More than half the fish that reaches store shelves around the world today is farmed fish. There are some, quite a few in fact, who claim aquaculture will become increasingly critical to humanity's need for protein. That may be so, but...
Fish farms now surpass wild fisheries as the main provider of seafood on our plates, but combined risks from global heating, excessive use of antibiotics, a dependence on wild stocks for feed, and poor governance threatens the lucrative and fast-growing sector, warned Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (Fairr), a $12trn-backed network.
Fairr’s report, Shallow returns?, shows an average growth in aquaculture of almost 6% annually, providing “significant” returns for shareholders, at up to more than 400% over five years. But the investor group warned that much of this expansion is based on high-density farming associated with environmental, social and governance risks. It accused the sector of “limited transparency” on these issues.
Aquaculture is both a significant contributor to emissions and is highly exposed to their impacts, the report said. Farmed marine fish production in south-east Asia, one of the largest aquaculture regions, is expected to drop 30% by 2050 due to rising sea temperatures and acidification of oceans.
Farmed salmon and shrimp require fishmeal and fish oil, making the sector highly dependent on rapidly depleting wild fish stock for future growth, the report found.
Lettini said: “We thought that farmed fish would save our wild stocks in the oceans, but now it’s coming to the fore that we are using wild-caught fish to feed our farmed fish – and that is causing real problems.”There's a snag to this argument. What do these critics imagine wild fish, such as salmon, eat while they're migrating through our oceans? Other fish, lots of other fish.
Sewage and wastewater discharged from fish farms is also associated with toxic algal blooms and polluted drinking water, Lettini said.
Last month Norway suffered its worst algal bloom in 30 years, with 8 million salmon killed so far. Algal blooms caused an estimated $800m in damage to the Chilean salmon industry in 2016, killing nearly 27m fish, about 20% of the country’s annual production, according to the report.Aquaculture is a mess. There are serious pollution problems from its operations, everything from fish waste, the spread of disease to passing wild species, antibiotics, parasites (sea lice), to inadvertent escape of invasive species (Atlantic salmon escaping their pens into Pacific waters).
Then there's Asia and an enormous market that periodically hammers Canadian access to our own fish. Here's an example. A few years ago a disease outbreak in Asian waters sent buyers across the Pacific to source Canadian prawns and shellfish. That drove the price so high that even upscale restaurants were pulling those items from their menus and ordinary folks couldn't afford them.
This raises the question of just who those vulnerable fish stocks belong to. Do they belong to Canada, the Canadian people, or do they belong to the companies we allow to catch them for sale to the highest bidder? The commercial fishery did nothing to create those stocks they draw upon. If we hadn't restrained their catch it's quite possible there wouldn't be any left by now. This is a case of the public interest in conflict with private interests and, for the sake of our country, I think we should protect the public interest. That, sadly, is not the position of Ottawa's Department of Fisheries and Oceans. That needs to change.