Stephen Eades – Is fish farming sustainable, and capable of replacing the harvesting of wild fish? – Nov 15

I am prompted to ask this question because the following facts have emerged over recent days:

● Fisheries Ministers in the EU have set Baltic Sea catch levels in 2016 which exceed scientific advice for 8 out of 10 wild fish stocks. Thus although the reformed CFP is meant to be legally requiring fishing policies aimed at rebuilding stocks to safe levels, the politicians of the Baltic States (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden) are ignoring their legal obligations. The situation for 2016 mirrors that which has occurred in the two previous years.

We know that around three-quarters of the world’s fish stocks are currently fished to the maximum level of sustainability (around one-quarter actually beyond this level), and we know that fish stocks in the EU display similar stress. So we must conclude that politicians do not really care and, if allowed to continue with such policies, wild stocks will become commercially extinct in the near future.

GM salmon has been licensed by the USA for commercial production and consumption. This is a product centred wholly on the fish farming industry — albeit at fish farms on the land at present (in Panama), but it cannot be long before this technology is transferred to fish farms in estuaries and the open sea. Commercial imperatives have driven this development to date (certainly not ecological ones) and so commercial imperatives will eventually win the argument about “safety and sustainability” and thus apply GM to marine sites.

Whether fish farms are “safe and sustainable” is a very contestable point. Fish farms are a form of factory farming — rearing animals in conditions of very high density, and now prohibited in the EU on land (to a degree) for pigs and poultry. Factory farming of this kind is plagued by disease (there are so many animals in close proximity to one another) so pesticides have to be routinely employed. In the case of salmon farming, the principal problem is sea lice which are parasites which attach to the fish’s body and eat it. To control the lice, the fish farms use pryethroid insecticides (a neurotoxin) and an organophosphate called azamethiphos (also a neurotoxin).

The problem with these pesticides are several. From a human perspectives, residues are present in the farmed salmon when harvested for human consumption, see Fishyleaks. From an ecological perspective, wild salmon and trout, and other fish, are inevitably exposed to the sea lice spilling into the estuary waters, and so these wild fish populations are collapsing and on the threshold of extinction. Such wild fish are also a key feature in the wider of ecological structure of the area (sea birds, sea mammals, land mammals) and so the wider ecology of the area is impacted and its critical order degraded.

● Amidst this news, there has been one glimmer of hope. In Clayoquot Sound (Vancouver Island, Canada) — designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and, perversely, a location for many Norwegian owned salmon fish farms — the Canadians living in the Sound have decided to launch a global petition and to travel to Norway to lobby the Norwegian government against fish farming.

When I informed a Marinet Member about this, she said she knew Clayoquot Sound as she had lived there for awhile in 2002. She remembers being bitten by sea lice while paddling on the shores of Wickannish Island, and her friends told her that this was a new phenomenon due, they believed, to the increasing number of fish farms. Then boating one day in a remote inlet, they ran out of fuel and paddled to an abandoned fish farm in the hope of finding a radio there. On the wall of the office she saw a government licence allowing the fish farm to shoot any bear, seal, otter or other mammal that came near to the salmon fish pens.

Today, the Canadian government is now agreeing to a further expansion of the fish farms in the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve.

Is this expansion sustainable? Is it in sympathy with the ecology of the Biosphere Reserve and its critical order — which, surely, must be the actual definition of what is sustainable.

Or is “sustainable” simply whatever the commercial opportunities of the area dictate, regardless of virtually all other factors?

Can these fish farms meet the human need for fish supplies which have been lost due to the demise of the wild populations, whether that be in Canada, Scotland or Norway?

And, which would you rather eat? A wild salmon, whose population is sensibly harvested and managed. Or, a farmed salmon with its toxic pesticide residues and deathly influence over the ecology of the area where the farm is located ?

One final question. You probably care, but do the politicians?

I suggest therefore : sign the Clayoquot Sound petition.

Remember, if the natural world dies, we are not far behind. We are a part of the natural world, not separate from it. The health of the critical order of the natural world is central to our own. That is the first principle of ecology.

Is fish farming sustainable1

The Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada.

Is fish farming sustainable2


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