Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mmm, that aquacultured fish sure is tasty!

Have you ever wondered where the fish you ate came from? Or especially the raw sushi you ordered from Sushiya? It’s not a bad question to ask yourself, as studies determined that about half of the world’s consumed seafood is manufactured. So how authentic, really, is that salmon you had for dinner last night?

The farming of fish and sea creatures under controlled conditions—referred to as aquaculture—is one of the fastest growing areas of animal food production, growing at the rate of 8.4% since 1970. It provides a sustainable source of food supply, which would be great to help bridge the gap between food demand and availability. And how high is that demand you ask? Studies by the Food and Agricultural Organization determined that each person consumed an average of almost 17 kilograms of fish last year! With the exponentially growing human population that will presumably soon take over the Earth, that is a whole lot of fish! Sadly, it turns out that even the tremendous depths of the oceans have limits. According to a Times article on aquaculture written by Bryan Walsh, “the U.N. reports that 32% of global fish stocks are overexploited or depleted and as much as 90% of large species like tuna and marlin have been fished out in the past half-century.” This is where aquaculture steps in with high hopes of fulfilling our seafood-eating desires, while hopefully straying away from emptying our vast oceans of these beloved creatures.

But with every solution comes a multitude of problems, unfortunately. Environmental costs that arise from aquaculture are major concerns that worry ecologists. Disease is easily spreadable amongst the fish since they are so densely packed in ponds and tanks, and the destruction of forests to make room for these sea creature farms is preposterous. Another big issue is that in order to manufacture 1 lb of fish, it requires 2 lbs of ground wild fish as food, therefore creating a net ocean loss. However, humans are smart beings and often come up with solutions to override problems. Biologist Thierry Chopin proposed his integrated multitrophic aquaculture (IMTA) plan to build an aquacultural system that mimics nature. That way, the waste produced by fish wouldn’t pile up and can be used by other organisms such as seaweed, which in turn provides food for the fish. And a solution for the 2 lbs wild fish for every 1 lb farmed fish? Farm tilapia and barramundi instead of salmon because the prior are vegetarians and the latter are flexible in every which way: in terms of diet and living environment.

The production efficiencies of sea animals is beneficial in providing our bodies with protein and satisfying our pallets, but it is also less environmentally damaging than terrestrial agriculture such as beef and pork production. Cultivating fish requires less feed than raising livestock, and since fish are cold-blooded, less energy is wasted to keep them warm.

The role aquaculture plays in saving and preserving wild populations of fish may make it one of conservative ecology’s most prized ocean-saving possessions—if performed in an efficient manner with respects to providing us healthy food, while also making sure to reduce the environmental impacts. Although it doesn’t necessarily cause the ocean dwellers to reproduce and exponentially increase their population like us humans do, it does help to prevent them from being so greatly depleted. That is, if we farm tilapia and barramundi, as opposed to salmon and cod. Now if only we can come up with solutions for our other oceanic problems such as acidification, so that our coral reefs would look spectacular once again and we can all live in utopia…


Sabto, Michele. “Managing Aquaculture’s Net Benefits.” ECOS Towards a Sustainable Future, 8 Aug 2011. Web. 12 Oct 2011.

Walsh, Bryan. “The End of the Line.” Time Science, 7 Jul 2011. Web. 12 Oct 2011.

Westlake, Louise. “Tasting the Future of Farmed Seafood.” CNN World, 25 Mar 2011. Web. 10 Oct 2011.


Anonymous said...

The IMTA plan sounds heaven sent! I would love to know that my sushi isn't contaminated with sea lice from unsafe "farming conditions."

Garrett Lui said...

Oh yikes, Trader Joe has got to start replacing his salmon and cod with tilapia and barramundi...I thought he knew better than that.