Two things the world is in desperate need of today: fish and jobs.
So why not, suggest some aquaculturists and new-economy visionaries, twin the two needs for one good result, i.e. encouraging fish farms that will help grow jobs too?
Photo: Natallia Ablazhei/Reuters
There are admittedly some real concerns, both environmental and healthwise, about fish farming as it’s typically done around the world: Steroids, antibiotics and other growth-inducing chemicals mix into the natural ebb and flow of bays and other bodies of water; “bio-engineered” fish escape into the wild, where they mate with wild fish and forever alter species; the farms can pollute air and water, which is standard for most “farming” operations.
But if those concerns can be improved upon, there is a great logic to encouraging more fish farms as a way to create jobs.
In Bermuda, for example, it’s not the fishing or food industry that has launched a program to encourage more fish farming in its blue waters but the Department of Environmental Protection, which is looking for investors to help what it is calling its “Blue Ocean Economy” program. As well as searching for investment in ocean-floor mining and wave-energy programs, the Bermudan government is actively seeking aquaculturists. As the numbers of wild fish in the sea continues to plummet, its argument is that growing fish—from catfish to salmon—benefits everyone.
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The immediate concern of course is that no one wants to encourage turning what are today pristine waters into the waterborne equivalents of chicken factories, so caution must accompany any such investment.
In Kenya, its National Aquaculture Research Development Training Centre is making the argument that growing fish also helps ensure a country’s “food security.” At its Sagana-based headquarters it has already trained 1,000 fish farmers. Dr. Harrison Charo-Karisa and Dr. Jonathan Munguti, global experts in the genetics and breeding of fish, who have already trained farmers in Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda, lead the effort. Health education is mixed into their instruction as well, as they attempt to teach the mostly agrarian East Africans that fish can be healthier than a diet of red meat. Of course, even the best of fish farms need a steady supply of water and lengthy droughts are always a risk across the continent; currently more than 12 million are in desperate need of drinking water across the region.
Farm-Africa, is an example of an NGO taking part in Kenya’s “aquashop project,” a two-year, $600,000 program that supplies commercial and small-scale fish farmers with the essentials for farming, technical advice, training and links to markets.
Closer to home, in New Orleans, the Recirculating Farms Coalition recently launched a national campaign to promote growing local, fresh food as a way to simultaneously grow green jobs. Its argument is that with one out of six people struggling to buy food—most of them unemployed—providing good, fresh, local food is a priority, as are creating stable jobs. Its sights are set on eco-friendly farms that grow fish (aquaculture) or a combination of plants and fish (aquaponics).
Its “recirculating farm” model sets a high standard, of course, in that it requires farming operations that they run without antibiotics or other drugs and chemicals and are designed to re-use up to 99 percent of their water and wastewater. The Coalition’s executive director, Marianne Cufone, says she’s seen such farms be successful ranging in size from “desktop” to “ones covering acres and acres.”
.”..with one out of six people struggling to buy food—most of them unemployed—providing good, fresh, local food is a priority, as are creating stable jobs.”
For the moment, “recirculation” is going through a defining process; some regard them as experimental labs, thus subject to a higher standard of permitting, while others see them as typical agriculture. The coalition needs to convince Congress that recirculating farms are economically better, safer environmentally and healthier than ocean-based fish farming.
For the U.S. government’s part, NOAA has weighed in with its own “implications and considerations” study. Its 264-page report on the effects of a growing aquaculture industry, created by the NOAA Aquaculture Program, suggests that since fish farming is going to grow worldwide no matter what the U.S. does, it’s better to be involved than not. While admitting that farming fish will at least initially compete with existing fishermen’s market, if demand for fish continues to grow as it has been in recent decades, there should be room for both. From a job perspective, the report sees aquaculture as win-win, and includes new opportunities in both onshore and offshore operations, including maintenance, delivery and administrative jobs.
