Fish Farming, or aquaculture, as Fisheries Scientists call it, is a burgeoning industry around the World, especially in China. It does however, come with a whole host of problems that we, as smart consumers, should be aware of. This blog post will focus on a few of BC Aquaculture’s problems and combines data from a wide variety of sources, however a good overview of the global industry can be found here!
Image Source: Flickr User World Wildlife Fund.
The first major problem that we see in marine-based open system aquaculture facilities (where fish live in the sea water and there’s no filtration of that water) is the nutrient load added to the water. When we’re growing fish we want them to grow as quick as possible with as little food as possible (to maximize profit), so we use very, very high nutrient feeds. These nutrients leach out in the water around the pens and encourage algal and bacterial growth in the water. This can have some not fun consequences for the surrounding oceans! See very simplified YouTube video. Moreover, it really messes with the sediment underneath the pens, changing the ocean floor there chemically which can have very long lasting repercussions on the plants and animals that live there. We’re talking centuries long-lasting!
Now where do all those nutrients in the food come from? That itself is a big issue. They come from fishmeal, which is essentially small fish, ground up into pellets. These fish are caught in quantities that just boggle the senses (around 30 million tonnes every year). This fishing results in overexploitation and an undermining of the food web in an ecosystem. This happens because the little fish (that previously we hadn’t eaten) are removed in a huge quantity, leaving no food for the slightly bigger, predatory fish. When you combine this undermining (bottom-up) fishing with top predator (top-down) fishing, you leave a lot of BC ecosystems in a very precarious position. Around 30% of fishmeal is made of small fish, although efforts are being taken to reduce its usage.
Finally, we have to think about where we are putting these potentially harmful fish farms. Around 90% of BC fish farms are in the Broughton Archipelago on the North Coast of BC (see Fig. from Leggatt Inquiry) . This is an area that has traditionally been held by many, varied BC First Nations, who have an ancestral right to live and harvest there without interference. Often fish farms are provincially approved without their permission, leaving these people, who historically have ‘lived off the landscape’ (usually sustainably), to absorb the negative effects fish farms have on their environment. Further effort should be taken to actively involve and empower BC First Nations in the aquaculture decision-making process.
I hope this post showed you why Salmon Farming is such a contentious issue, although of course I only covered a tiny part of that huge debate. It is your choice on whether farmed Salmon is a good buy, but one thing is for sure, it ain’t going away any time soon! With World population increasing so rapidly, aquaculture needs to fill those mouths as the already overexploited wild-caught fish stocks can, and should, not.
Posted in Biological Sciences, Issues in Science, Public Engagement, Science in the News, Uncategorized
Tagged Aquaculture, BC, BCSFA, Cermaq, Ecology, environment, Environmental Damage, Eutrophication, First Nations, Fish Farming, Fishmeal, Greig, Marine Harvest, Norway, Pacific North West, Salmo salar, Salmon, Salmon Farming, Science Communication, Wild
Humans are part of the world’s ecosystem. Quite often Western society views the Earth as the place we have chosen to make our home, like an honour we have bestowed upon it. By our ‘ownership’ of the Earth we are able to subjugate it and pillage it to every extent. We distance ourselves from our huge population (over 7 billion at this point) and blind ourselves to the effects we, as a species, have on the environment. Perhaps it is the mystery of the ocean, or the murkiness of its depths, that stops us from regarding it in particular, but beyond our shores lies a vast quantity of wild, untamed AND fragile fish stocks that we are having an effect on.
It was shown over 15 years ago now, by Fisheries scientists at UBC, that we are ‘fishing down the food web’. A food web is an ecological tool that shows us the connections between organisms within a space. At the peak of these webs or cascades are the top predators: animals who eat animals who eat animals who eat animals (and so on). This discovery was a landmark in the understanding of fisheries science, but should also be a wake-up call to conscious (and conscientious) consumers of fish products. It states that we initially fish larger fish (higher predators) until the point of non-viability is reached, at which point we switch to a smaller sized fish lower down in the food chain and fish this to economic extinction. We ultimately end up at the point of no lower edible organisms- marine invertebrates. There is even a market for jellyfish now (Image Flickr User kantoku hk)!
