Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Farming fish

The NL government has been pretty keen on aquaculture as a way of appearing to be taking action on something having to do with fisheries. Of course there is the obligatory aquaculture strategic plan. And for the last 10 years or so, they and the feds have gone as far as giving subsidies and loan guarantees to local operations to ensure their survival in financially turbulent times.

Be that as it may, the Europeans have jumped ahead in this sector and this piece notes that:
... the proportion of our seafood which is farmed is surprisingly big, and growing fast.

"The latest figures of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) say it is close to 50%," observes Patrick Sorgeloos, an aquaculture specialist from the University of Ghent, and an advisor to the FAO.

"It is about 60 million tonnes; and the FAO is indicating that by the year 2030 we will need an extra 40 million tonnes just to satisfy the need."

Given the parlous condition of many of the world's fish stocks, it is tempting to see aquaculture as the answer - a source of healthy protein which the oceans can no longer guarantee.

Governments and regional authorities from the industrial might of Norway to rural Africa see it as the way ahead.
So it looks like this industry is big and getting bigger. Still, it's not a panacea and the story goes on to point out that:
"Aquaculture has got a big potential value for food security, it's revenue for communities and it's an alternative food source," concedes Simon Cripps, director of the marine programme at the conservation group WWF."

But the thing to remember is that it isn't the solution to the problem of wild-caught fisheries."
One of the nasty issues of aquaculture is pollution and parasites. Sea lice in farmed salmon escaping and infecting wild salmon is a particular issue in Europe and BC. In fact, researchers looking at a BC salmon farm found that infection levels in wild juvenile salmon near the farm were 73 times higher than normal noting that:
Sea lice can lower the fitness of salmon - and in some cases be lethal - as they create open lesions on the surface of the fish that compromises its ability to maintain its salt-water balance.

When infection rates are high enough, the parasites feed on the fish at rates greater than the fish can feed itself, literally eating the fish alive. Young salmon are much more vulnerable due to their small size.
On a more basic level, when every pound of farmed fish needs to be fed 2 or 3 pounds of wild-caught fishmeal to mature, how do we get ahead?

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