Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Farming The Future

Seafood as a protein source is one of the best choices we have as consumers.  The fats and vitamins found in seafood have been proven to increase brain activity, reduce the risk of heart problems and strokes, and offer the building blocks our bodies need for healthy growth.  These benefits are well known.  So is the fact that many of our wild sources have been either fished to exhaustion or have had their habitats altered to the point where rehabilitation is impossible.  Globally the outlook is not great, but it is brighter than it used to be and is continuing to get better thanks to government involvement and the hard work of activist groups such as the Blue Ocean Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Consumer awareness has been heightened on the issues that our wild stocks face and for the most part, concern is warranted.  As stocks rebuild to sustainable levels through careful monitoring our growing population is confronted with a simple fact: The world's population and its demand for seafood are growing too large for the wild seafood stocks to keep up.

Farmed seafood is nothing new.  Aquaculture has been taking place since ancient cultures realized the nutritional and gastronomical benefits of seafood.  The Chinese understood that they could farm carp with their silkworms.  The Romans grew oysters from twigs.  Farming has come a long way and with it new problems have arisen, some we have solved and others we have not.  It is easy to focus on one problem or another, but the reality is we need to farm seafood.  And we need to farm it well.  The industry is not so old that great husbandry habits can not be adapted.

Farms are beginning to operate with the environment's natural rhythms in mind.  New technology has one of the world's largest salmon producers researching poly-cultural methods that could have salmon feeding off algae.  Another salmon producer is looking into closed tank systems that would eliminate escapees and offer fish waste as a terrific, safe fertilizer.  Happening right now, there are salmon farms that produce fish using a pounds-in to pounds-out ratio of 1.1 to 1.  This is far better than anything accomplished with livestock.  Does every salmon farm strive to achieve this level of environmental management?  No.  There are farms who still farm fish in close quarters, treat them with tons of anti-biotics, and use dyes and coloring when it comes to getting that 'salmon' color.  But that does not translate into 'all farmed salmon is crap' or 'salmon farming should be shut down.'   As with any other food choice there are many options out there.

Farmed Arctic Char
There are no sustainable salmon farms as of right now, though I do see that as a reality in the future.  There are however, many other farms that are considered sustainable and their products are available in most markets.  Farmed Arctic char, tilapia, mussels, oysters, clams, barramundi, scallops, red drum, rainbow trout, catfish, abalone, and cobia to name a few, are considered great choices when selecting dinner, depending on where they are farmed.  These products, when sourced from reputable purveyors,  are farmed in ways that do not negatively alter the environment and their stocks are able to be replenished.  These are food sources that should be highlighted.  Take oyster farming for example.  Do you realize that without oyster farming our major bays and estuaries would have been wiped clean decades ago and today children would only learn about oysters at the museum?  Instead farmers have learned to replenish oyster beds each season, to make way for the next generation.   Clam and mussel farms help clean the waters in which they inhabit.  Fish farms that are considered sustainable offer protein to many who would otherwise not be able to afford wild fish.  If there were no char farms, you would  most likely only see char twice a year, for two weeks at a time, and most who've tasted char would consider this a shame.

Farmed fish can not and should not replace wild caught fish.   There is something special about wild fish.  Our cows are farmed, our chickens are farmed, heck, even our buffalo are farmed.  But wild fish, well, a wild fish tastes just as good now as it did hundreds of years ago.  The end of fishing would mean the end of a romance; the end of a connection with the environment that we have cut almost every other tie with, but a connection we can not ever totally sever.  Fishing brings us back to a common place that is foreign in most of our every day life of ipads, processed cheese and concrete.  A place where a hunter meets its prey in no uncertain terms and the struggle is for life.  But we are too hungry.  And we are too many.  The ocean supplies a bounty of nutrition that could support, well, an entire ocean.  Unfortunately for wildlife living in the ocean we live here too and have a growing appetite.  Fortunately for wildlife living in the ocean we are smart enough to understand that in order for everyone to benefit from its bounty we must harvest and grow the possibilities of a future with dinner plates and oceans that are full and balanced.  Hopefully we are good enough to make this happen in a way that allows for wild fish to be caught swimming upstream and farmed fish to be bought with respect and good conscience.

1 comment:

  1. I love the connection to fishing and the environment. Good conservation and responsible actions can really work to protect the God given world we live in.