue researching Midwest fish over the next two years. If you have a fish farm- I’d love to stop by!

This image shows the total number of aquaculture farms by state, as reported by the Census of Aquaculture, 2018.

Map of aquaculture farm totals in the “Midwest” region. Data source:

Rebecca Chapman
Doctoral Student
Pronouns: she/her/hers


FAO. 2020. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020. Sustainability in action. Rome.

Guthman, Julie. 2013. “Can’t Stomach It How Michael Pollan Et Al. Made Me Want to Eat Cheetos.” Gastronomica 13(1).

Mansfield, Becky. 2004. “Organic Views of Nature: The Debate Over Organic Certification for Aquatic Animals.” Sociologia Ruralis 44(2).

Pollan, Michael. “Voting With Your Fork” The New York Times “On the Table” Blog, May 7, 2006


A First Step

I’m not a geographer by training or by discipline. I do have two Bachelor’s degrees in the following majors; Criminology, International Studies, Russian, and Political Science. I also have a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration. This doesn’t mean a whole lot, but what it does mean is that, there are certain issues that I’ve looked at through varying lenses depending on what discipline you’re talking about. As an example, policing and law enforcement in Criminology, Political Science, and Public Policy vary on methodology, cause and effect, history, and how to move forward depending on which one or which class you’re engaged in. The Cold War is different when you investigate the perspectives from an international relations lens versus a purely Russian cultural lens. None of them are wrong but none of them are 100% correct either. We, as human beings, engage in our world in different ways and the impacts of those actions snowball to coalesce into a much larger picture. If nothing else, what these varying disciplines have taught me is to think critically, think outside the box, and never to accept the given status quo.

Now, you would think, that something as simple as counting people would be – just that – simple. However, that is far from the case.

Yes, from a political science perspective, the census is written into the Constitution of the United States and accounts for distribution of representation across the country. The short answer about what the census is, can be wrapped up in a nice little bow by the following video.

However, the reality of the Census, is something much more complicated, long-lasting, and carries with it the ability to change our nation on a fundamental level. As the representation shifts across the country with each census count, the outcomes determine not only votes in the House of Representatives but resources distributed, prevailing ideologies, future political, social, and economic policies, and electoral college votes. Many people look at the census as a benign exercise and means very little the them personally, after all, it has little impact on their individual day to day lives.

The exact opposite is true. Maybe it’s the political science or public policy speaking, but for me, the fundamental importance of the census is the basis for everything else. The census is the first step in our nation deciding what type of country we want to be, what we value, and what is important to us. The census allows the voters to decide what type of leaders we send to Washington, and what the priorities are for the future.

The census is not the last step or the only step in changing our country and making it better, but it is the first. The first in a long line of standing up to be counted, and of encouraging the same of others – even against their fear and the prejudice they may face. The census is a call to action for anyone who is or isn’t happy with the policies being enacted on their behalf. If you ignore the call and are not counted, you are doing a disservice to yourself, your neighbors, and your community.

What does any of this have to do with Geography?

Great question! If you’re not a student of Geography-like me-, you’re not the only person asking it.

Geography is a varied discipline that encompasses not only cartography and maps, but the study of what makes those maps what they are, why people are where they are. It encompasses sustainability, mobility, climatology, social justice issues, immigration and migration, as well as land use. What does all this mean?

Well, the population isn’t spread evenly across the country. We’ve all seen the red and blue maps on election nights and how the distribution of those populations have an impact on viewpoints, ideologies, and politics. We know that the country is divided in their way of life: urban and rural. These divides correlate to race, economic status, education, and a whole host of other demographic markers that can be identified. We’ve also seen how the policies of our government impact land use, our national parks, and the regulations enacted to protect citizens from harmful pollutants. Becky Mansfield’s post regarding EPA deregulation is a great example. In Geography, not only are these issues discussed but form the foundation for critical thinking along lines that focus on the world around us and our impacts on it. The census, either directly or indirectly, has an impact on all of us. And in the end, what this all amounts to is power. Who has it? Who should get it?

We are at a critical stage. The U.S. Census bureau will end counting efforts on September 30th (a full month early), according to NPR. This means that if you hadn’t already filled out the questionnaire online, then your time is running out. You don’t have to go anywhere or talk to anyone to complete your census entry. It is the easiest first step to being a part of the process of representation you can ask for. Now is your chance to step up and be counted, just click the link below.



Suzanne M.S. Mikos

Department Manager

Department of Geography & Center for Urban and Regional Analysis


References and Links:

The Environmental Protection Agency at Fifty: Promoting Deregulatory Science

photo of EPA headquarters

EPA Headquarters in Washington, DC. Photo Courtesy of Becky Mansfield

Established in the wake of the first Earth Day, the Environmental Protection Agency is also 50 this year. Today, the agency appears regularly in the news as a poster-child for President Trump’s regulatory rollbacks. I have researched the EPA for over a decade, including following the Trump EPA with fascination. What have I learned?

I have learned that when EPA takes its mission seriously, it makes progress protecting environmental and human health. Notable successes include reducing smog, acid rain, and lead exposure, and banning many dangerous pesticides [1].

