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9 Things Everyone Should Know About Farmed Fish

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If you eat seafood, unless you catch it yourself or ask the right questions, the odds are pretty good it comes from a fish farm. The aquaculture industry is like a whale on steroids, growing faster than any other animal agriculture segment and now accounting for half the fish eaten in the U.S. As commercial fishing operations continue to strip the world's oceans of life, with one-third of fishing stocks collapsed and the rest headed there by mid-century, fish farming is increasingly seen as a way to meet the world's growing demand.

In my new book Meatonomics, I look at the latest data on fish farming and explore whether it's really the silver bullet to solve the Earth's food needs.  Can marine farms reliably satisfy the daily seafood cravings of three billion people around the globe? 

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This article looks at aquaculture and its long-term effects on people, fish, and other animals. With this industry regularly touted as a paragon of food production, whether you eat seafood or not, you should know these nine key facts about farmed fish.

1. Farmed fish have dubious nutritional value.

Here's a frustrating paradox for those who eat fish for their health: the nutritional benefits of fish are greatly decreased when it's farmed. Take omega-3 fatty acids. Wild fish get their omega-3's from aquatic plants. Farmed fish, however, are often fed corn, soy, or other feedstuffs that contain little or no omega-3's . This unnatural, high-corn diet also means some farmed fish accumulate unhealthy levels of the wrong fatty acids . Further, farmed fish are routinely dosed with antibiotics, which can cause  antibiotic-resistant disease in humans .

2. Fish farming robs Peter to pay Paul.

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While some farmed fish can live on diets of corn or soy, others need to eat fish -- and lots of it. Tuna and salmon, for example, need to eat up to  five pounds of fish  for each pound of body weight. The result is that prey (fish like anchovies and herring) are being fished to the brink of extinction to feed the world's fish farms. "We have caught all the big fish and now we are going after their food," says the non-profit Oceana , which blames aquaculture's voracious hunger for declines of whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, tuna, bass, salmon, albatross, penguins, and other species.

 

3. Fish experience pain and stress.

Contrary to the wishful thinking of many a catch-and-release angler, the latest research shows conclusively that fish  experience pain and stress . In   one study , fish injected with bee venom engaged in rocking behavior linked to pain and, compared to control groups, reduced their swimming activity, waited three times longer to eat, and had higher breathing rates. Farmed fish are subject to the  routine stresses  of hyperconfinement throughout their lives, and are typically killed in slow, painful ways like evisceration, starvation, or asphyxiation.

4. Farmed fish are loaded with disease, and this spreads to wild fish populations.

Farmed fish are packed as tightly as coins in a purse, with twenty-seven adult trout, for example, typically scrunched into a  bathtub-sized space . These unnatural conditions give rise to diseases and parasites, which often migrate off the farm and infect wild fish populations. On Canada's Pacific coast, for example, sea lice infestations are responsible for  mass kill-offs  of pink salmon that have destroyed 80% of the fish in some local populations. But the damage doesn't end there, because eagles, bears, orcas, and other predators depend on salmon for their existence. Drops in wild salmon numbers cause these species to  decline  click here as well.

5. Fish farms are rife with toxins, which also damage local ecosystems. 

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You can't have diseases and parasites infecting your economic units, so operators fight back by dumping concentrated antibiotics and other chemicals into the water. Such toxins damage local ecosystems in ways we're just beginning to understand.  One study  found that a drug used to combat sea lice kills a variety of nontarget marine invertebrates, travels up to half a mile, and persists in the water for hours.

6. Farmed fish are living in their own feces.

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Lawyer, writer and advocate for sustainable consumption.

Author, Meatonomics


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