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Fish farming – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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The race is on! Fish is being touted more and more as the healthy option when it comes to getting protein into your diet. It’s a great alternative to meat, and poultry, and is even eaten by many people who call themselves vegetarians; although strictly speaking that’s really contradictory. Vegetarians should in fact only eat vegetables, or plant based foods, and not anything that you would consider to be “animal”; and within this broad concept, we include fish. But because we are told of the health benefits of eating fish, namely the general absence of saturated fats, and instead, the inclusion of good healthy Omega fatty acids, demand for fish is rising higher and higher. It’s certainly considered to be an essential part of any holistic health lifestyle diet. Unless of course you’re a veggie!

We’ve plundered the soil – now we’re plundering the oceans

But the fact of the matter is that demand for fish has risen so high, that we’ve already plundered the planet’s natural fish stocks, with many types of fish being driven to the edge of extinction. Not content with sucking the soil dry of all on its mineral wealth, we’re in the process of sucking the oceans dry of their riches too!

Fish farming to the rescue?

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Thankfully a lot of noise has been made about the raping of the seas, and fishing quotas have been brought in force, but it’s almost too little too late. But being ever resourceful, mankind has turned to farming for fish. At first thought it sounds harmless enough. We imagine fish swimming about in aquarium like enclosures. Sadly that is not the case. Fish farming is now rapidly becoming the production intense phenomenon that we all (or most of us ecological, holistic health, minded folk) hated so much when applied to chickens and battery hen egg production. The sort of scenario that is commonplace is that 1 large size salmon, only has a bathtub full of water to itself, – and that’s the way it spends its life, – contained and constrained.

Cheaper fish – but at what price?

There’s really only one good thing you can say about fish farming (and even that’s debatable), and it’s that it provides lots of fish at a cheaper price that net or line caught fish. In terms of the bad things we can say, unfortunately there’s load of them. For instance:

Sea Lice Infestations

We’ve already talked about the confined space that farmed fish have to live in, but that confined space brings other things into the equation too; for example disease. Infestations of sea lice are quite common on many farms. Sea lice are particularly infamous in salmon, and farmed salmon populations are rife with them. The problem is that this can affect the wild salmon population too. Young salmon (smolts) swim past many of these infected fish farms as they head out into the open sea from the rivers in which they were spawned. As they swim past the farms, many of the young salmon become infected and because their scales are not yet properly formed, they can often then die.

Antibiotics and DDT

Of course, many fish farms can’t afford to have their stocks devastated by disease, so what do they do? They pump loads of chemicals into the water; antibiotics and other chemical substances that are introduced in an attempt to kill off the infestations and disease in much the same way that we used to do with corn crops in the old days. The chemicals are not DDT, but the principle is the same. Whilst this cocktail of chemicals may not harmful to human beings, (there may be risks – see the following paragraph), these toxins may affect the local ecosystems in ways that we do not yet fully comprehend.

Increased risk of cancer?

A recent study reported by the University of Albany looked at toxic contaminants in wild and farmed salmon, which were collected from various farms around the world. The results of the research clearly showed that the health risks of various illnesses from neurological disease to cancer, were significantly higher in farmed salmon than they were in wild. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) have been reported as saying that one meal per month, containing farmed salmon, may possibly pose an unacceptable risk level of developing cancer.

Genocide of smaller fish

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Many fish are essentially cannibals and in order for them to grow, they are fed fish flesh, which often consists of small fresh fish caught in the wild. With some fish, (salmon and sea bass for example), in order for them to grow in size by 1 pound, it takes 5 pounds of fish flesh. It doesn’t take much arithmetic to realise that we’re talking about a serious amount of wild small fish having to be caught to provide the feed. As the number of fish farms, and the quantity of fish that they are producing, continues to rise, once again we are in danger of running down and perhaps depleting natural stocks of smaller fish

Farmed fish are living in their own feces

That’s right, fish poop too. Farmed fish waste falls as sediment to the seabed in sufficient quantities to overwhelm and kill marine life in the immediate vicinity and for some distance beyond. It also promotes algal growth, which reduces water’s oxygen content and makes it hard to support life. When the Israeli government learned that algal growth driven by two fish farms in the Red Sea was hurting nearby coral reefs, it shut them down.

Do fish feel pain?

The debate as to whether or not fish feel pain continues to rumble on. Recent research carried out by seven scientists concluded that fish do not feel pain. This conclusion was based on the fact that fish brains are not complex enough to interpret pain.

According to Professor James Rose, of the University of Wyoming, fish brains do not contain a highly developed neocortex, such as is needed to interpret pain. He concluded that therefore fish would not experience pain in the same meaningful way as we humans do. Hmm – I wonder what “meaningful” means? The fact remains however that certain fish do have receptors called nociceptors, (albeit in much small quantities than in humans), which in humans, transmit pain signals to the brain.

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Fish farming is here to stay.

Like it or not, aquaculture, of which fish farming is a part, is not only here to stay, but it’s rapidly expanding, at three times the rate of any other branch of farming. Today, over 40% of the fish that we consume here in the USA comes from the fish farm.

We may soon have little choice

Given the choice, I think most of us would prefer to eat wild fish rather than farm bred. But for many people who have to exist on tight budgets, then fish farming provides a healthy, nutritional diet, although one which contains more health risks, more environmental issues, and certainly more questions in terms of the treatment of fish. The sad fact of the matter is that unless mankind controls its greediness, (and in light of the ever increasing demand for fish, that seems unlikely), the fish farm may be the only ecological source in the not too distant future.

Every little helps

For anyone who follows a holistic health lifestyle, and who wants to include fresh fish as part of his/her diet, you may have to be guided by your pocket size. But if you have the inclination and the opportunity, to do a little campaigning on the husbanding of dwindling re-sources, and improving the fish farming environment, then go for it – every little helps!

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Michelle Toole
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Michelle Toole

Michelle Toole is the founder and head editor of Healthy Holistic Living. Learn all about her life's inspiration and journey to health and wellness.
Michelle Toole
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