See http://www.goodeater.org/2010/05/10/lets-talk-fish-farming/ for the original post with comments below.
Author: Andrew Gruel
Andrew Gruel manages Seafood for the Future, a non-profit seafood advisory and promotional program based at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Southern California. Andrew holds a degree in Food Marketing and Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales University.
I am going to come right out and turn many heads by saying, when guided properly, the growth in fish farming can become one of the more encouraging trends in our food system. As ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau once wisely asserted, “We must plant the sea and herd its animals using the sea as farmers instead of hunters.” Keep in mind when reading this, however, that fish farming refers to not just salmon, a fish with which most people associate the word, but species such as mussels, clams, oysters, arctic char, trout, catfish, tilapia, barramundi and carp (interestingly, carp is the most aqua-cultured species in the world with 38% worldwide production by volume… is carp the next fish and chips?).
First, a bit about myself. I am a glutton for the flawless bite of food. I am a prisoner to my stomach. I hate getting full, and I eat beyond the normal “stopping point”. Instead of meditating, as I have been told I should do on many occasions to rid myself of the “New Jersey” threaded into my soul, I think about the next meal (and no, it isn’t always Taylor ham, egg and cheese). I am also a seafood lover and an awful fisherman. These three things conspired to get me to start working in kitchens while attending college along the coast of Maine. I figured I could eat as much lobster as I wanted if I helped out behind the scenes.
To make a long story short, I went from dishwasher at a seafood shack to culinary school and around the ring of restaurants over the next 10 years until finally I am back full circle, right smack in the middle of seafood (and it smells great).
Developing a sustainable seafood program, and working with one of the most dynamic marine biologists, I learn things about seafood which most chefs and consumers are not aware. I read stories and statistics that have slapped me upside the head. I ingest information that stretches from a single sardine all the way to global warming. Ergo, I have made it my goal to make all of this public knowledge. So let’s talk fish farming.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, in 2008, 51% of the seafood consumed worldwide was farmed. Of that, only 2% was farmed in the US ($1.2 billion compared to $70 billion worldwide=major trade deficit). The majority of the species farmed is comprised of salmon and shrimp, which also happen to be the #1 and #2 most consumed seafood species in the United States. The majority of seafood eaten in the United States is farmed.
Let me present the paradox: Universally, studies show that consumers reject farmed seafood, hence the reason it is so difficult to establish the regulatory framework needed to have fish farms in the US. Yet the majority of the seafood we consume is farmed overseas. We are having a conversation about farmed seafood as if it hasn’t happened yet, as if we are in the process of making this decision, while the rest of the world provides us with seafood that is in many cases unregulated and treated with unknown chemicals.
It is time to engage in an honest dialogue accepting the fact that whether we know it or not, Americans have already embraced fish farming. In essence, let’s take the conversation to the next step: How can we regain control of the food we eat here in the US? Can we establish the standards needed to begin teaching the rest of the market how to efficiently raise fish from both an economic and environmental standpoint?
Let’s start with a success story. Alaskan Salmon represents a partnership between a wild fishery and responsible fish farming. In 2008, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported that 146 million salmon were commercially harvested with 60 million of these salmon being identified as ocean ranched. Salmon ranching is a form of aquaculture which holds fish in captivity for the first few years of their lives, releases them, and then harvests the adults when they return to breed. This practice is used most commonly with salmon, as these fish almost always return to the exact location of their birth for breeding. The goal of the system is to maintain a sustainable biomass of salmon by enhancing the stock. While this is a method of aquaculture, the fish are not “farmed” in the traditional sense of spending their entire lives in net pens. Here is a quote from Alaska’s Sea Grant program: “Salmon ranching and shellfish farming comprise Alaska’s aquaculture industry. Private non-profit hatcheries, primarily owned by commercial salmon fishermen, support the fishery with releases of approximately 1.5 billion salmon smolt each year.”
This mechanism is not a bad thing. In fact, ranching is a capable way to stimulate a sustainable stock of salmon in Alaska. We must, however, openly accept it as a form of aquaculture in order to have an honest conversation. Could stock enhancement or salmon ranching have saved the wild Atlantic salmon species?
Our seafood industry lacks transparency and is full of lies and manipulations along the entire chain of custody. For example, look at the Bluefin tuna industry. There is no accountability for the under-reporting of catches, thus perpetuating the ultimate extinction of this species. On a retail level, many restaurants and markets are dressing farmed salmon up as wild, leading the consumer to believe they are supporting a well managed wild fishery (NY Times report) In addition, there is a huge need for the public at large to get a better understanding of what fish farming is all about. The more information there is available for chefs, consumers, fisherman, wholesalers and regulatory bodies, the easier it will be to enact change in an industry and ocean struggling to stay alive.
Learn more about salmon ranching