Guest blogger Bob Rheault, PhD is the Executive Director of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, and a member of NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Advisory Council; he was an oyster farmer in Rhode Island for 25 years.
Recently the New York Times ran an opinion series in its Room For Debate section titled, Too Few Fish in the Sea, asking the question, “Is there a way to meet consumer demand for quality seafood and protect threatened marine life at the same time?”
Reading through the eight responses I was disappointed to see that only one mentioned aquaculture as a possible solution. Paul Greenberg, author of “Four Fish,” urged readers not to discount “smart” aquaculture, but in the next breath he bashed salmon farming, repeating out-dated, anti-aquaculture propaganda once funded by the Packard and Pew foundations. It is informative to note that these big funders (and other “opinion leaders” in the seafood world) have essentially stopped bad-mouthing aquaculture.
The big thinkers in the seafood world are starting to see the folly of bashing aquaculture and are recognizing that fish farming (especially in the well-regulated U.S.) can be done well and with minimal environmental impacts. Unfortunately, this positive message has not yet trickled down to the masses of consumers and chefs who have been fed decades of anti-aquaculture press.
The best argument for aquaculture as a sustainable source of seafood comes from the inevitable arithmetic of population growth and global consumption patterns. World fisheries landings have topped out at 80MMT and no one believes we can sustainably capture much more from the oceans, even if we develop a taste for so-called “trash fish.” China’s rising middle class is expected to triple its fish consumption by the end of the decade. In just a few short decades global fish consumption is projected to double. Sustainable aquaculture is our only hope. It is time for chefs and consumers to recognize this simple arithmetic and get behind sustainable aquaculture.
Like all forms of food production, aquaculture is not without some environmental impact. Fishing has impacts too, but the industry continues to work towards sustainability, minimizing those impacts and improving efficiencies. Fish farming has far less impact than the production of beef, chicken or pork. Life-cycle analysis comparisons looking at the use of fuel, water, land and fertilizers all point to aquaculture as the clear winner.
Fish farming in the highly regulated U.S. is sustainable. The debate about fishmeal use has been made irrelevant by advances in feed formulations -it now takes less than a pound of fishmeal to produce a pound of salmon. I will start to worry about fishmeal supplies when we stop feeding tons of it to house cats. Issues of escapes and disease already have been addressed. Allegations of benthic impacts are exaggerated – they are localized and reversible, disappearing after a few months of fallowing. Researchers are finding that lobster populations near fish farms are thriving.