Monday, March 26, 2012

‘Salmon’ Farming vs. ‘Fish’ Farming

Sometimes it is frustrating to work in the aquaculture industry.  There is so much misinformation and public scare-mongering emanating from environmental lobby groups that when I tell people that I work in aquaculture, most people turn up their noses and politely inform me that I shouldn’t spend my time destroying the planet.  I want to clear the air on one simple, vet vital, distinction that must be considered when discussing the activity’s environmental effects.

I live in British Columbia, and in BC when people say ‘fish farming’, in most instances they really mean to say ‘open-net salmon farming’.  Many “informed consumers” often confuse the two, saying one thing and intending another.  I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said ‘Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat Farmed Fish’.  I’ve got news for you: over half the seafood consumed globally is farmed, much of it in a more sustainable manner than current commercial salmon production.  In fact, salmon represents only 2% of global aquaculture production- in contrast, the majority of global aquaculture focuses on vegetarian finfish such as carps (which have feed-conversion ratios of less than 1) as well as shellfish which require no feed inputs.  By using the shortcomings of the salmon industry to vilify aquaculture as a global practice, environmental lobbyists are doing nothing more than openly displaying their ignorance.     

I have done the research and I will be the first one to stand up and point out the challenges associated with the sustainability (or rather lack thereof) of commercial salmon production.  Yet I stand flabbergasted every time someone on the street attempts to tell me that ‘fish farming is bad’ and that I should sign a petition to ‘make Canada a fish farm-free country’.  Aquaculture as a global practice has grown and developed to the point at which a huge variety of species are cultured in a range of production systems in almost every country around the world: to generalize the industry into one lump activity is not only plain wrong, it is dangerous.

Going forward I will continue to focus on awareness, open dialogue, and transparency as this industry continues to mature.  I hope that in time, consumers may yet better understand the issues associated with where their seafood comes from and make informed decisions about which aquaculture practices to support. 


  1. Great blog Brian! We wholeheartedly agree and will be watching this space to see what you have to say. Thanks!

  2. This is exactly how I feel.
    Over the last few years I have been studying, Fisheries ecology, marine conservation, aquaculture and now I'm starting to take a look at conventional dairy beef and pork farming etc. I care about the marine environment and food security and quality. I wouldn't work in this industry if I thought it was doing something morally or ethically wrong.
    Salmon farming might not solve all the worlds problems, it even has big problems itself. But compare it to every other form of commercial food production and it suddenly starts to look very very efficient and sustainable. It might not seem fair that its so tightly regulated, but in some ways that's doing the industry a huge favour, making sure the mistakes of the fishing and agricultural industries aren't replicated.

  3. The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance – which represents fish and shellfish farmers across the country – compliments you for publishing your support for this vibrant, sustainable industry.

    As you say, aquaculture is already an essential component of the global food supply and is the world’s fastest-growing animal food-producing sector.

    Here in Canada aquaculture produces over a dozen species in all ten provinces and in the Yukon. Canadian seafood farmers, including our salmon farmers, operate in a heavily regulated industry and are totally committed to continuous improvement in providing safe, quality seafood in a sustainable manner.

    Your work to stomp out inaccurate generalizations about the sustainability of farmed seafood will help to ensure the aquaculture industry continues to grow responsibly and bring increased value to Canadians.