Moving from marine- to land-based or closed-containment aquaculture is a decidedly uphill battle. Terrestrial systems can cost several times as much as sea pens. Even though net-pen farms are restricted to suitable coastal sites, the ocean provides space and water, and free access to water circulation. On land, a similar arrangement may work on a small scale, but be prohibitively expensive on a commercial scale.
Land operations have hidden costs, too, says Tony Farrell, an animal physiologist at the University of British Columbia. Existing terrestrial operations take a lot of energy and produce a lot of greenhouse gases, he says. “They will get better,” he says, but the development of new technologies should proceed in a “positive, but cautious, way.”
I once looked into the many impacts of fish consumption, and how to reduce the impact of eating fish if you give a damn. And while there are definitely better and worse ways to consume fish (the best I concluded is to stick to farmed mussels), I came away thinking it just seems easier to me to simply not eat fish. The impact of that choice is both positive and beneficial to the oceans in countless ways.
Is it really that hard to not eat salmon and tuna? I feel completely out of touch with consumers who feel that their desire to please their palates (yes, salmon is healthy, but there are other ways to eat healthy) outweighs all the profound impacts of fishing and aquaculture on the planet. Yes, that is a judgement. But the cold balance of logic just seems so clear to me.
I don’t think it exists. But chef Dan Barber was determined to find some fish he could feel good about.
Since it appears to be Fish Friday here, I thought I’d let him tell the tale.
The backstory: “Chef Dan Barber squares off with a dilemma facing many chefs today: how to keep fish on the menu. With impeccable research and deadpan humor, he chronicles his pursuit of a sustainable fish he could love, and the foodie’s honeymoon he’s enjoyed since discovering an outrageously delicious fish raised using a revolutionary farming method in Spain.”
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.