Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Future of Farming, Hopefully

Shrimp farms laced with bleach.  Antibiotic fed salmon sitting stationary in close quarters, infested with ISA and leaving the ocean floor barren.  When some of you hear fish farm these and other frightening images come to mind.  Though not all fish farms operate in such a reckless manner, some do, and unfortunately those farms give the rest of the industry a bad rap.  It is no secret that the world's population and it's seafood consumption is rising, in some places drastically, and in order to meet the growing demands aquaculture is a necessity.  I have heard some people comment that they would never touch a farmed fish, let alone invite it onto their plate for dinner.  There are farms out there however that are doing the right things to ensure that their product is not only safe to eat, but also sustains the natural environment.  One farm in Spain is on the cutting edge of sustainable farming practices and is setting a standard that I believe is the template for the environmental success of future aquaculture endeavors.

Veta La Palma is located in the Seville province of Spain, about 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, and is owned by the same family who also operates Hisaparroz, a Spanish food conglomerate.  The farm is actually more like a bird sanctuary than fish farm, attracting flamingos, spoonbills, egrets and many other threatened or endangered species that feast on shrimp and small fish.  You won't see anyone out there trapping or firing rifles at them either, the birds are not unwelcome intruders but are seen as part of a living ecosystem.  You see, the philosophy behind Veta La Palma is to treat their fish and the environment that they inhabit less like products and facilities and more like wildlife and natural environs.

A view of the many flamingos at Veta La Palma
The process of growing their fish replicates what happens in nature.  I use the word grow instead of raise because the fish are mostly left to their own defenses to succeed or perish according to a natural balance.  There are no antibiotics needed.  The fish are stocked at low densities.  There is no need for feed pellets or GMO by-products.  The fish feed on shrimp that occur naturally due to the abundant plant-life.  Even the land benefits from the operation.  What was once a drained cattle ranch has been returned to natural wet lands.  Estuary water from the Atlantic is pumped in filled with tiny shrimp and micro-algae for the fish to feed.  The water is distributed to ponds and then returns to the sea cleaner than when it came in, having been filtered by the abundant plant and wildlife.  

What happens when a fish farm that produces bream, bass, and mullet actually improves the environment?  What happens when instead of degrading natural resources a farm sustains them?  The answer can be seen when you take in the beauty of Veta La Palma's natural operation; Harmony.  Balancing the environment's needs and our population's growing appetite for seafood is going to be a difficult obligation in the future.  We need to begin rethinking and retooling our methods of extraction from our natural resources, keeping in mind something my mother always reminded me about of our own environment; you only get one world to live in, they're not making any more of them, so you better take care of the one you have.  Looking at Veta La Palma as an example of what aquaculture could be, there might be some light shinning bright between the dark clouds accumilating in our future.

For a great video on Veta La Palma visit here

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