Seabass Chile, an innovative aquaculture company operating out of Puerto Montt, Chile, believes it has cracked the code for a more sustainable future for fish farming in Chile: the Patagonia toothfish, also known by its market name, the Chilean seabass. Never before having been raised in culture, Seabass Chile has spent the past few years tracking the life cycle of wild Chilean seabass and developing methods for commercial breeding operations. Seabass Chile believe that once their farming operations get off the ground, they will be able to overtake and replace the current aquaculture king: Atlantic salmon.
What’s so unsustainable about salmon?
There are a number of reasons why the $5bn Chilean Atlantic salmon industry needs to go. To begin with, Atlantic salmon are non-native species, meaning that farming them in open waters leads to the potential of unintentional introductions into the wild. The salmon themselves could escape and threaten to overwhelm local species or even more likely, the flesh eating sea lice carried by farmed salmon could be transferred to passing fish.
Another consequence of raising Atlantic salmon off the Pacific coast of South America is that they are unaccustomed to the extreme cold of local waters and are more prone to disease. Salmon farmers’ solution is to pump their fish with extreme doses of antibiotics, antibiotics which then enter the environment and yield strains of potentially dangerous antibiotic resistant bacteria.
An aquaculture system based on native Chilean seabass would be able to circumvent many of these problems caused by farming foreign salmon. Escaped fish would be less of a concern since they would likely just reintegrate with wild populations. There would also be far less need for antibiotics since Chilean seabass have evolved to tough out the frigid waters of the far south.
There are many negative impacts environmental impacts which are not unique to salmon and would continue to occur if Chilean seabass were raised in aquaculture. Like salmon, Chilean seabass are a piscivorous species, meaning that they require fish in their diet. This means that in order to farm Chilean seabass, an abundance of wild fish must be caught and processed to feed them. Rather than reducing pressure on capture fisheries, farming piscivorous fish actually increases demand, threatening the stability of wild populations.
Additionally, farming in open sea nets means that all waste products flow directly into the environment, mass nutrient inputs which overwhelm the ocean’s ability to process organic matter and yield hypoxic blooms. The result of these blooms are massive dead zones surrounding fish farms where no sea life can thrive.
Thus, we are left with the question: would Chilean seabass farming be as sustainable as Seabass Chile is marketing it to be? Should we really be focusing on creating MORE fish farm operations even if it means pushing foreign Atlantic salmon out of the market? Leave your input in the comments!
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