27 April 2016
Not So Fishy Fish Farms
Fish farms and aquaculture in the US have come under scrutiny in the past decade because more people want to know exactly what they are eating and where it came from. Fish farms fall under the large umbrella term of aquaculture. Dictionary.com defines aquaculture as “the cultivation of aquatic animals and plants, especially fish, shellfish, and seaweed, in natural or controlled marine or freshwater environments”. This practice has evolved over centuries and exploded in the 1970’s, becoming the number one producer of fish worldwide over wild caught fish. In truth, aquaculture in the US provides fish that contains the same or less contaminants than wild caught fish. Aquaculture also provides many advantages over conventional commercial fishing, such as superior sustainability and consistency. These advantages cause aquaculture to continue expanding everywhere and provide many jobs for the American people. With the growth of the aquaculture industry, the US will be able to produce more seafood and reduce the amount of imported fish. While the aquaculture industry in the United States suffers from some drawbacks like potential ecological damage and the presence of GMOs, it also provides many benefits, such as an increased supply of healthy fish, increased productivity, and economic benefits. These benefits outweigh the drawbacks of aquaculture and the industry should continue to grow in the future with the support of the American population.
Aquaculture attracts negative attention from ecologically concerned people, which makes sense considering aquaculture has the potential to cause significant ecological damage. One of the major drawbacks of aquaculture lies in the potential for ecological damage that can arise if the aquaculture farmers do not properly control their operations. Several instances of ecological damage caused by aquaculture are reported, such as a research paper written at the University of New Brunswick. The primary writer of the article is Madeline G. Wiber; a professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of New Brunswick. Mrs. Wiber, a known anthropologist, recently shifted her focus to investigating dairy and fisheries. In this study written by Mrs. Wiber, findings indicate that aquaculture sites can cause various kinds of ecological degradation. Within two years of aquaculture practice, fishermen noted that certain species like herring and lobster avoided the area. They also found that sea urchin shells became brittle and the meat became discolored. Another downside noted in the study showed the chemicals used to control sea lice also caused some shrimp and crab in the area to die (Wiber). This study highlights the potential risks of aquaculture on the environment and supports the need for more research and testing in the future. Future studies would benefit greatly from combining the knowledge of traditional fishermen and the technical expertise of aquaculture engineers. By combining the expertise of both parties, the United States should be able to solve many of the ecological problems potentially caused by aquaculture. In addition to worrying about the ecological impacts of aquaculture, people also worry about the nutrition of farmed fish.
Part of the increased supply of fish, especially salmon, comes from genetically modified fish that grow quickly. The issue of GMOs in farmed fish is relevant, but testing and studies on GMOs in general are relatively inconclusive. Therefore, the decision on whether or not to trust GMOs lies with the individual consumer. However, the FDA approves several genetically modified animals for human consumption, such as the AquAdvantage salmon. The FDA’s website states, “the FDA determined that food from AquAdvantage Salmon is as safe to eat as food from non-GE Atlantic salmon”. The idea of influencing the genetics of fish populations exists without using modern GMOs as well. Many fish farms cultivate fish that results from simply selective breeding, not using extremely advanced technology like the AquAdvantage salmon. These fish grow at three times the rate of wild salmon and show progress toward increasing the productivity of aquaculture in the future. These fish also create the potential problem of ecosystem instability if there is an escape of fish or potential runoff. Escaped fish could act as an invasive species depending on where they escape or could infiltrate the gene pool and spread the GMO fish Because of the inconclusive testing results of genetically modified fish, the focus falls on the other contaminants of farmed fish.
Fish raised in the United States in fish farms do not contain an excessive amount of contaminants and provide almost the same nutrition as wild caught fish. Many Americans rightfully question whether or not the fish they eat contains contaminants or causes some health problems. This concern is warranted, but only holds true with some imported fish. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, The US imports about 90% of its seafood. This causes problems for the consistency of the fish market because other countries, especially China, have different regulations. More accurately, the Ministry of Agriculture and others expect China to follow the same regulations as others, but most fish that would not pass inspection are exported or sold anyway. According to Edward Broughton, “The fragmentary nature of enforcement of existing food laws has spawned a system that operates at far less than optimal efficiency and effectiveness” (Broughton). These fish can be raised in conditions that are not approved by American standards and are known to cause sickness in those who eat it. However, farmed fish in the US contain similar levels of contaminants compared to wild caught fish. In an article researching the health effects of farmed salmon, Hites states: “We do not report on other important contaminants, such as methylmercury, because our preliminary study showed no significant difference in methylmercury levels between farmed and wild salmon” (Hites). The same article stated that farmed fish contained more organochlorine contaminants than wild fish. However, this contaminant is only a possible carcinogen and the farmed fish with a higher concentration only contained 2% of the amount considered dangerous (Hites). These statistics support the claim that US farm raised fish does not contain dangerous levels of contaminants and that people should eat more fish for a healthy lifestyle. One of the most important points that lie at the core of aquaculture is the effects of fish on human health.