One of the main causes of this effect is the way we view food. Instead of taking from the ocean in an equal measure, we take one species in very great quantity. Certain fish products become popular and we fish only them to extinction. Instead of eating all we catch, quality fish are thrown back because they do not meet the standards of our ideal fish. To meet the high demand we pursue the diminishing stocks with our advanced technology, taking wherever we can. This is what happened to the Tun: bluefin tuna were discarded in the 1930s for no-one liked their meaty taste. These fish are now amongst the most highly sought-after fish in the ocean. So great is their demand that there are (debated) claims of 90% depletion in unfished tuna stock.
So what can you do I hear you ask. Firstly, eat less fish. I know that is something a sushi-loving Vancouverite hates to hear, but our overfishing is a fact. 50% of the world’s fish stocks are fully exploited. That cannot last. Secondly, eat good fish. Eat sustainably caught, local fish, with a low environmental impact when you can. I’ll give you an example: Tuna is a top predator, so if it is removed from the system, it has multiplying effects on the species down the chain from it. Do not eat Tuna. Stop it. There are essentially no sustainable ways to eat it! Thirdly and most importantly, start showing you care. Petitioning our government to create a better fisheries management system is the best way to affect change. Front-running research in the field shows that primarily we need to create no-fish zones, low-fishing areas and ultimately stop the fish catch monoculture. If you’re interested in learning more about fisheries and our history of oceanic abuse, you could read ‘Four Fish’ by Paul Greenberg for some great insights.
Posted in Biological Sciences, Issues in Science, Public Engagement
Tagged Bluefin Tuna, COAStNet, environment, Fisheries, Foodwebs, Healthy Habits, Oceans, Science Communication, Stocks, Sustainability
Like species on an evolutionary tree, ‘Science’ and ‘Art’ have been growing apart since their last common ancestor. Thanks, in part, to increasingly rapid technological development we have seen the disciplines diverge even further. People often believe that this distance is unbridgeable and the two fields are irreconcilable. The gap is, in fact, broadened by those on either side of the debate, who peg themselves ‘artists’, ‘thinkers’ or ‘practicalists’ vs. ‘scientists’. Which of these do you consider yourself? Do you recognize the reaction upon telling someone you are (or hearing someone is) an artist/scientist?
Separation between these two “irreconcilable” sets of thought can be worsened by an exclusionist, elitist attitude often present in scientific circles. Active inclusion of those with different kinds of knowledge (potentially lacking ‘scientific knowledge’) is downplayed or even shunned. This, in turn, is matched by the same separationist ideals in artists who paint scientists as overly-intellectual, logic-bound, unfeeling reductionists.
Although perhaps understandable given the high level of sophistication associated with both fields’ recent research endeavours, this dichotomy is to the detriment of society. Take for example, Traditional Ecological Knowledge from North American First Nations. Mistakes in the attitude and behaviour of both tribal leaders and scientists has led to the alienation of many First Nations and the exclusion of indigenous knowledge that can help advance scientific understanding (see great paper here!). Only by acknowledging and understanding the other side’s logic will we be able to move forward together for the betterment of mankind.
I believe that through fun, yet simple, science experiments we can help merge the two fields and incorporate people who historically would have veered away from Science. Understanding the scientific process and the logic behind it in a ‘hands-on’ manner helps elucidate scientists’ thinking and behaviour to non-scientists. It demystifies the decisions that are made, which, without understanding, may be easily villainized. Emphasizing that being a scientist does not require access to the fanciest equipment or latest research, opens the ‘club’ up to new members. Science is an all-inclusive society – open to all, regardless of background or expertise. Thinking in a scientific manner qualifies you!
A large-scale, community-driven ‘opening of Science’ to non-scientists through inclusive, interesting and simple science experiments will lead to greater scientific literacy in our society and the decharacterization of ‘Scientists’ and ‘Artists’ as completely separate people. This will enhance the amount of knowledge available to all (as new scientists share their insight and receive new information), lead to greater public involvement in scientific practices and will usher in a new era of ‘Scientific Artists’ that can enhance the field for everyone: the Renaissance reborn.
Science can be inclusive: it IS by its very nature. It is up to us to open the doors.