Letter: U.S. can and should lead way to sustainable aquaculture

Re: “Fish smart, eat happy now” (March 27). Promoting ocean aquaculture, even in closed containment systems, to meet our growing seafood demand is shortsighted. Ocean aquaculture could have devastating long-term consequences for fishermen and fishing communities.

Food & Water Watch, a national consumer organization, publishes reports that review social, economic and ecological impacts from fish farming. We found that in the 1990s, in Scotland, Norway and British Columbia, salmon production dramatically expanded, but due to increased mechanization, no new jobs were created and in some places unemployment increased.

Further, from 1992 to 2001, the Alaskan salmon harvest value plunged more than 60 percent, from $600 million to around $200 million. As farmed product flooded the market prices crashed and many fishermen were forced out of business. Prices have since recovered, thanks to intense marketing efforts, but many fishermen were permanently displaced.

The effects trickle down. As fishermen dwindle, support businesses like marine supply stores and dock facilities can also suffer, risking more job loss and hurting coastal communities.

Regarding food security, it is that true that 80 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States is imported. It is not for lack of product. Ironically, the United States exports 71 percent of domestically produced seafood. American seafood goes to countries willing to pay higher prices for fish produced in accord with U.S. health, safety, and environmental standards. Ocean fish farming will not change this, as these fish will also likely be sold abroad.

But not all aquaculture is created equal. Scientists and entrepreneurs are developing new land-based, re-circulating aquaculture systems. Many grow fish that will not compete with wild caught markets and that require little or no fishmeal or fish oil in their diets. Most are intended for domestic consumption. The United States should be leading the way for truly sustainable aquaculture that is both ecologically and economically sound, to protect the marine environment, address American seafood needs and support fishing communities.

Alexander “Sascha” Bollag

March 31

The writer is the legislative coordinator of Food & Water Watch and an admitted student to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

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