Is Fish Farming the Solution to Over Fishing?

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Is Fish Farming the Solution to Over Fishing?

Decades of industrialised over-fishing have decimated our stocks of wild fish.  Against a backdrop of the global population explosion and a relentless human appetite for fish, Amanzi Magazine explores whether the business of fish farming is a sustainable answer to future food security. Is Fish Farming the Solution to Over Fishing?  

We explore Aquaculture from 2 different angles

Fish farm on our doorstep

The exquisite turquoise waters of the pure salt-water Langebaan Lagoon have long been a playground for kite-surfers, hobby fishermen and water enthusiasts.  However, some believe that its pristine natural beauty & unique eco-system, is under threat with the proposed Operation Phakisa – an aqua-farming development.  The ‘Save Langebaan Lagoon’ pressure group are currently engaged in a David & Goliath battle to protect the area from what they consider exploitation and an ill-conceived development, that could permanently destroy this unique eco-system.  

Solution to over-fishing

At first glance fish farms may appear to be a good solution to mitigate over-fishing and to meet the world’s growing nutritional demands.  Fish farming began 65 years ago and in 2011 global farmed fish production exceeded beef production. In 2012, 66 million tons of farmed fish were produced, compared to 63 million tons of beef.  Alarmingly about half of the world’s seafood now comes from fish farms.  So why is fish farming booming worldwide when it is considered by many experts to be one of the least sustainable approaches to farming?  What is the trade-off between economic benefit and environmental costs?

The naked truth about traditional fish farming

The traditional business model of fish farming uses wild fish to feed farmed carnivorous fish like salmon.  For instance, it takes 2 pounds of wild fish to feed 1 pound of carnivorous fish such as salmon and tuna.  The result is that prey (fish like anchovies and herring) are being fished to the brink of extinction to feed the world’s fish farms.

Aquaculture is also attributed to many environmental problems and poses unique health risks through the extensive use of chemicals, antibiotics and pollutants, not unlike to the ones used for feedlot cattle and factory chicken farms. Research also shows that farm-raised fish tend to develop all sorts of mutations which have been linked to the pesticides used to combat sea lice and other pests, and these chemicals have been found to also adversely affect the fishes’ DNA.

One study found that aquaculture in Sweden’s coastal waters “is not only ecologically but also economically unsustainable.” Simply put, aquaculture drives heavy ecological harms and costs society money. In the U.S., fish farming drives hidden costs of roughly $700 million each year – or half the annual production value of fish farming operations.

Here are some more facts about traditional aqua-farming:

  • Levels of omega-3 fats are reduced by about 50 percent in farmed salmon, compared to wild salmon, due to the use of grain and legume feed
  • Farmed salmon may spread diseases to wild populations, interbreed with wild species, threatening the wild gene pool with irreversible bio-pollution
  • Farmed fish are living in their own faeces.  Fish waste and uneaten feed litter the sea floor beneath these farms, generating bacteria that consume oxygen vital to shellfish and other bottom-dwelling sea creatures
  • Farmed fish waste promotes algal growth that that harms the water’s oxygen content, posing risks to coral reefs and other aquatic life
  • High levels of contaminants are common in farm-raised salmon; the Norwegian Health Department went on the record recently warning against eating too much farmed salmon for this reason. 
  • Pollution and modern farming practices have made farmed fish the most toxic food on the planet.  Sadly even wild fish are not a great nutritional choice either: pound for pound, salmon has just as much cholesterol as ground beef, and virtually all wild fish contains highly-toxic mercury.

 Searching for sustainable solutions – Is Fish Farming the Solution to Over Fishing?

Amanzi looks at other models of fish farming and discovered the aqua-pod, land-based fish farms and a refreshing algae-culture farm that’s being touted as the future of fish farming.  

The aqua pod

This is considered by some as a novel invention – an aqua pod is a large, predator-proof geodesic sphere that is designed to be positioned further out in the ocean. Supposedly by dispersing the waste by-products into deeper waters, the environmental impact is lessened.  However, according to Dr. Mercola, an acclaimed physician & published author, this is far from ideal, as drugs and toxins are still being dispersed into the wild. He claims that it’s tantamount to dumping toxic waste barrels into deep waters in the middle of the ocean.

Land-based fish farms

Another solution that the Langebaan pressure group wants Operation Phakisa to consider, is to place fish farms on or close to land.  However recent research shows that this isn’t the answer either. As reported by CBC News: “The only peer-reviewed study examining the environmental impacts of Nova Scotia land-based fish farms has found some negative effects on downstream ecosystem.” For instance, in Vietnam, more than 100 families living near a canal that houses two fish farms report suffering from an array of diseases linked to water pollution. So, is fish farming the solution to over fishing?

Sustainable fish-farm in Spain

In our search for a sustainable fish farming model, we stumbled upon an  ‘Algae-Culture’ fish farm in Veta La Palma, in the South of Spain.  The head biologist describes the farm as “primarily a centre for production of micro-algae, with the fish being a by-product”.  An interesting take which literally turns traditional fish farming on its head.  What sets this farm apart from the rest is that they grow micro-algae that attracts shrimp.  The fish then eat the shrimp as opposed to other wild fish.  The model avoids negative environmental impact and enhances environmental value.

The key to the success of this Algae-Culture farm is the nutrient rich river water pumped around its 8000-acre network of shallow ponds.  When combined with sunlight it encourages the growth of photosynthetic algae and plankton – the main source of food for shrimp and other crustaceans.  The fish then eat the shrimp and we eat the fish.  Their fish are also cultivated at low densities to mitigate diseases and enhance the ecosystem.  The combination of a natural diet and low-density cultivation methods are the main elements that differentiate it from traditional fish farming.

The 8000 acres of natural ponds are also flourishing with flamingos and 40,000 ducks – the traditional predators for fish farms.  The birds work in harmony with the production by moving nutrients and energy – contributing to the quality of the water.  The algae-culture farm therefore encourages an ecological relationship between the fish, birds and the natural food source.  Fully integrated with nature, could this be the model for the future?

A fishy story

It appears there are always two sides to every story – even the fishy ones.  Is Fish Farming the Solution to Over Fishing. Having considered all the facts at our disposal, it’s evident that some business models of traditional fish farming are gravely flawed and can have devastating ecological effects on our fragile ecosystem.  Saving the Langebaan Lagoon appears to be a noble battle to engage in.  However, the dismal state of our oceans as a source of nutrition is a crisis that isn’t going away and business models, such as the one in Spain, that integrate production with nature and follow nature’s natural wisdoms, instead of disrupting them, may well be a sustainable model for the future.

What can you do?

  • If you’d like to become involved in the pressure group opposed to the proposed Phakisa aquaculture development, please email savethelangebaanlagoon@gmail.com 
  • Whether in a restaurant or shopping mall find out where the seafood is from. If they don’t have an answer, it’s a red flag that its farmed.
  • You can vote with your wallet and eat less seafood or give it up completely.  You can get your Omega-3’s from flax, hemp, soy or walnuts – all without cholesterol or mercury.

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Author: AmanziMag

Promoting and celebrating Aquatic sports, safety and efficiency. Spreading advice, inspiration and news relating to the healthiest sport that has the most potential to educate the many South Africans who still fear water.

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