Here’s a telling discussion: in order to deal with the fact that certain commercially consumed fish species, such as salmon, have declined precipitously, human society has engaged in fish farming. In short: commercially consumed fish, such as salmon and tuna, are raised in captivity, corralled and contained on the coast in full or semi-captivity, and fed a controlled diet to ensure maximum marketability. The problem, however, is that in order to raise salmon and other carnivorous species in captivity, aquaculturalists end up capturing and ‘converting’ lesser fish into fish meal. In doing so, we end up consuming a greater amount of fish as hidden costs: it takes about 20kg of fish meal to produce 1kg of farmed tuna.
Now, one group of scientists at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is working on a solution to the problem. Tellingly, the issue is not framed as a matter of reducing consumption, but as a matter of reformulating the produced fish meal so that the quantity of lesser fish is reduced, and substituted by, for example, soybeans and poultry. As described in this article, one of the scientists argues that “We have to raise more fish,” noting that “…it’s simple economics.”
Simple economics. What a shame. There are a variety of problems with this attitude – instead of re-examining the nature of excessive consumption (a worthwhile topic, considering the rates of obesity), science is being dedicated towards maintaining the rate of resource exploitation – worse yet, advocating the adoption of engineered and unnatural fish food in the guise of environmentalism and sustainability. It should be noted as well, that reforming the fish feed process will also likely lead to greater environmental stress in other ways. Raising fish in captivity, regardless of whether they are fed an unnatural vegetarian diet (to which they have to become ‘accustomed’), places them at greater risk of disease. To take only one epidemiological study, in a 2007 study published in Science Magazine, projections of the spread of salmon lice indicate that 99% of farmed pink salmon populations could collapse in 4 generations. This is not even to mention the contribution of unnatural concentrations of fish waste and byproducts of antibiotics to marine coastal pollution, nor the fact that the industrialization of fish production means a greater concentration of capital, market share, and hence wealth among an elite few. For a more in-depth critique of fish farming, which also has negative impacts on socioeconomic equity, food security, and animal rights, see this study.
Once again, the problem is straightforward – excessive and unbridled consumption threaten ecosystem stability and the natural balance and, not surprisingly, socioeconomic justice. The solution should be straightforward as well – change the patterns of consumption. Reduce the quantity of fish consumed – avoid industrially produced farmed fish for sure – and try to live sustainably. Yet, once again, human ingenuity is being dedicated to maintaining irrational behavior at all costs.