Don't Believe Aquaculture Hype


Don’t believe aquaculture hype

January 2, 2014

    Globally, only 17 per cent of the population’s average per capita intake of animal protein comes from fish.

If you believe what the salmon aquaculture industry is saying, they are poised to feed the hungry of the world, close the global protein gap, employ legions of workers and save coastal communities from economic oblivion. Nowhere in their feel-good message do they tell the public where the hungry and protein starved of the world live or the likelihood that salmon jerky and fillets will fill their bellies. It’s unlikely salmon will be feeding the 25-35 per cent of people living in Chad, Liberal, Angola, Ethiopia, Zambia, Namibia or Lesotho who, according to the United Nation World Food Program, are undernourished.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of hunger (24.8 per centof the population) and Asia has the largest number of hungry people (over 500 million). Farmed salmon, haddock, cod or halibut will not be on their menu anytime soon According to the 2013 Statistical Yearbook of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the world’s hungry (and well-fed) get their protein from plants and animals not fish. Globally, only 17 per cent of the population’s average per capita intake of animal protein comes from fish. China alone produced more than 60 per cent of global aquaculture production (mostly seaweeds and freshwater fish), while Asia as a whole accounted for about 90 per cent. Furthermore, global aquaculture production is dominated by species that are raised in inland tanks, channels or ponds and feed low on the food chain such as carp, tilapias and catfish. As for creating legions of workers, employment statistics show that increased technological efficiencies have resulted in increased production levels without comparable increases in employment. Statistics Canada and DFO report that in 1990, 1,000 people in Atlantic Canada were employed in aquaculture and they produced 15,000 mt of product. In 2008, production had quadrupled (67,000 mt), but the workforce increased by only two and half time to 2,600 workers. The world’s leader in salmon farming, Norway, has increased its production by six times over the past 20 years but it’s workforce has remained at 1990 levels. The salmon aquaculture industry says new legislation will help to make all their promises come true. The industry does need legislation. It needs federal regulations like those imposed on effluent from Canada’s pulp and paper and metal mining industries and municipal sewage facilities. There are no federal or provincial regulations to control the impacts of aquaculture. The open net pen salmon aquaculture industry is in deep trouble in Atlantic Canada. Disease outbreaks in 2013 resulted in the destruction of over a million fish. The industry is desperate to find a poison that will kill the sea lice infesting their farms. Poor environmental performance at some farms means longer wait times before production can begin again. Escaped fish continue to be a problem and, as storms intensify due to climate change, the likelihood of storm damage and escaped fish will only get bigger.

A new federal aquaculture act is not going to fix any of these issues. The simplest way to address all the issues plaguing the industry is to move fish farming onto land. Critics of this method say land-based operations are not economic. Money can be, and is being, made growing fish in land-based facilities. The profits are not as great as growing them at sea where the cost of disposing of waste and compensating for disease is paid by the environment and the public. Fish farming does have a place in the economic mix of communities but it is on land where, as with other industrial operations, the real and total cost of production is paid by the industry and not by the public, environment and traditional fisheries.

Inka Milewski 
is a science advisor with the 
Conservation Council of 
New Brunswick