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Blog Posts: Aquaculture

January 17th, 2013

What the FDA Isn’t Telling Us About GE Salmon

By Tim Schwab

FDA closer to GE Salmon approval

The FDA took a final step toward approving the first genetically engineered animal for your dinner plate. Are you okay with this decision? If not, click on this image.

In September 2010, the FDA appeared primed to approve AquaBounty’s genetically engineered (GE) salmon, the hormone-enhanced fish that, nevertheless, can’t live up to its fast-growth hype. Trumpeting unprecedented transparency, the FDA released to the public hundreds of pages of the agency’s favorable risk assessment, along with an announcement of a days-away public meeting in Rockville, Maryland. The extremely short timeline seemed designed to limit public participation and independent criticisms of the FDA’s scientific work, as few people could drop everything and rush to Maryland.

On the Friday before Christmas 2012, the agency that protects 80 percent of our food supply gave us an encore performance. On a day when few people are at work and many are making plans for extended vacations, the FDA issued its environmental assessment, a 160-page document that basically regurgitates verbatim the agency’s weak 2010 assessment. This moves AquaBounty’s GE salmon within one step of full approval.

The FDA’s risk assessments are noteworthy, not for what they do tell us, but for what they don’t. Instead of scrutinizing the flawed science, limited data, examples of bias and lingering safety concerns that independent scientists have highlighted, the FDA continues to treat its risk assessment as an exercise in churning out the Frankenstein refrain: GE salmon. Safe. Good.

Read the full article…

November 27th, 2012

Fish Meat: The Movie

Seafood ChallengesBy Mitch Jones

I recently had a chance to watch the documentary Fish Meat, which explores various ways of farming fish. Fish Navy Films produced the movie and, full-disclosure, they interviewed me earlier this year for their next film, Raising Shrimp.

It is a short film that focuses on production of fish in the Mediterranean and South America, and it highlights many of the concerns we at Food & Water Watch have about farming fish. Farming large carnivorous fish is an inefficient use of smaller fish that have to be harvested in large numbers so they can be turned into fish food. In recent years as much as 90 percent of the catch of these small fish has been used by the aquaculture industry. And we know that soy doesn’t offer much of an alternative.

The film makes clear that open ocean aquaculture is a dirty, unsustainable way to raise fish that not only pollutes local environments, but also puts local fishermen out of work. The filmmakers note that the rise of factory fish farms in Turkey is turning coastal communities that have been fishing communities for centuries (or more) into ecotourism destinations. Ways of life are being displaced and people are losing their livelihood so a dirty form of agribusiness can move into the waters off Turkey’s coast.

It’s not surprising that the filmmakers are more impressed by inland fish farms that raise vegetarian fish. We have long advocated use of land-based Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS), closed systems that reuse virtually all of the water initially put into the system. As a result, RAS can reduce the discharge of waste and the need for antibiotics or chemicals used to combat disease and fish and parasite escapes – all serious concerns associated with OOA and pond aquaculture.

Perhaps the best advice from the film comes only in the closing minutes when the filmmakers present a “What You Can Do” graphic that contains one key element: eat domestic seafood. That’s certainly a recommendation we can get behind.

September 28th, 2012

It’s Worth Repeating: Eat Domestic Seafood

By Mitch Jones

Seafood Challenges
It seems every few months we get another report about how hard pressed America’s fishermen are. In April I pointed the troubling signs of increased salmon imports in early 2012. Now reports suggest that China is enjoying a robust year in seafood exports. Individual companies as well as regions within China are reporting double-digit percentage increases in exports. This news of increased pressure from China couldn’t come at a worse time for America’s domestic fishing industry.

Earlier this month Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank declared the Northeast Groundfish Fishery a disaster. On the same day she also declared a commercial fishery failure on Alaska’s Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers and in the Cook Inlet because of low Chinook salmon returns. These actions will allow the federal government to offer millions of dollars of relief to the fishermen in these fisheries. But temporary relief isn’t enough. We need to protect America’s fishermen from fishery management programs that fail to protect fish, while putting independent fishermen out of business.

But while we’re fighting this fight here in Washington and in the regional fisheries across the country, it’s important to watch what you buy. No matter where you shop, look for domestic seafood. If it’s salmon, ask for U.S. wild caught. If it’s catfish or tilapia, ask for U.S. farmed. And when in doubt, you can consult our Smart Seafood Guide.

August 17th, 2012

Gadget Magazines Only See One Side of Aquaculture

By Rich Bindell

Aquaculture Factory Fish FarmsMagazines devoted to modern gadgetry and technological advances are quick to write stories about science making our lives better. But they often gloss over the unanswered questions that hover over these “life-improving” inventions. DVICE had it right when they said that, “some strange aquaculture is going on,” off the coast of Hawaii. Unfortunately, they seem unaware of just how destructive strange can be when you put a factory fish farm in the middle of the ocean.

