A Fish Story
I've always chosen to eat wild fish over farmed raised fish. I had read that farmed fish were raised in overcrowded pens, fed antibiotics and in the case of Atlantic Salmon, given artificial dyes to give this fish its distinctive coloring. In some cases this is true but my opinion on farmed fishing has changed after reading an article in Outside Magazine by Tim Zimmermann. The article gives some grim statistics about the amount of fish the world is harvesting, but also how improved practices in aquaculture, and labeling can help restore wild populations to sustainable numbers.
Some Disturbing Fish Facts
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 90% of wild marine fish stocks are either fully exploited or overexploited due to a worldwide 4.7 million vessel fishing fleet. Unfortunately many fleets use practices that include trawling nets and longlines: lines that stretch 40 miles with a baited hook every three feet. Unfortunately this efficient method of catching fish also bycatch as many as 150,000 sea turtles, and tens of thousands of whales, sharks, and dolphins. Trolling only drops a few lines behind a boat and therefore reducing bycatch. The global demand for fish is daunting. Six billion people on the planet are consuming about 158 million metric tons annually and about half of that is presently being supplied by farmed fish. How are we going to manage the ocean stocks of fish when the world swells to an estimated population of 9 billion by 2050?
Who Can Evaluate the Farm vs Wild Fish Dilemma?
Seafood Watch is an organization started at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and arguably has the most independent, comprehensive, and rigorous evaluation for seafood standards. Today nearly 60% of fish farming is in ponds and closed aquaculture systems producing rainbow trout, arctic char, salmon, tilapia, catfish, carp and shrimp. Most U.S. inland farming is done in line with good, healthy standards. U.S. farmed catfish, salmon, and shrimp are all Seafood Watch Best Choices. Tilapia if farmed in the U.S. and Ecuador also get a high rating. Farmed Tilapia from China and other parts of Asia get a lower rating from Seafood Watch for questionable chemical use and waste management practices. Seafood Watch’s best rating is Best Choice, and second they have Good Choice and that means there are some concerns about how the fish are caught or farmed. Their third category are of fish to be avoided. These are fish that either overfished or farmed in ways that may be harming the environment or other marine life. Seawatch’s tough standards has put fisheries on notice and has resulted in better practices in the industry. There are hundreds of restaurants and stores like Target, Safeway and Whole Foods that only sell fish deemed best choice by Seawatch or a similar monitoring organization called Safina Center. That is something consumers should be happy about both from a health and sustainability perspective. Hopefully other restaurant chains and supermarkets will follow suit and push the industry to adopt more environmentally friendly methods.
Seafood watch has a website and if you click this link you can view their assessment for the fish you are likely to see sold in the state of New Jersey. http://www.seafoodwatch.org/-/m/sfw/pdf/guides/mba-seafoodwatch-northeast-guide.pdf?la=en
The Future Fish Farms
This article also went on to discuss newer practices that will impact sustainability in a positive way. For instance, in the past it may have taken anywhere from 1.5-3.0 lbs. of a smaller fish to produce one pound of another larger fish. Soon you will be seeing more farmed fish like Barramundi that have diets that include plants resulting in a ratio of less than a 1.0 lb. of fish to equal l lb. gain of weight for Barramundi. Scientific analysis is also showing that farmed fish have less mercury than wild fish.
The problems that I see from farmed fish is the feed that they may be using. The use of fly larvae doesn’t concern me, but the use of soy or corn does if they are using GMO soy or corn. Investigating the practices of each company is something that may ultimately fall into our personal responsibility. One of the more interesting ideas from the article is the farming of mussels from lines suspended from rafts in the ocean. Mussels require no fish to feed them, grow almost everywhere and supply a healthy dose of protein and omega 3 fatty acids and have 1/30th the amount of mercury that Swordfish and Tuna has. Research is showing that we are woefully deficient in omega 3 fatty acids, so this is something to think about when purchasing fish.