But it’s a fact that not all politicians, or consumers, are quite ready for bio-engineered fish, no matter how many jobs they might create. In Alaska the creators of a biotech salmon—which allegedly grows twice as fast as a regular salmon—have been stalled by a Congress concerned with anything bearing the description “genetically-enhanced.” The company, AquaBounty, argues that while the FDA has previously called biotech salmon “safe to eat,” the opinion of prominent local politician Senator Lisa Murkowski is still widespread. The idea, says Murkowski, gives her the “heebie jeebies.” She is leading the effort to get the FDA to ban the “frankenfish.”
AquaBounty argues that since its fish are grown in tanks inland, they are not risking polluting fresh waters or corrupting local species.
Of course Murkowski’s argument has a political bent, since many of her constituents fish for wild salmon and would rather not have any competition. In that regard the future of aquaculture, with its inherent risks understood, is a classic example of old economy versus new economy thinking. To create jobs in a stagnant economy it requires thinking outside the traditional.
It’s easy to understand why many smart people around the world consider the ocean to be at great risk today, thanks to a well-known handful of threats ranging from overfishing to the impact of climate change to acidification to plastic pollution.
Photo: bredgur/Creative Commons via Flickr
But a variety of those same smart people have some new thoughts on how we might better protect the ocean and its marine life and even tap it as a resource to improve some other planetary needs.
A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pinpoints four percent of the planet’s ocean which—if set aside as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)—would sufficiently protect the most at-risk marine mammal species.
Scientists from Stanford and the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico identified which four percent by layering maps of where the planet’s 129 marine mammals (seals, dolphins and polar bears) are found in most abundance and identified 20 ocean regions where they live. They went on to suggest that by protecting just nine of those 20 regions, locations with the highest “species richness,” 84 percent of the planet’s most at-risk marine mammals would be living under some kind of protection. The areas they encouraged to be protected were off the coasts of Baja, eastern Canada, Peru, Argentina, northwestern Africa, South Africa, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
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Meanwhile, over at the On Project (sponsored by the Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation), some clean thinkers are seeing the ocean less as one big mess and more as one big problem solver. Here are five ways they think the ocean can be tapped:
1) Clean Energy: Considered by some as “the other white meat” of alternative energy, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) is now available to harness the power of the ocean and produce clean base-load (24/7) energy.
2) Clean Drinking Water: According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 8 people do not have access to clean drinking water. Every day patients suffering from diseases associated with dirty drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene occupy half of the world’s hospital beds. Through desalination, powered by clean electricity from an OTEC plant, the ocean can provide clean drinking water for people around the world.
3) Aquaculture: The ocean offers great potential for food production in many areas of the world. With sustainable practices, food security and environmental costs can be balanced.
4) Unemployment: According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), approximately 1 of every 6 jobs in the United States is marine-related, including careers in the fishing, tourism, recreation, energy and ocean transport industries.
5) Air Conditioning: Using cold, deep seawater in place of polluting standard refrigerants, the ocean supplies a clean method of air-conditioning that reduces electricity usage by up to 90 percent when compared to conventional cooling methods.
Currently less than one percent of the planet’s ocean is protected by MPAs; it’s clear that the more ocean we set-aside in protected areas—just like we do on land, in parks and wilderness areas—the better for endangered species and wild fish. And maybe if we begin to think of the planet’s one big ocean as a resource rather than a giant trashcan, it can actually help us.
(For the rest of my dispatches go to takepart.com)
Who would have guessed, but in Europe it appears that McDonald’s is outshining the finest French restaurants when it comes to promising to serve sustainable fish.
In recent reporting by Fish2Fork—the website conceived by Charles Clover, author of the book End of the Line, on which the provocative documentary of the same name about overfishing was based—only 23 percent of French fish restaurants earned four “blue fish” (out of a possible five), while 70 percent rated five “red fish skeletons,” its lowest rating.
Photo: Charles Platiau/Reuters
In the same breath, the site reports that McDonald’s has signed a guarantee that the 100 million servings of its Filet-O-Fish sandwich sold in 39 countries as part of its European operation will come from sustainable sources. The guarantee is taken seriously enough that the prestigious U.K.-based Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) awarded the company the right to carry its blue-flag MSC label, a highly sought eco-certification.
The deal begins in October and involves 7,000 restaurants that attract 13 million customers a day. (There are more than 32,000 McDonald’s globally, with nearly 14,000 of them in the U.S.)
