One Fish, Two Fish, Farmed Fish…No Fish

You?ve ordered a dinner of shrimp cocktail followed bybroiled salmon. Healthful for you, but not necessarily for the environment ifthe seafood came from fish farms rather than the wild. While aquaculture (fishfarming) is often touted as a means of relieving pressure on ocean fisheries, areview in the June issue of Nature reveals it can actually have just theopposite effect, causing a net loss of some wild species.

That’s because, for example, almost two pounds of wildfish are required, on average, to produce each pound of farm fish. Herring,mackerel and other small marine fish are the main source of fish meal and fishoils used in aquaculture, especially in salmon, trout and shrimp farms. Thisdirectly strains natural fish stocks and also threatens larger fish that feedon, for instance, the herring.

Among other surprising findings:

  • If you order wild Atlantic salmon, there’s up to a 40% chance it is really an “escapee” from a salmon farm. When escaped fish mix with native populations, the native fish genes become diluted, along with the ability to survive in the natural environment.
  • Aquaculture has not decreased catches of wild fish. Despite aquaculture more than doubling its production between 1987 and 1997, wild salmon catches rose 27% worldwide.
  • Stocking of fish farms is wasteful due to unintended catch that gets discarded. Up to 160 fish, for example, are discarded for every shrimp collected for some overseas farms.
  • Shrimp farms destroy coastal wetlands, displacing wild fish from their natural habitats. Many farms also threaten natural stocks by polluting the water with waste products and spreading pathogens.

Take-Home Message. Farmed salmon and shrimp are the two worst environmental offenders. EN suggests selecting farmed fish with less environmental impact, such as catfish, carp, tilapia, clams and mussels. For more information, we recommend the new Seafood Lover’s Almanac from the National Audubon Society. (See EN, August 2000.) To order, call (888) 397-6649.

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