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Is There Such A Thing As A Sustainably Farmed Fish?

January 4, 2013

I have long doubted it, but this guy thinks he may have cracked the code:

Goldman chose barramundi because their personalities are “tame, gregarious, and kind of patient” — well-suited to life in tanks. And, unlike most fish, which only obtain omega-3s from the plankton and algae — or other fish — that they eat, barramundi can actually synthesize them on their own. “They spend a lot of their early life cycle in freshwater, so they’re not exposed to the long-chain fatty acids,” explains Goldman. “They actually develop the ability to build omega-3s without necessarily having to consume them.”

This is key to the barramundi’s claims to sustainability. One pound of farmed bluefin tuna can require as much as 20 pounds of wild fish as feed; for farmed salmon, the ratio is often well above 3 to 1. That means a host of problems: depleting the biomass of the oceans at a faster pace, decimating so-called “forage fish” that serve as a staple in poor countries, and, since some estimates say aquaculture demands will outpace fish meal production within decades, undermining the industry itself.

“Everybody on the marine side is really focused on reducing fish meal and oil” in fish feed, says Goldman. “There’s a consensus on that — that it’s really, really important.”

It’s hard to say what the animal and environmental impacts of scaling this sort of operation to real significance will be. But my guess is that any flaws would begin to become pronounced at that stage. And like all industrial food farming operations it has a bit too much of a Sorcerer’s Apprentice feel to me.

Give Goldman credit for trying to address the very real problems of overfishing and environmentally destructive aquaculture. But maybe we should all just start coming to grips with the fact that our animal-eating tastes are overtaxing the planet and its other species, and start learning to love tofu.

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