DVICE’s August 14 article touting aquaculture didn’t surprise me at all. It’s probably the fourth or fifth time I’ve seen a tech or gadget rag do a misleading story on how aquaculture is going to have a positive affect on seafood production. But articles like this one are so one-sided that it’s easy to mistake them for a press release for the aquaculture industry, and particularly for Kampachi Farms.

While Kampachi Farms’ experiment—called the Velella Project—was admittedly small, confining thousands of fish in pod-like cage is still similar in many respects to the land-based factory farm model, and it’s not exactly sustainable. Factory fish farming requires feed, and a lot of it. This feed is usually made from smaller, wild-caught fish processed into meal and oil, and extensive fishing of these small fish can unbalance the food chain of natural predators that depend upon them. Read the full article…

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July 17th, 2012

Aquaculture is dirty, unsustainable and inefficient. So why is the UN pushing it?

By Meredith Moore

Aquaculture is dirty, unsustainable and inefficient. So why is the UN pushing it?The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a report last week predicting world aquaculture production to increase 33 percent by 2021, with 89 percent of aquaculture products coming from Asia (61 percent for China alone).

At Food & Water Watch, we have long opposed the expansion of the agricultural factory food model into our oceans. Aquaculture is a dirty, unsustainable model of food production that yields an inferior product for consumers while simultaneously leaving behind an indelible footprint on the surrounding ecosystem. Yet the FAO and our fisheries managers continue to promote aquaculture as if it were a sustainable and effective way to feed the world.

The expansion of aquaculture means more waste, more chemicals, and more antibiotics being dumped directly into our waters to raise fish. It means more imported seafood with residues of unapproved drugs entering the country through our weak food safety system. It means more small bait fish, a key component of a healthy marine ecosystem, will be scooped from the oceans and ground into feed in order to feed these farm-raised fish. It also means the expansion of our already dominant GE soy industry, which genetically modified 93 to 94 percent of its soybeans in 2009 according to Monsanto patents, to create unnatural diets for fish farms.

If the FAO is right, by 2018, half of the fish eaten in the world will be from aquaculture facilities. I know I’ll still be looking for wild, local, and sustainably caught seafood in my grocery store. With all of the risk factors and harmful practices related to factory fish farms, why take the risk?


July 3rd, 2012

Soy Ain’t Green

By Rich Bindell

Summer means cooking outside and, for many of us, that involves finding the perfect piece of fish to throw on the grill. But the way we source our seafood is changing dramatically these days, so you might want to pay close attention to what’s happening with the last wild food source in America.

Our report, “Factory-Fed Fish: How the Soy Industry is Expanding Into the Sea,” shows how the soy industry, which is dominated by Big Ag giants Monsanto and Cargill, are promoting the use of soy as an environmentally-friendly way to feed factory farmed fish. For them, it could mean millions in profits. But for consumers, it’s like taking our factory farm model of food production and putting it right in the ocean.

As consumers turn to fish more often for a healthy source of protein, more and more of us are getting our seafood from aquaculture or factory fish farms. In fact, close to half of the seafood we consume globally comes from these factory fish farms.

Add to that the fact that soy farms were second only to corn farms in the U.S. in 2007, and you can see why the powerful soy lobby, which is well represented in Washington, D.C., is aggressively promoting the use of soy to feed farmed fish. From 1996 to 2009, the sales of foods containing soy increased from approximately $1 billion to almost $4.5 billion.

But SHOULD we feed soy to fish? Read the full article…

March 23rd, 2012

Grist Needs to Dig Deeper on Industrial Fish Farms

By Mitch Jones

Today, our friends over at Grist published a story about the attempt to bring open ocean aquaculture, that is, industrial fish farms, to U.S. territorial waters. The story is based on a recent press release from Kampachi Farms trumpeting their recent attempts to demonstrate the viability of drifting cages in the open ocean.

Unfortunately the story leaves out many of the questions that surround this project…

First, while the story says the purpose of the Velella Project was to show that the cages could operate in open waters, the cages have been seen only four miles off the coast and have attracted wild species that would normally be fished. The presence of these cages will likely have a negative impact on local fishermen’s ability to catch fish, not only because they attract wild fish, but also because of the harm they could cause to the local marine environment.

Second, fish escapes and equipment loss can also reap havoc on the environment immediately surrounding fish farms. In the summer of 2011, Kona Blue Water Farms reported that they lost two of their empty net pens while towing them out to sea, as the Grist story mentions. What is left unsaid is that the whereabouts of one of these cages is unknown. Attempts to sink it failed and it may still be floating at or just below the surface of the water creating a potential hazard for shipping activity. No environmental study of the impacts has been conducted on the sinking of the second cage.

