What’s wrong with factory fish farming?
Factory fish farming — also known as aquaculture — is generally big, dirty, and dangerous, just like factory farming on land. Around half of the seafood eaten in the entire world comes from these types of facilities as producers attempt to produce fish as cheaply as possible. Massive amounts of antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides are required to keep disease at bay just to keep fish and shrimp alive in overcrowded conditions (typically in nets, cages, or ponds). The risk of contamination is high, both to the surrounding water and within the enclosures themselves. Multinational corporations have forever changed the way food is grown on land to the detriment of public health, the environment, local communities and food quality itself, and they are poised to do the same in the water.
Unfortunately, even though people have become increasingly conscious about the environmental, cultural and economic repercussions of their seafood choices, the U.S. government continues to push for the development of open ocean aquaculture. The federal government has already spent millions to promote this troubled industry, despite poor results.
Bad for the environment
Uneaten fish feed, fish waste, and any antibiotics or chemicals used in fish farm operations flow through the cages directly into the ocean. This can significantly harm the ocean environment. Caged fish can escape and compete for resources or interbreed with wild fish and weaken important genetic traits. Farmed fish can spread disease to wild fish.
Further, factory fish farms tend to grow top-of-the-food-chain carnivorous fish that eat small, wild fish — it can take several pounds of wild fish to grow one pound of farmed fish. This undermines the wild marine food chain.
Bad for communities
Factory fish farms may interfere with the livelihoods of commercial and recreational fishermen by displacing them from traditional fishing grounds or harming wild fish populations. Flooding the market with cheap farmed fish can drive down prices for wild fish, putting fishermen out of business and fishing communities in peril.
Bad for our health
Fish produced at factory fish farms can have higher levels of contaminants than wild fish, which may lead to health risks for consumers. And the use of antibiotics on fish farms can cause drug-resistant bacteria to develop, which may then be passed on to humans.
Reasons to stop ocean fish farming in the U.S.
- Allowing ocean fish farming in our waters — held in trust by government officials for the American public — would grant private companies the right to exploit our public resource for their financial benefit.
- Ocean fish farming facilities can lead to conflict in areas including fishing grounds and routes to those fishing grounds, vessel traffic lanes, military sites, marine reserves and sanctuaries, protected and fragile areas and areas of significant multiple use.
- Economic concerns include loss of jobs for commercial fishermen, plummeting fish prices as cheap fish flood the market and decreased opportunities for recreational fishing as water and fish become polluted from nearby factory fish farms.
- Escapes are a given due to complications like severe weather, sharks and other predators, equipment failure, and human error. Fish escapes can jeopardize the recovery of depleted or endangered species and lead to the spread of diseases, breeding with wild populations and the disruption of natural ecosystems.
- Habitats can be severely impacted by dredging, drilling, dropping large anchors, the introduction of new predators and sediment disturbances.
- Water pollution from offshore fish farms can include fish waste, excess food, fish escapes, antibiotics and various chemicals from fish farms, resulting in water pollution and poisoning of surrounding habitats.
While there is much discussion of the U.S. "seafood deficit," ocean fish farming is unlikely to solve our seafood import problem. The U.S. exports about 70 percent of the fish we catch and import cheaper (often lower quality) seafood products for U.S. consumption. Just because we could produce more fish here with offshore aquaculture facilities, doesn't meant those products would be eaten here or that we would import less fish.
Recirculating Aquaculture Systems as a Solution
Many people in the U.S. are working to develop better alternatives to large scale open ocean aquaculture, including Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS). RAS, closed-looped and biosecure aquaculture operations avoid many of the contamination potential inherent in factory fish farming and fulfill the need for clean, sustainable and healthy seafood supplements to our wild fisheries.