Fish provide many benefits for the human body, especially when compared to other meats like pork or beef. Fish meat contains low fat and provides a respectable amount of protein as well as other important nutrients. Fish is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids; a substance that promotes cardiovascular health. Eating fish also reduces the risk of early onset Alzheimer’s and dementia. However, fish can also contain the heavy metal mercury which can cause health issues when ingested in large amounts. An article published by the National Science Teachers Association states that people should eat some types of fish more than others. The article states, “despite its mercury content, fish is generally good for us—and should be included in a healthy diet” (Liberatore). The article also explains that only predatory fish contain dangerous amounts of mercury. These predatory fish include shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and some others. Pregnant mothers should avoid mercury rich fish more than usual, but many other types of fish remain available for mothers and children. Some of the fish with the least mercury include catfish, tilapia, and salmon. While US farmed fish provides the same nutrients without a significant increase in contaminants, the true advantage of aquaculture lies in the efficiency and potential for production.
Aquaculture provides a plethora of advantages over wild fishing. Aquaculture provides an extremely efficient way of producing food. The aquaculture requires significantly less input materials to produce a final product. According to the United States Geological Survey, the aquaculture industry uses less fresh water than farms that raise beef and pork. Aquaculture also uses much less feed per pound to produce the final product. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “it takes 1.2 pounds of feed to produce one pound of salmon, chicken 1 : 1.9, pork 1 : 5.9, beef 1 : 8.7”. These statistics support the use of aquaculture due to the efficiency required in food production due to the increasing global population. In addition to the efficiency of the aquaculture industry, it also provides a more sustainable and consistent food supply.
Fish farms provide a much more consistent source of food because fisheries regulate populations more easily and external factors pose less of a threat. Most commercial species in the wild are severely overfished and their populations can fluctuate throughout the year. According to the World Wildlife Fund website, “53% of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, and 32% are overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion” (Unsustainable Fishing). Fish farms do not suffer from this risk because the population is calculated and hatcheries can easily resupply harvested fish. The wild fish populations also suffer from external factors such as natural disasters and oceanic pollution, which can effect wild populations. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the US only produces 5-7% of our demand for seafood. This statistic could continue to grow in the future as the industry becomes more prevalent in the United States. Growth in the US aquaculture industry would not only improve the quality of seafood available, but also provide economic benefits to the country.
The aquaculture industry in the United States also provides the benefit of helping to reduce the trade deficit and provide more domestic jobs, especially in the South East. The industry provides thousands of jobs in several different fields. Many fishermen displaced by the shrinking commercial fisheries find work with these fish farms. The aquaculture industry also provides jobs to engineers and technicians who can design and implement new technology. The US aquaculture provides a total value of $1.2 billion annually. This helps to alleviate some of the $11.2 billion deficit in seafood trading every year (NOAA Fisheries). The US aquaculture industry been growing since the 1970’s, but future growth may come with challenges. The increased growth globally, especially in China, puts pressure on the domestic production of the price competition between the fish suppliers. While the US does not produce a significant amount of farmed fish on a global scale, they provide much of the technologies used in aquaculture economic advantages.
The aquaculture industry continues to grow in the US as well as the rest of the world for good reason. Although aquaculture carries some risks, the benefits gained far outweigh the possible problems caused. Aquaculture provides increased productivity and sustainability compared to wild fishing. Aquaculture also provides many distinct advantages, such as its independence from most external factors and its efficiency in producing meat. The aquaculture industry also brings substantial economic growth to the United States and provides work for many Americans. The aquaculture industry in the United States is an important asset should continue to grow in the future with the support of the American people.
"AquAdvantage Salmon." US Food and Drug Administration. N.p., 7 Apr. 2016. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
"Basic Questions about Aquaculture." NOAA Fisheries. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016. .
Broughton, Edward I., and Damian G. Walker. "Policies and Practices for Aquaculture Food Safety in China." Food Policy 35.5 (2010): 471-78. ScienceDirect. Web. 24 Apr. 2016
Hites, Ronald A. "Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon." Science 303.5655 (2004): 226-29. AAAS. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
Liberatore, Stephanie. "Health Wise." The Science Teacher 77.1 (2010): 62-63. Questia. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
"Unsustainable Fishing." World Wildlife Fund. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
Wiber, Melanie Gay, Sheena Young, and Lisette Wilson. "Impact of Aquaculture on Commercial Fisheries: Fishermen’s Local Ecological Knowledge." Human Ecology 40.1 (2012): 29-40. JSTOR. Web. 4 Apr. 2016.