Fish is good food. Rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and protein, eating fish strengthens our hearts against heart disease, inflammation, dementia, diabetes, digestive disorders and even autoimmune diseases. Besides, it’s delicious. Unfortunately, not all fish are created equal, and most fish are not created in a way at promotes environmental equity. As unsustainable commercial fishing practices ravage global fish populations, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find quality, sustainably-sourced seafood sourced. As we chose between labels that read: “wild caught”, “local”, and “farm-raised”, what we are missing is the option to buy fish that is both organic and sustainably raised.
By 2030, two thirds of the world’s seafood will be farmed. That same year, the global population is expected to reach 8.5 billion. Our current over-reliance on land-animals for protein conflicts with our effort to reduce carbon emissions to stave off global warming. It takes a small fraction of both the food mass and requisite energy to produce seafood compared to what it takes to produce the same amount of beef, pork, or even chicken.
One Fish Two Fish
We are in the midst of a major ecological crisis caused by a combination of ocean warming and unsustainable fishing practices. One impact of this crisis has been the loss of several species of aquatic life and other animal species which depend on aquatic life for sustenance. Every species we loose has major repercussions for entire ecosystems and beyond. Humans have been fishing and farming for thousands of years, but recently we’ve been confronted with increasingly concerning reports about health risks and environmental damages linked human consumption of fish. From dolphins, sea turtles, and birds, getting caught in nets; to tilapia reared below fowl on feces and sea lice wiping out whole pens of salmon, fish is quickly losing its appeal. There is a way to do it better, but first, some background is required to fully understand how we got here.
Fish farming produces fish more efficiently and faster than they can be caught. The problem is that the current methods have high costs, significant waste, and harmful environmental impacts. Widely-used fish meal feeds are made from small fish. It takes 4.5 kilos of smaller fish to create 1 kilo of fish meal. We currently grind up at least 40% of the world’s seafood is to make fish food. The small fish used to make meal are food for many species and depleting them has implications for aquatic ecosystems, as well as birds and mammals. Fish feeds derived from vegetable sources such as corn and soy lack nutritional value, are not environmentally sustainable, not to mention being a strange and unnatural choice for fish. Fish don’t thrive when fed commercial feed, and being treated with pesticides, antibiotics, and other chemicals. Status-quo fish feed and other farming practices harm the fish, and the environment, while allowing unnatural substances to be introduced into our food chain. And, because farmed fish are typically raised on unnatural food and in open enclosures they are prone to contracting viruses, parasites, and diseases. According to the USDA, 90% of all fish loss is due to bacteria and viruses.
Eating wild-caught fish comes with its own set of risks. As waterways become increasingly polluted by industry, and pharmaceuticals, so, too, have the creatures that live in them. Discharge from wastewater treatment plants is a major source of this pollution that includes pharmaceuticals and chemicals from personal care products. A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Northwest Fisheries Science Center analyzed wastewater effluent for 150 contaminants and found 81 present in the samples including. Many of the contaminants were found in fish but not in surrounding waters, suggesting the toxins are accumulating in the animal’s tissue. Another major source of fish-poisoning water pollution comes from coal-fired power plants containing mercury which travels through the air and is deposited in water and finds its way into fish.
Beyond “Farmed” vs. “Wild-Caught”
The only way forward is a shift to aquaculture that is sustainable and organic, or to simplify: “green.” The proposed system takes the life-cycles and ecosystems in nature and applies them to aquaculture, insect rearing, and organic farming. One example of this is feeding the fish insects reared on-site. The insects used to make fish feed should be the same as those consumed by wild fish. These insects are free from diseases, so there is no need for antibiotics. The feed enables fish to absorb higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and protein. Like all animals, fish are what they eat. The nutrition of our food depends on the nutrition of our food’s food.
Selective breeding processes used in most aquaculture causes a reduction in genetic variation. If selectively bred fish mate with wild fish it diminishes genetic diversity and weakens the local population. Cultivating natural, native fish and eggs preserves genetic diversity. Organic, insect-based feed, supports genetic variation while reducing the contamination risk to the wild fish population.
Vertically Integrated “Closed-Loop” System.
Using a “closed-loop” sustainable eco-system to farm fish fish has the potential to boost our economy and replace aging hatcheries with efficient, high-quality, sustainable systems. The idea is to use the life-cycles and ecosystems in nature to create a sustainable, organic, heirloom food product. The system begins with organic food waste and ends with organic vegetables. Other benefits of the closed-loop system include:
- Utilizing agricultural and food waste to feed insects.
- Creating a protein-rich, insect-based food source derived from insect larvae at a significantly lower cost than traditional meal-based feed;
- Protecting wild fish ecosystems and waterways;
- Eliminating the need for chemical and antibiotic additives,
- Reducing energy costs by at hatcheries.
- Lowering operating costs by by utilizing the latest fishery technology;
- Producing healthier, more marketable, sustainable fish AND fish food;
- Rearing multiple species simultaneously for additional product diversity;
- Decreasing fish loss by due to bacteria, viruses, and parasites;
- Harvesting multiple times each year on a staggered cycle to maximize production while minimizing carbon footprint;
- Developing the systems, technology, and expertise to improve the future of fish farming.
- Decreasing the burden on state and federal regulatory agencies currently overseeing fish for release quality control, freeing them up to focus on testing, restoration, and research.
- Utilizing multiple harvest cycles of organic vegetables through integrated indoor hydroponics systems;
- Generating marketable by products (fish feed, organic vegetables, and fertilizer) creating multiple revenue streams;
Red Fish Blue Fish Green Fish!
Wild caught seafood is neither healthy nor sustainable. Traditional aquaculture methods produce sub-standard fish that have a deleterious impact on native species and ecosystems. Green Fish is a viable approach to farming that protects the environment while enabling future generations – of fish and people – a healthy, sustainable food source.
Author: S. Amanda Marshall, Attorney, Advocate, Consultant, Educator
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