Fish2Fork was forged from Glover’s experience with both book and movie, which graphically illustrate how man has taken or overexploited 80 percent of the world’s fish stocks. The site’s goal is to rate restaurants around the globe on how they’re doing when it comes to being knowledgeable about and serving sustainably caught or grown fish.
The listings on its site are based on questionnaires filled out by the restaurants themselves or on online menus. The goal is to better educate both restaurateurs and consumers alike.
In France, the highest-ranked restaurant surveyed was Paris’ Epi Dupin, where chef/owner Francois Pasteau reacted to learning about the crisis of overfishing by buying fish from the market twice a week and skipping over anything considered at risk. Fish2Fork calls him a “true national hero.”
On the downside, Fish2Fork also found restaurants in France blithely selling critically endangered European eel, wild caviar from Caspian sturgeon, and endangered bluefin tuna on skewers. In some restaurants, servers knew exactly where the pigeon on the menu came from or the specific breed of beef it served, but had no idea where its cod came from.
“What future are we creating for the next generations of French chef if many species of wild fish become a thing of the past and come off the menu because we have let them go practically extinct in the wild?” wondered Glover.
The European McDonald’s, by comparison, will focus on buying cod from the Barents Sea and Eastern Baltic, haddock also from the Barents, Alaskan pollock, and hoki from New Zealand.
The biggest concern regarding the McDonald’s promise is what happens if/when the company can’t get its hands on enough sustainable fish? Where will it turn if demand outpaces supply? Some environmentalists have been critical of the MSC certification because of all the bycatch (including seabirds and seals) resulting from the sizable industrial catches necessary to satisfy McDonald’s appetite.
In Europe the chain has decided its customers will respond to its doing the right thing. For the time being, its 14,000 U.S. brethren are treading water a bit longer before taking the hook.
(For the rest of my dispatches, go to takepart.com)
The question arises with more and more frequency these days: To sushi, or not to sushi?
Photo: Stone/Getty Images
There is a growing contingent of conscientious mariners out there who refuse to eat all seafood, arguing that sea life has been so injudiciously hammered in the past five decades that if it’s going to survive, we need to give it a true break. That path, of course, puts at risk the livelihoods of 30 million-plus global fishermen and the related industry they support.
Others, attempting to choose wisely, try to navigate by choosing so-called sustainable seafood, which leads them away from the big-name predators (tuna, salmon, swordfish, mahi-mahi) towards smaller, less-popular thus still prolific species.
But in the booming sushi trade, opting for that admittedly delicious tuna and other at-risk fish can prompt lively pre-dinner brawls, even among the most enlightened carrying smart phones armed with apps to help steer them towards the “safest” fish on the menu.
With bluefin season heating up in the Mediterranean, the question is even more relevant. Two weeks ago Sea Shepherd’s “Operation Blue Rage” sent two of its boats, the Steve Irwin and Brigitte Bardot, to the coast of Libya to help monitor the waters and take direct action if it observes illegal tuna-ing.
“Any tuna fishing vessel we find off the Libyan coast will be operating illegally,” said Sea Shepherd’s boss, Paul Watson, as his boats steamed away from the coast of France toward Libya. “We will cut their nets, free the fish, and document and report their operations to ICCAT and the European Union.”
A decade ago it became clear that bluefin would soon be extinct if the hunting continued apace, and little has been done to slow the take, even as the popularity of the species booms in sushi restaurants around the globe, from Stillwater to Moscow (and particularly in Japan, which is said to consume 80 percent of the planet’s bluefin). Some marine protectors stick with the prediction that bluefin will be commercially unavailable by 2012…next year!
A small and hopefully growing number of chefs and restaurants have taken bluefin off the menus. At the same time, necessary further protection for the species continues to erode. In May the Obama administration refused to list it as endangered, which conservationists were calling for; late last year European quotas for tuna were reduced, though by just a few tons, even as worries that any decrease in legal takings would result in a rise in illegal fishing.
New York Times food critic Sam Sifton got into the middle of the debate a couple days ago when reviewing the New York City restaurant Masa Masa, which he revealed serves “an enormous amount” of bluefin, and which he admitted to happily sampling during several visits.
