Two related stories recently crossed our desks that raise profound questions for how we can use aquaculture and the bounty of the sea to feed the world.
Sciencedaily.com just published an article detailing how, through aquaculture, only a tiny fraction of the ocean’s area could meet the entire world’s demand for fish. This was the result of a study conducted by scientists from UC Santa Barbara, the Nature Conservancy, UCLA, and NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That’s quite a prestigious team of experts and they suggest that aquaculture or what we commonly call fish farming has the potential to meet the growing issue of global food insecurity. (photo – modern farmer)
“Marine aquaculture provides a means and an opportunity to support both human livelihoods and economic growth, in addition to providing food security,” said co-author Ben Halpern of UCSB. “It’s not a question of if aquaculture will be part of future food production but, instead, where and when.”
The World’s Fastest Growing Food Production
Aquaculture is presently the world’s fastest-growing food production sector. Space suitable for aquaculture is certainly not a limiting factor and every coastal country has the potential to meets its own domestic seafood needs.
“There are only a couple of countries that are producing the vast majority of what’s being farmed right now in the oceans,” said lead author Rebecca Gentry “aquaculture could be spread a lot more across the world.” For example, Norway produces 33% of the world’s farm raised Atlantic salmon, with Chile producing 31%, followed by Scotland and Canada. (photo – Daily Scandanavian)
The United States imports $13 billion of seafood annually!
The United States annually imports more than 90 percent of its seafood, at a cost to the country of over $13 billion. However, the US has the potential through aquaculture to meet its total domestic demand by using only 0.01% of its coastal waters. (photo – Health Magazine)
“if aquaculture were developed in only the most productive areas, the oceans could theoretically produce the same amount of seafood that the world’s wild-caught fisheries currently produce globally, but in less than 1 percent of the total ocean surface — a combined area the size of Lake Michigan.”
“Aquaculture is expected to increase by 39 percent in the next decade,” said Froehlich, a researcher at NCEAS. “Not only is this growth rate fast, but the amount of biomass aquaculture produces has already surpassed wild seafood catches and beef production.”
Crucial that Fish Farming be well managed and monitored
Froehlich added a very important caveat, emphasizing that it is crucial for industry, science, conservation and government to collaborate and ensure that fish farming is well managed and monitored.
“Like any food system, aquaculture can be done poorly; we’ve seen it,” Froehlich said, in reference to the boom and bust of shrimp farming in the 1990s, resulting from poor management. “This is really an opportunity to shape the future of food for the betterment of people and the environment.”
Can Aquaculture be made sustainable and safe??
This brings us to the second article that recently crossed our desk. The guardian.com reports: “Thousands of Atlantic salmon escape from fish farm into Pacific.”
The solar eclipse did it!
At least that is what they contend contributed to the exceptionally high tides that damaged fish pens in Washington State last week and allowed the escape of thousands of Atlantic salmon into Pacific waters. Local fishermen looking to catch Chinook salmon were finding Atlantic salmon in their nets. “We don’t want those fish preying on our baby salmon. And we don’t want them getting up in the rivers” said Ellie Kinley, whose family has fished in Puget Sound for generations.
Atlantic salmon are no strangers to west coast aquaculture and are the major species for commercial fish farming in Washington State and British Columbia and this incident is not unprecedented. NOAA estimated that in the late 1990s some 600,000 Atlantic salmon escaped into the Pacific. (photo – Atlantic salmon caught in Puget Sound, Dean Rutz, AP)
Fishermen and environmentalists expressed concern that the Atlantic salmon would crossbreed with native Pacific species or compete with them for food. However, NOAA’s Michael Rust cautioned “These things are kind of couch potatoes. They are domesticated. Imagine a dairy cow getting lost out in the Serengeti. It doesn’t last very long.” However, not everyone agrees with this benign view, CBC News reports: Will escaped Atlantic salmon survive — and thrive — in B.C. waters?
