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.