So back to the question: To sushi or not to sushi?
Casson Trenor’s book (Sustainable Sushi: A Guide to Saving the Oceans One Bite at a Time) and website (sustainablesushi.net) may be the best place to start building your argument. He operates San Francisco’s only sustainable sushi restaurant, Tataki, and recently hosted a sustainable seafood feast at the National Geographic Society in D.C.
On his recent birthday (32) he blogged: “I talk a lot about moderation on this blog—staying away from critically endangered delicacies like bluefin tuna, not eating sushi four times a week, and all that—and I stand by it. But there’s a time and a place for celebration, and that’s important too. Not that I would eat bluefin tuna even for a holiday banquet, but I just might gorge myself a little bit (or a lot) on some sort of sustainable delight and fall asleep on the couch. My birthday is not a good day to be a crawfish, believe me.”
- Photo: Stone/Getty Images
I think what we’re seeing is the emergence of a list of “good sushi” and “bad sushi.” Or should we simply put it all off limits…for now? Where do you fall?
Sifton’s review elicited a slew of responses. A majority, but not all, sided with the fish. Others suggested that if you don’t like what’s on the menu, vote by not walking through the door. Have a look for yourself, and weigh in here.
(For the rest of my dispatches, go to takepart.com)
Just hours after World Oceans Day ended last week, the Obama administration affirmed it was on the verge of making it easier to farm fish in federal waters, a move that some think will dramatically change the future of America’s coastlines, wild fish populations, and even the way we eat.
Photo: Dado Ruvic/Reuters
According to the D.C.-based lobbying group Food & Water Watch, the new law, jointly announced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Department of Commerce, promotes a national policy that “paves the way for dirty, crowded factory farm fishing to flourish in U.S. waters.”
Currently, farm-raised fish in the United States can only be grown in the three miles of offshore waters controlled by individual states. The new law would allow regional “management councils” to operate in federal waters, beyond the three-mile limit, and would expand fish farms throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
Obviously, growing fish in the Gulf, where there is still much uncertainty about the health of its waters due to last year’s BP oil spill, comes with concerns. The verdict is still out as to how both the Gulf itself and its marine life are faring after the dumping of 2 million gallons of oil and another 800,000 gallons of toxic dispersants.
Those for the new regulations, led by the NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, say the changes will take pressure off wild stocks that live close to shore and help slow U.S. dependence on fish imported from abroad. Today 84 percent of the seafood we eat in the States comes from elsewhere, and we currently run a $9 billion dollar seafood trade deficit.
The primary reason there is pressure to expand fish farming is because the public is demanding more and more fish. Global fish consumption has grown by 65 percent in the past four decades, and today more than half of the fish we eat comes from farms. Requests from other government departments only encourage the demand: Last month the USDA suggested people eat twice as much seafood to meet new dietary recommendations.
Food & Water Watch contends the new policy “conveniently fails” to mention that 70 percent of the seafood caught or farmed in the U.S. is shipped abroad. If that trend continues, even as the fish farming industry in the U.S. expands to $5 billion dollars a year, we would end up sending most of the factory-farmed fish overseas but still keep the pollution and impact on wild stocks.
One effect of all that farming, says F&WW, would be the generation of untreated sewage, equivalent to that of 17.1 million people, or twice the number of residents of New York City.
Multiple recent reports suggest that even the most aggressive aquaculture plans will not help protect wild stocks or provide for the demand boom.
At the conclusion last week of European Fish Week, organized by Ocean2012, a coalition hoping to change the way the EU fishes, it was clear that protecting the remaining wild stocks around the globe will not be easy. Demand for fish, thus farms, is booming across Africa as well, from Egypt to Nigeria. Fishing fleets continue to grow—and grow more sophisticated—from the North Atlantic to Antarctica. Reasonable remedies to slow the take, including lowering quotas, limiting seasons, and taking away fishing licenses, have so far not worked.
Next week Australia’s WorldFish Center and U.S.-based Conservation International will release a much-anticipated first assessment of the status and impact of the global aquaculture trade.