Farmed Salmon Out-Competed by Wild Salmon
Fortunately, “history hasn’t shown any negative impacts or invasiveness of Atlantic salmon in the natural territory of Pacific salmon,” says Jeremy Dunn, director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association. In fact he mentions an experiment, decades back, where hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon were released into the waters of British Columbia by the Department of Fisheries with the hope that they would become available for sport fishing.
“They were out-competed by Pacific salmon for food” said Dunn and he feels that the same would be the case today. (photo – Sea Shepherd)
Escapes were much more common 10 or 15 years ago, but they do not happen as often today. “The farms in British Columbia are highly engineered, able to withstand very fast currents and very rough seas,” Dunn said.
Side Effects Inhibit Farmed Salmon
A recent Australian study published by the University of Melbourne offers another explanation for why escaped salmon cannot compete with their wild cousins. Farmed salmon are partially deaf, possibly a side-effect of their accelerated growth. Since fish in the wild use their hearing to navigate, avoid predators and find food, hearing impaired farmed fish are at a distinct disadvantage for surviving.
Regardless of whether the farmed fish survive and breed, experts warn that they still pose risks to wild fish. Neville Crabbe, a spokesperson for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, said that the “bigger concern” is that the crowded conditions at fish farms are often breeding grounds for diseases and parasites. And we now have thousands of “possibly diseased fish mingling with wild species across a huge geographic range. No matter how people try to downplay this, it is a disaster.”
What Feeds Fish Farms?
One of the biggest drawbacks to aquaculture is the issue of what to feed the fish and can it be made sustainable? Michael Aw has been a Blue Ocean contributor for years and was interviewed in the 2014 Summit.
Michael had just returned from South Africa where he had documented the sardine run, one of the world’s largest marine migrations, that occurs along the coast of South Africa in the Indian Ocean. Michael observed ten fishing boats, each taking 100-150 tons of sardines per day. The sardines were destined to feed salmon in Norwegian fish farms, where it takes nearly ten pounds of sardines to produce one pound of salmon.
If over-fishing continues at this rate it is estimated that sardines along the East Coast of Africa will be fished out within two to three years, leaving dolphins, sea birds and penquin to go hungry, not to mention the families of local fishermen.
The feed fed to farmed salmon is in part fishmeal and fish oil, made from small fish like anchovies, herrings and sardines. Normally these smaller “trash” fish are considered less desirable than the salmon they are fed to, however, for the local fishermen in South Africa the sardines are what he depends on for his family’s protein.
Speeding the Growth of Farmed Fish
There are great economic incentives for farmed fish to grow to maturity quickly and this has led to their being fed a diet with a higher fat content than their counterparts growing in the wild. Unfortunately, this high-energy diet also makes farmed fish more vulnerable to contamination by pollutants like PCBs that accumulate in the food chain. (photo – BBC)
Since fish feed is sourced from fisheries around the world it can contain pollutants from far distant seas. Consequently, salmon grown in the supposedly “pristine waters” of Norway may be fed feed taken from heavily polluted areas in Asia, Africa or South America.
There are attempts to move away from marine sources to agricultural or by-product feed. For example, in Canada farmed salmon can be fed by-products from poultry processing, but his might lead to further concerns. Read more here.
David Suzuki Guides you to Select Sustainable Farmed Salmon
You can make sustainable choices when choosing farmed salmon and the David Suzuki Foundation can help. Download this brochure that explains why you should refuse open net-cage farmed salmon and the importance of choosing more sustainable options like closed containment farmed salmon. Read more here.
There is Sustainable Farmed Fish Available but there is more work that needs to be done!
To have a truly healthy and sustainable product and to live up to it’s enormous potential to help feed the world, many players in the aquaculture industry need to reform their processes and take a hard look at the sustainability of their feed sources and the impact their farms have on the marine environment.
Shrimp Farming, a Cocktail of Controversy
It is not a pretty picture. Countless stories describe the impact that shrimp farming has had on mangrove and marine ecosystems around the world. It is such a huge and complicated issue that we are saving it for a follow-up article, to be published next week.
By Bob Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
See these related posts on Sustainable Seafood:
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