Are Fish Farms the Answer to World Hunger or a Blight on the Oceans?

By Eliza Strickland | March 3, 2009 2:17 pm

fish farmA new United Nations report has sparked outrage with its suggestion that fish farming should be dramatically increased to keep pace with growing fish consumption. Although the U.N. report presents aquaculture as a way to take pressure off wild fish stocks, conservationists say that fish farms indirectly snatch the food from many wild predator fish, marine mammals, and birds.

Environmental groups say the report appeared to ignore the huge environmental problems posed by fish farms: particularly the need to “hoover up” vast quantities of smaller fish like blue whiting, anchovies, sardines and sand eels, and more recently even krill, to feed the farmed fish [The Guardian]. Critics also worry that water-borne antibiotics and hormones used in fish farms are polluting the ocean, and say that farmed fish are more likely to catch infectious diseases, which escapees can transmit to wild schools.

Aquaculture has undergone explosive growth over the last few decades. In the 1970s, farming accounted for 6% of the fish available for human consumption. By 2006—the most recent year for which figures are available—that has risen to 47% [The Economist]. But the conservation group Oceana just released its own assessment of the consequences of that aquaculture, and painted a grim picture. Catching small fish to grind up into meal for fish farms has the potential to disrupt the entire marine ecosystem, Oceana’s report says.

Says Oceana’s Margot Stiles: “These fish may be small. They’re not glamorous. But they do all of the work in the ocean…. They’re the foundation of the food web. Without them, we would lose the things we really care about – the seabirds, whales, tuna and salmon” [San Francisco Chronicle]. Oceana has asked for catch limits for small prey fish, and is also pushing for a West Coast ban on fishing for krill, the tiny shrimp-like creatures that are a crucial food source for whales and other marine animals. That ban was adopted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council three years ago but has been held up by the U.S. Commerce Department. Scientific and environmental groups are asking officials in the Obama administration to approve the West Coast ban on krill fishing and to extend catch limits to other prey species [San Francisco Chronicle].

In response to environmentalists’ criticisms, the U.N. has suggested that aquaculture operations should focus on herbivore fish species, like tilapia and carp.

Related Content:
80beats: As the Thawing Arctic Opens to Ships, U.S. Moves to Protect the Fish
80beats: To Save the Fish in the Sea, Give Fishers a Financial Share
DISCOVER: Blue Revolution charts the rise of aquaculture, and the damage it can cause
DISCOVER: Fish Farming Threatens Wild Salmon

Image: flickr / axiepics

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
  • http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/10/arts/design/10sendak.html russ

    The hollow attack on aquaculture by the so called green establishment speaks volumes on the misinformation and out of context methods employed. While aquaculture indeed modifies small areas of the environment in no case does it change that environment as much as the parking lots paved with tarry poison at the offices of those who so ardently complain. Nor do these aquaculture operations put even a tiny fraction of the chemicals into the ocean as a typical golf course, school football field, or the lawns of even the smallest neighborhood, all of which we maintain by the tens of thousands. What of our world today where we declare a great recovery of fish stocks when those stocks rise from 2% of the historic levels to 4% of historic levels, praises are plenty and calls to renew the fishers allocations instantly offered and recipes for especially tasty wild fish circulated. What of the penchant for hunting and devouring wild things unto extinction and the unholy alliance of the so called greens with wild fishers and thier massively subsidized techno-rich fleets, who are no less determined than the buffalo hunters who sliced out the tongues of the vast herds into near extinction, the shotgunners who blasted every last living passenger pigeon from the earth to provide the extraordinary taste of wild fowl, the bludgeonors or the last Great Auk, and a long long long deadly toll of other wild things now eaten into extinction. If we, and I am one who does, are to eat meat, fish, and fowl we can no longer indulge ourselves in Hollywood fantasy of the noble hunter or fisher engaged in a personal challenge with the wilderness and wildlife to bring back feast and fortune. As we learned with all of our diet we must raise sustainably our food and stop murdering and munching our way through the last of the wild things.

  • Kevin

    “While aquaculture indeed modifies small areas of the environment in no case does it change that environment as much as the parking lots paved with tarry poison at the offices of those who so ardently complain.”

    I feel that making light of the true impact of fish farming in comparison to paved parking lots is a sure fire recipe for the eventual extinction of wild salmon. The protected future for these fish is for the good of the entire human population. Some would agree, some have no idea what’s happening, while unfortunately some people could care less what the end result is.

    “What of our world today where we declare a great recovery of fish stocks when those stocks rise from 2% of the historic levels to 4% of historic levels”

    I am one of many BC sports fishermen who have seen a consistant decline of returning fish to our rivers, so when I read statements like this it makes me wonder about the writers motive or are they just not on the front lines to really know the score.

    “As we learned with all of our diet we must raise sustainably our food and stop murdering and munching our way through the last of the wild things.”

    Fish farming in the migratory lanes of nature will do the murdering for us. Often the precieved answer to a problem does more harm than good. Wild salmon stocks need to be returned to plentiful levels for all to enjoy. Farming fish is more about profit than feeding the population. Unfortunately at the expense of our environment. I hope the ones who care prevail over the ones that don’t.

  • http://www.baileyswines.com Phil Bailey

    In my honest opinion we should be concentrating on vegetable farming, on International, National, Local and Personal levels. With adequate education people could build a sustaining diet with only a very little help from meat and fish resources, thus reducing the strain on fish stocks.

  • http://www.wholediet.com Wholediet Supplements

    This is great information about environmental groups say-fish farming(till now considered a measure to reduce food crisis) is polluting oceans. Thank you for what you are doing to educate and raise awareness about this important topic.

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