Where exactly does all this farmed seafood come from? Asia accounts for 91 percent of the world’s aquaculture; China alone is responsible for 61 percent of the world’s total, much of it resource-demanding carp. The reality is that feeding some farmed fish, like salmon, shrimp, and prawns, requires mulching wild caught fish into pellets for food, further impacting the future of wild stocks. New guidelines suggest only that there should be more research on “alternate feeds.”
One small piece of good news on the fish front: Retailers and restaurants are jumping on the sustainable seafood bandwagon. Trader Joe’s, pushed hard by Greenpeace and others, says that by the end of 2012 it will offer only sustainable fish in its 365 stores. Previously the company has eliminated heavily overfished Chilean Sea Bass, Orange Roughy, and Red Snapper from its refrigerators.
(For the rest of my dispatches, go to takepart.com)
Nonprofit advocate organization Oceana has launched a big, new, years-in-the-making campaign against what it calls “seafood fraud.” Its team of scientists has concluded that more than 70 percent of the seafood we eat in the U.S. is mislabeled, often on purpose.
Photo: Dado Ruvic/Reuters
Americans should have the right to know what is on their plates. If you eat seafood, the impacts of the global fraud uncovered by Oceana are being felt in the seas, in your pocketbook, and in your health.
The report, “Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health,” concludes that most people, including many buyers of seafood for grocery chains and markets, don’t really know where the fish came from … nor can they recognize one species of fish from another.
At the Washington, D.C., press conference announcing the report, Oceana laid out skinless filets of halibut next to fluke, red snapper next to hake and farmed next to wild salmon. Virtually no one was able to tell the difference. A taste test—between tilapia and vermilion snapper, cooked in lemon caper sauce—fooled everyone. If the meat is frozen or canned, human ability to distinguish tilapia from pollock disappears.
The over-arching goal of “Bait and Switch” is to require proper labeling on all fish, informing consumers exactly what they’re buying and where it comes from. Right now, illegal fishing operations—which mislabel and smuggle, falsify paperwork, and profit off bribery and corruption—evade all but the most rigorous testing. Increasing the difficulty of accurate labeling, most fish is processed at sea, and species are obscured long before the boat ever hits a dock.
If you’re paying to buy an expensive fish caught in the wild (salmon, for example), but are being sold a filet grown cheaply on a fish farm in China (tilapia), you’re the loser. On the health side, certain species are more prone to industrial pollutants and some contain allergens you should know about when ordering or buying.
If we can’t pinpoint where fish are coming from, we can’t monitor and control overfishing, wreaking havoc on abused fisheries. According to Oceana, the U.S. is “an easy target for dumping illegal, poor quality and unpopular seafood because controls are few and far between.” Eighty percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. comes from overseas.
Solutions are within reach. DNA testing of fish is doable and not overly expensive. The problem is introducing testing in the field and enforcing its use.
I spoke with Beth Lowell, the Washington D.C.-based campaign director of the Seafood Fraud campaign, and she was optimistic that the report will result in real change.
TakePart: What’s been the response to the “Seafood Fraud” report?
Beth Lowell: Great. The media continues to be interested in the story and not just from the environmental reporters, but also consumer and food reporters as well. For the most part, the reporters that I have talked with have been surprised at the amount of seafood fraud in the US market.
TakePart: What about the seafood industry itself?
Beth Lowell: The seafood industry has been relatively supportive as well. Fraud is an issue they know is a problem for the industry. National Fisheries Institute, an industry organization, formed the Better Seafood Board—one of area they focus on is fraud. Seafood fraud hurts the honest fisherman and honest seafood industry players.
TakePart: What’s next?
Beth Lowell: This week the Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to consider S. 50, the Commercial Seafood Consumer Protection Act, which would be a first step in addressing fraud in the U.S. In February 2009, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on seafood fraud. This bill, S 50, implements many of the GAOs recommendations. We are supportive of the bill.
Overall, we are looking for improved traceability in the seafood chain so that fish can be tracked from fishing vessel to plate. This will help eliminate species substitution and other forms of fraud.
Want to make your voice heard? Write the Food and Drug Administration and tell them you want safe, legal, honestly labeled seafood.