Seven Things to Know About Farmed Fish

Incentive to eat oystersIn case you didn’t know…

  1. Aquaculture, or fish farming, produces half of the world’s seafood we consume.  The global demand for seafood is increasing as the world’s population increases and income levels rise. There’s a finite supply of wild seafood, which needs to be managed carefully to be sustainable. Simply put, the need for aquaculture will only increase, so consumers must demand sustainably farmed seafood.
  2. Aquaculture compares favorably to industrially farmed livestock in many ways.  In general, fish convert much more of the grain they eat into protein than cows or pigs, so it’s actually more efficient to raise fish than cattle. Raising livestock has other adverse impacts on air, water and soil quality, too.
  3. One of the biggest concerns about aquaculture is the amount of fish that must be caught or raised to feed the fish. Most farmed fish are fed fish meal and fish oil, and farmed carnivorous fish, such as salmon and tuna, feed on small fish, so the wild supply is further depleted. Salmon production is especially intensive, although Verlasso, a new company raising salmon in Patagonia, says they’ve reduced their “fish in, fish out” ratio from 4 or more pounds of feeder fish to raise one pound of salmon to a one to one ratio.
  4. There are numerous other environmental, health and social problems associated with some forms of aquaculture and practices, such as the destructive impact on local communities and livelihoods, loss of biodiversity, damage to environmentally sensitive areas, use of non-native species, pen crowding, major disease outbreaks, water pollution, and abuse of antimicrobials and other veterinary drugs. I’ve stopped buying farmed salmon and imported farmed shrimp because I’m horrified by such practices.  As I’m learning at the International Boston Seafood Show, however, practices vary species by species, country by country and company by company, so if you are able to do the research, you can find a good supplier. NOAA Fisheries FishWatch, the New England Aquarium, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, and the Blue Ocean Institute  are just a few of the organizations that have sustainable seafood guides.
  5. In general, U.S. aquaculture is subjected to more regulation than fisheries in many other countries.  For example, almost no antibiotic use is approved for the U.S. aquaculture industry, while other countries have much looser standards.  In addition, most of the 6,400 U.S. aquaculture operations are small businesses that contribute to their local economy—some are multigenerational family farms. At Aquaculture 101, a session at the International Boston Seafood Show, presenter Carole Engle, who works with many catfish farmers in the southern U.S., said that some of the farmers she works with in Arkansas are small, multigenerational family farms that are playing an important role in their communities. “If you have a local aquaculture operation in your area, go visit it,” she urged.
  6. Shellfish aquaculture that produces oysters, clams, scallops and other bivalves and mollusks actually helps the environment by filtering out pollutants, and tend to use less intensive production systems, so they are a good choice for sustainable seafood.
  7. Finding sustainably farmed seafood is like finding any other type of good food: know your farmer, know your food.  Eat foods in as natural, least processed a state as possible, and go local when you can. If you don’t have a relationship with the people who grow or raise your food, find a place to shop that you trust to find the foods you can feel good about eating. As for me, while I’ll continue to seek out wild, locally-caught seafood in season, I’m happy to have an excuse to eat more oysters!
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5 Responses to Seven Things to Know About Farmed Fish

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  2. Helen says:

    Thank you so much for your excellent coverage of the Seafood show. I usually try to go, but couldn’t make it this year.

    I think the most important thing to mention about farmed fish is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. $15/Lb salmon from Whole Foods, New Deal, or Marden’s won’t have the same issues as $7/Lb salmon from Stop & Shop. Besides demanding more environmentally friendly options, consumers also need to be willing to pay for them.

    It’s exciting that the media is no longer painting aquaculture with such a negative brush :)

    • myrna says:

      Unfortunately, until we figure out how to make the sustainable options affordable. it will be extremely difficult for most consumers to support sustainable options.

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