I was making plans for dinner with some friends the other night, and they asked if I had any special requests. I replied saying that if we would be having fish, could it please be sourced from a sustainable fishery. I got an immediate response saying, “we definitely only do sustainable fish … no wild stock for us.” I was flabbergasted. I have recently been doing some research on salmon farming in southern Chile and have come to realize just how unsustainable the fishery is. My friend’s comment also made me realize how uninformed, or misinformed, the average consumer is.
It is certainly true that some wild-caught species such as bluefin tuna and Chilean seabass are facing commercial extinction and yet continue to be fished due to high consumer demand. But farmed species such as Atlantic salmon, which are continuing to grow in numbers and popularity, also cause their fair share of problems. The sustainability of wild-caught fisheries is influenced by the type of gear used for fishing, the amount of fish that is caught, and the incidental catch of non-target species. The sustainability of aquaculture operations is influenced by a different set of factors. Carnivorous species such as salmon are fed large quantities of fishmeal that are sourced from wild forage fish populations, thereby perpetuating the depletion of wild stocks.
Aquaculture can also have a significant impact on the surrounding environment. Aquaculture species are often invasive and can compete with other predators in the ecosystem. Natural disasters, such as the recent earthquake in Aysen, Chile, heighten the threat of escaped fish. Disease is prevalent in many farms and can spread to wild populations. Chemicals from antibiotics and excess nutrients from fecal materials cause high levels of pollution in the areas surrounding the pens.
The GOOD NEWS is there are both wild-caught and farmed species that provide a healthy and environmentally-friendly alternative. Check out these guides from the Blue Ocean Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the best options. You can also promote sustainable fisheries by supporting organizations like Oceana that advocate for marine conservation and sound fisheries management.