Sustainability Column: Implications of Farm Fishing

The popularity of farm fishing has grown rapidly over the past decade. This is because it has become easier for companies to “grow” large amounts of fish in containers far from the sea, rather than fish them out of the ocean. The World Bank reports that by 2030 almost two-thirds of seafood worldwide will be through these farm fishing practices. Although at the surface level, farm fishing may seem like a great solution to the overfishing epidemic many parts of the world are facing today, it carries with it its own issues, some of which may be more detrimental to ocean species and the environment.

Farm fishing is defined as fish that are grown and raised in nets or tanks. These fish are then sold as a consumer product and eaten. The main problem with this type of farming is what the fish are being fed as they mature in the tanks. They eat what is described as “fishmeal.” This fishmeal is a combination of different sea animals that the farm fish would have eaten were they living in the ocean. Fishmeal is the major problem and environmental danger from farm fishing. In order to get fishmeal, smaller fish and seafoods are over-harvested from the ocean to feed these non-ocean dwellers. Therefore, nothing is left for the native fish in the sea or for any of the other fish, disrupting the ecological foodchain.

Even though there is the appearance that farm fishing preserves native ocean fish, it might actually cause more harm to them in the long run. Of course, there are many feasible solutions to this issue, but it may be tough to get farmers to switch over if it is more costly. As a consumer, it is important that you demand ethically raised farm fish that will not negatively impact our environment; this is one way that you can encourage producers to switch to more environmentally friendly means of production.

In general, paying attention to where your fish are being sourced from to ensure that it is being produced in the most environmentally friendly way possible is a good idea! The Seafood Watch organization provides easy and comprehensive lists that highlight many fish that consumers should avoid buying due to overfishing problems based on location. In New York some of these include Atlantic Cod, Atlantic Halibut (wild), Atlantic Salmon (farmed), sharks, shrimp (imported), Bluefin Tuna, etc. By cutting these fish out of ones diet it can help rebalance the ocean levels of these species. One can also look at the packaging of the fish in supermarkets. It is usually very easy to read where the fish are sourced from.

Farm fishing can be done in a way that does not harm the environment, but it is important to ensure that what is purchased follows the most environmentally friendly path. Although this can be done, there are many questions regarding whether this practice is ethical. Many farm-fished species are overcrowded in their tanks, and there are no regulations on humane treatment of these species. This ethics question will impact some more than others, but it is important to consider when deciding what food you are consuming, as well. The important things are: know where your fish come from, stay away from fish on the watch list as best as possible and think about the ethical implications of how fish are produced.