Yet I have also learned that, not only are these issues ongoing, but EPA tends to downplay chemical harms, even in the wake of an avalanche of scientific findings and public awareness of the enormity of environmental change and long-term, cumulative health effects for humans and wildlife. EPA has always used a less-protective, risk-based approach that insists on certainty about harms before taking protective measures. Throughout its history, EPA has been influenced by corporate science-for-hire that highlights and even purposefully produces scientific uncertainty [2]. Also, EPA has not been good at addressing disproportionate harms. For example, my research showed that EPA’s approach to controlling exposure to the neurotoxin mercury was to tell pregnant women to eat less of certain kinds of fish; this makes women of color (who on average eat more fish) responsible for their own exposures while letting polluters (coal-fired power plants) off the hook [3]. A signature success of the Obama EPA was a rule finally requiring power plants to reduce their mercury emissions.

I have learned that the Trump EPA has assaulted protections from many angles [4]. For example, it found the Obama-era mercury controls to be inappropriate; repealed the Clean Power Plan; and decided against proposed bans of several deadly solvents.

Yet I have also learned that the Trump EPA does this not by disregarding science, but by producing deregulatory science. In particular, it has developed new approaches to scientific risk analysis that compel the agency to disregard many benefits of regulation, highlight its costs, dismiss many scientific studies as inadequate, and fail to evaluate many real-world exposures to chemicals (such as using them without protective gear). It justifies these moves using ideas of scientific transparency, reproducibility, and evidence-based decision-making.

A key lesson of fifty years of the Environmental Protection Agency is that when it comes to environmental protection, it is not enough to ask, “Is it science?” It is also crucial to investigate the values and interests that influence scientific judgment. Is evidence being produced and evaluated through the lens of protecting the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries and the interests of the powerful, or through the lens of being most protective to environmental and human health?


Becky Mansfield,

Professor of Geography,

Ohio State University



[2] On regulatory science at EPA, see e.g. Sheila Jasanoff,  The Fifth Branch (1990, Harvard University Press). On tactics of corporate science, see e.g. Kristin Shrader-Frechette, Taking Action, Saving Lives (2007, Oxford University Press).

[3] Becky Mansfield, Environmental health as biosecurity: “seafood choices,” risk, and the pregnant woman as threshold. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 102(5): 969-976. 2012.

[4] These findings are in an unpublished manuscript and were presented at the 2020 Dimensions of Political Ecology conference.

Research Reflections

When I started the MA program in AU 2017, I was planning on conducting a remote sensing research project. My study area was set to be French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Island chain. Using high-resolution imagery of this atoll, I wanted to map hazards for threatened and endangered species. I was most excited about the potential ability to detect plastics in my imagery. Everything seemed straightforward.

Satellite Imagery of French Frigate Shoals shown in relation to the Hawaiian archipelago. Tern Island is noted in the top left corner of the inset.

I was first challenged to develop my ‘conceptual framework’ in Becky Mansfield’s Research Design, a core course for graduate students in Geography. Given my broad topic, I got lost in the object of inquiry. This research was concerned with too many things. I had outlined a remote sensing project on marine debris, changes to beach dynamics, risk maps for multiple target species, and policy suggestions. These diffuse research goals reflected my self-doubt. I tried to imagine what was most interesting about my topic to others, rather than what I found most compelling. I considered this an injustice to my study site, which was so rich with evidence of the intermingling’s of social, economic, political, and physical processes and dynamics.

The great benefit of Geography is that it is fundamentally interdisciplinary and expansive. Curious about other disciplinary approaches to my topic, I enrolled in courses on Oceanography, Public Affairs, and Feminist Studies. A. Marie Ranjbar’s course, (Human) Rights in the Anthropocene, was pivotal in shaping my literature review and enriched my theoretical approaches. I took up other readings in political ecology, critical animal studies, and posthumanism. I allowed myself to think about my project differently. I made note of the things that frustrated me in traditional approaches to environmental issues and conservation. This was part of the act of ‘doing research’ that in turn shaped the research question.

I was most troubled by the passive way, or “the othering” of non-human animals, as they were discussed as objects of conservation. I found that the framings encouraged human exceptionalism and species hierarchy. I needed to change my characterization of the atoll as well. The environmental outcomes of today are not happenstance. Instead, they are directly linked to social and economic processes. If we begin to talk about phenomena like pollution and sea level rise as direct consequences of capitalism and colonialism, we can identify the economic, political and social structures that produce environmental violence. Building more just and ethical engagements with non-humans begins by destroying previous conceptions of their value. My research became focused on the foundational issues of representation stemming from current theorizing in conservation policy.

Due to the reshaping of my questions, remote sensing was no longer the strongest evidence I could collect to demonstrate the need to change conservation. My project became focused on the differentiated experience of the female green sea turtle as an embedded and embodied, relational and affective subject as well as an active agent that participates in and contributes to social, political, and economic life. The works of Irus Braverman [1], Lori Gruen [2], Rosi Braidotti [3], Juanita Sundberg, Rosemary-Claire Collard and Jessica Dempsey [4] were indispensable to these goals.

Violence against green sea turtles demonstrated by exposure pathways and subsequent health-related hazards from anthropogenic sources.

This Earth Day, I find it appropriate to reflect on change- what we are in the process of becoming and ending. I see many opportunities to demonstrate care and work towards more ethical engagements with the more-than-human world in this age of the Anthropocene.

Rebecca Chapman, PhD Student,

Department of Geography

  1. Braverman, I. (2015). Wild life : The institution of nature. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
  2. Gruen, L. (2015). Entangled empathy : An alternative ethic for our relationships with animals. New York: Lantern Books, a division of booklight.
  3. Braidotti, R. (2013). The posthuman. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
  4. Collard, R., Dempsey, J., & Sundberg, J. (2015). A manifesto for abundant futures. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 105(2), 322-330.