As a pescovegetarian, fish is a huge part of my diet. While I try to eat locally caught fresh fish whenever I can, I know that the oceans cannot sustainably produce enough seafood to supply the escalating demand for protein around the world. Fortunately, a growing number of farmed fish producers are developing more environmentally and socially approaches to aquaculture.
For example, Regal Springs, which supplies tilapia to Costco, where I shop, states that is “producing premium tilapia while building communities.” Regal Springs farms in three countries: Indonesia, Honduras, and Mexico. They were the first farm to obtain the sustainability certification from the Aquaculture Stewardship Council. Their products are traceable from the farm to the plate.
The fish are raised in clean water without preservatives, antibiotics, growth hormones, CO or mercury. And Regal Springs uses all parts of the fish. They make belts from the skins and biodiesel fuel from waste, and the scales are used to make collagen for the pharmaceutical industry.
The company is family owned and operated. Their website says, “Healthy fish starts with healthy people.” I couldn’t agree more. And they invest in the local communities where they’re based by funding education, health, and infrastructure.
Another innovative company, Australis Aquaculture, calls its farm-raised barramundi “the sustainable seabass.” Australis uses close-containment farming to raise fish in Turner Falls, Massachusetts, but most of their fish and processing takes place in a rural area in Vietnam.
According to the Australis website, “there’s a long history of small scale aquaculture (mostly family lobster farms)” in the part of central Vietnam where the fish are raised. They use same custom feed in Vietnam as they do in the US, and their fish conversion ratio is 1.4 to 1.
“100% of the fish goes into edible product,” cofounder and CEO Josh Goldman told me. “We’ve maximized the value of the whole fish. The fish cheeks and other parts are sold locally.”
Like Regal Springs, Australis is also concerned about social welfare. They’re a unionized company and pay living wages.
There are many other companies practicing sustainable aquaculture, but in order to adequately protect people and the environment while making sure that everyone has enough to eat, we need to improve practices across the board.
At a March 18 session at the 2014 Seafood Expo North Expo, a panel described their ambitious plans for the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI), a new collaboration between farmed salmon producers and other stakeholders. The GSI membership encompasses about 70% of the global salmon farming industry, so if successful, it will have a huge impact.
Launched in August, 2013, GSI’s goal is to rapidly scale up the production of farmed salmon, while balancing environmental, economic, and social sustainability. They believe they can achieve rapid progress through global collaboration and research, pooling of resources, transparency, and sharing best practices.
Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund gave an example of how we can increase output by reducing waste. “Alaska fisheries have increased the useable amount of flesh that can be removed from the bones from 30 to 70 percent. This technology is not being used elsewhere.”
One of the benefits of the GSI is that knowledge from the better financed and more advanced companies will be shared with farmers in developing countries. Effort must be made to ensure that everyone has access to the information. Doris Soto, of the FAO, said, “We need more than technology. We need good governance in place.”
What appeals to me about the GSI is that they’re trying to transform the entire industry, rather than just certifying a handful of the best companies. And I’m impressed that these major competitors are pooling resources towards a common goal. I’m nervous, however, that environmental and economic issues will push the social concerns aside. Hopefully, they’ll continue to make themselves accountable to the rest of us.