Farmed Fish - Friend or Foe?

With all talk of the world’s fish population being depleted by overfishing – to the point that by 2048 the world will run out of fish – is raising fish in ‘farms’ preferable to wild caught fish? You might think so on the one hand, but there’s other considerations to keep in mind too. Many fish farms are unregulated throughout the world and their operational practices may not be what you want to hear. Not all farmed fish is bad, but not all farmed fish is good for you or the environment.

From an article by Travis Walter Donovan published in the Huffington Post on May 31, 2010* are  9 Surprising Fish Farming Facts:

·         With fish stocks rapidly depleting in the oceans, the industry of fish farming has continued to grow in response. In 2006, Americans ate an average of 16.5 pounds of fish per person, surpassed only by Japan and China. That same year, fish farming accounted for 47% of the world’s fish food supply.

·         Large-scale fish farm operations force fish to live in conditions much more crowded than they would in the wild, sometimes leaving each fish less room than an average bathtub. The excess of fish waste and unconsumed feed pollutes the surrounding waters. Additionally, living in such close proximity gives rise to increased disease and infection, which is usually responded to with antibiotics, further polluting the surrounding environment.

·         Many of the chemicals banned in the US are still used in international fish farms for disease and parasite control. Due to a lack of regulation, these chemicals make their way to our dinner table through the large amount of fish we import from other countries.

·         Many fish farms operate with netpens in open waters. These systems are extremely susceptible to being ripped open from predators or storms. When the fish escape, they cause irreparable harm to the local ecosystems, corrupting gene pools, competing for food sources and breeding territories, and spreading disease.

·         Tilapia are one of the most environmentally friendly fish to farm. They are herbivores, so they don’t require the mass amounts of fish byproduct that carnivores do. In addition, they can be farmed in large tanks rather than outdoor pools, making them much more accessible for aquaculture.

·         Shrimp farming is one of the most destructive types of aquaculture. Mangrove forests protect coastlines, provide food and shelter to countless wildlife, and supply multiple resources to impoverished coastal people who rely on them for daily sustenance. Unfortunately, they also occupy many ideal locations for shrimp farming, and are uprooted and destroyed as a result. In addition, shrimp farmers are often quick to abandon the locations and move to new ones for better production results, destroying more mangroves along the way. Shrimp farms also raise the salinity of surrounding water and soil, ruining the land for agriculture.

·         Some carnivorous species, like salmon, can be very high maintenance to farm, requiring much more food than they produce. For every 1 lb. of farmed salmon, 2 to 5 lbs. of smaller fish are needed to feed it.

·         Bivalves, such as oysters and mussels, rank highest when it comes to environmentally friendly aquaculture. Because they are filter feeders, they actually make the water in their ecosystem cleaner, and due to their lack of mobility, they are much easier to contain than fish.

·         Recirculating Aquaculture Systems are the most eco-friendly. The ultimate water use is minimal, and they have the least environmentally hazardous waste removal methods. Developing aquaculture farming systems in tandem with agriculture is becoming a more popular environmentally-friendly option, as well. When done right, the systems produce very little waste, as they benefit from each other’s byproducts. Fish waste fertilizes the plants, which can in turn filter the water and provide needed nutrients back to the fish. Rice farmers in Asia have long farmed fish alongside their crops, using certain species of fish to fight pests that harm their rice paddies.

Use your Smartphone to help you make good choices when dining out and when grocery shopping. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app provides up-to-date recommendations for ocean-friendly seafood and sushi.  Click on the link below to find out how to download for your Smartphone.