Third, despite initial claims that the project would produce 2,000 fish at 8,000 pounds total, the company’s release is completely silent on how much fish was produced, leading us to question how much of a success it actually was. The public has a right to know all the facts. After all, the project was partly funded with U.S. tax dollars: $500,000 from the National Science Foundation and $242,889 from National Marine Fisheries Service.

Finally, if this project was a much of a success as the company claims, and is reported in this story, how come the next phase of the project will use anchored cages? If the project successfully proved the viability of drifting cages, why won’t the cages be drifting any longer? And, if the next round of cages are anchored, what does this mean for the supposed environmental benefits of having the cages drift? Surely anchored cages will not lead to the wide dispersal of fish waste promised by this project.

Instead of providing a solution, the Velella Project raises serious problems with the concept of open ocean aquaculture. To learn more about the decade-plus track record of setbacks and failures in open ocean aquaculture read our report Fishy Farms.

December 16th, 2011

Will a Bad Week for AquaBounty and the FDA be Enough to Keep GE Salmon Off Our Plates?

Genetically Engineered SalmonBy Rich Bindell and Tim Schwab

Today marks one week to go before the holiday frenzy kicks into its highest gear. By next Friday, people will be so focused on holiday logistics that many consumers wouldn’t notice if the FDA green lighted AquaBounty Technology’s Genetically Engineered (GE) salmon, a scientific experiment they’ve been reviewing for close to two decades.

Although that will make for a nervous week around here, we are heartened by this past week’s latest round of criticism for GE salmon, as scientists lined up in the halls of Congress and on a National Public Radio debate to discredit a dodgy environmental risk-assessment of GE salmon. With so many concerns raised about its environmental impact, and given the FDA’s history of making controversial announcements right before a holiday, could this be the year the agency approves GE salmon?

When the FDA announced16 months ago that GE salmon was safe, many of us worried that regulatory approval was imminent. But in the intervening months, the agency has suffered slings and arrows from scientists and legislators alike, unhappy with the agency’s inadequate risk assessment of GE salmon, which, if approved, would be the first genetically engineered animal to enter the U.S. food supply. Read the full article…

October 25th, 2011

What Salmon Anemia Reminds Us About Fish Farms

Salmon Anemia and Fish FarmsBy Zach Corrigan

[Originally posted on The Stranger’s SLOG blog.)

In case you haven’t heard, the extremely fast-spreading disease that decimated salmon populations in Chile and Scotland has now hit the West Coast. As Eli Sanders pointed out last week on Slog, the virus, known as infectious salmon anemia, has been described as one that “no country has ever gotten rid of it once it arrives.”

Thankfully, it doesn’t affect humans—at least, not in the traditional sense. But if it wipes out West Coast salmon populations, it could take a large number of fishing jobs with it. And that would affect us deeply.

So how did we get to this point? And who, or what, is to blame?

While we can’t say for certain what caused this particular outbreak of infectious salmon anemia, salmon fish farms present the perfect conditions for the disease to spread like wildfire. The devastation of the salmon industry in Chile, for instance, can be directly linked to the filthy conditions inherent in these factory fish farms.

So what exactly are factory fish farms? They’re literally factory farms of the ocean—thousands of fish are kept in close quarters in open net pens or cages. Fish farms often necessitate the use of chemicals, pesticides and antibiotics to curb the filth and disease that arises in these conditions. This is not only bad for the environment and the fish; it’s bad for the consumer as well, as the toxins and waste can flow freely into the ocean and, ultimately, on to our plates. Read the full article…

October 6th, 2011

Dear Congress, While you Were out…

Factory Fish Farming

The federal government did not have the authority to grant Kona Blue a permit for offshore aquaculture, and they failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of Kona Blue’s offshore aquaculture operations as required under federal law.

While members of Congress were busy dealing with the debt crisis and taking their summer break, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was moving full speed ahead in opening up our federal waters to factory fish farming.

Back in July, the National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) awarded the first permit for a commercial open ocean fish farm in federal waters to Kona Blue Water Farms Inc. The company is currently towing a cage full of Kona Kampachi in eddies off of the Western coast of Hawaii Island, Hawaii.

Food & Water Watch along with KAHEA, The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, filed a lawsuit against NOAA, alleging that the federal government lacked the authority to grant the permit and failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of Kona Blue’s offshore aquaculture operations as required under federal law.

A bill introduced by Representative Don Young (R-AK) to stop the Secretaries of Commerce and the Interior from permitting factory fish farms is needed more than even to stop such reckless permitting.

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter submitted an op-ed to The Hill’s Congress Blog calling on Congress to weigh in on the factory farm issue. We are re-posting it here… Read the full article…

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