Friday, August 22, 2014

Aquaculture: A Deeper Dive

In some of my prior posts I’ve briefly addressed the topic of farmed vs. wild seafood. Both can be healthy, sustainable and environmentally friendly, but much of the information available in the mass media still suggests that all farm raised seafood is bad. Today I hope to offer some insight as to why it's simply not true. 

What is aquaculture?

Aquaculture or fish farming is the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of plants and animals in all types of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Aquaculture produces food fish, sport fish, bait fish, ornamental fish, crustaceans, mollusks, algae, sea vegetables, and fish eggs, and can be done in a freshwater or marine environment.

About half the seafood consumed worldwide (including the US) is farm-raised. Since harvest from many wild fisheries has peaked, aquaculture is seen by industry experts as an effective way to meet the seafood demands of a growing population. Aquaculture is therefore the fastest growing form of food production worldwide.

Marine vs. Freshwater

Marine aquaculture can occur in the ocean (in cages, on the seafloor, or suspended in water columns) or on land in systems such as ponds or tanks. Recirculating aquaculture systems that reduce, reuse, and recycle water and waste can support some marine species. U.S. marine aquaculture produces mainly oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, and salmon but also produces smaller amounts of cod, moi, yellowtail, barramundi, seabass, and seabream.

Freshwater aquaculture produces species that are native to rivers, lakes, and streams. U.S. freshwater aquaculture is primarily catfish but also produces trout, tilapia, and bass. Freshwater aquaculture takes place primarily in ponds and in on-land, manmade systems such as recirculating aquaculture systems.

What Should You Look for When Purchasing Farmed Seafood?:

When purchasing farm raised fish look for a closed containment system vs. right along the ocean shore, and vegetarian fish (like catfish or tilapia) or shellfish that feed on plankton in the water. If you do eat carnivorous fish or those higher on the food chain pay attention to feed ratio (varies by type of fish) and quality of feed.

What Resources are Available to Learn More?

There are several publications and resources available to determine whether a particular species is over fished, and when it is better to buy farmed. Some of these resources include:

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) has a ton of information available on their website. Their mission is "to transform aquaculture towards environmental sustainability and social responsibility using efficient market mechanisms that create value across the chain".

MBA Seafood Watch: The Monteray Bay Aquarium’s Seafood watch program has plenty of free resources available including downloadable pocket guides by region and a mobile app. Use the guide as a quick pocket reference or search for a type of fish in the app (like bass) for example and you’ll get a list of good choices (ex: US or Vietnamese farmed Barramundi) vs. those to avoid.

Good Fish: is a cookbook with recipes using sustainable seafood and tons of great information on how to buy responsibly. I reviewed this book on 8/1/14, you can read my full review here.

My fellow SSBA Member Richard recently put together a list of some of the third party certifications that currently exist for both wild fisheries and seafood farms.

Your Grocery Store or Local Fish Market: When I did my post on where to buy sustainable seafood, I found that stores with robust sustainability programs had lots of information available on their websites.

Up Next Week: A Review of a CT restaurant with a commitment to sustainability

What do you want to read about seafood and / or sustainability? Leave your topic suggestions in the comments section!

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