Foraging for Solutions


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
October 30, 2008

With global seafood harvests stagnant or declining, fishery experts worldwide say increasing demand for seafood will be met by the aquaculture sector. In order to farm the most commercially viable seafood species, the aquaculture industry depends on a steady supply of fishmeal and fish oil made from forage fisheries. But a recent study suggests that forage fisheries, including menhaden, should strictly be feeding people, not hogs, cattle or especially farmed fish.

"Forage Fish: From Ecosystems to Markets" by the Sea Around Us Project, a partnership between Pew Charitable Trusts and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, will appear in November's Annual Review of Environment and Resources. Earlier this week I asked Dr. Daniel Pauly, one of the study's authors, if he thought introducing species like menhaden and anchovies to developed countries - instead of tilapia and farmed salmon - would be an obstacle.

"For countries such as [The United States], an introduction would not be any more difficult than introducing Chilean sea bass in the early 1980s," Dr. Pauly replied via e-mail. "It's simply a matter of how the fish is presented and by whom (e.g., famous chefs). Also, why should what happens in developed countries matter more than what happens in developing countries?"

Forage species are indeed crucial to the food web and the marine environment, as Dr. Pauly is keen to point out. But he is more optimistic than most on the prospect of mass consumption of fish that are among the lowest on the food chain, even while admitting that menhaden "may be an exception" pertaining to what the human palate will tolerate.

Fish farmers, by reformulating their feeds, are gradually reducing their dependence on fishmeal and fish oil (see Top Story, October SFB) with the assistance of environmental organizations. The relationship between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like World Wildlife Fund and its Aquaculture Dialogues is proof that such collaboration can foster more responsible aquaculture. But Dr. Pauly, who favors prohibiting the use of fish in industrial farming, goes against the grain of contemporary cooperative thinking, back to the way the NGO-industry relationship was a decade ago.

The aquaculture industry must continue to address its dependence on fishmeal for the sake of sustainability. If the future depends on aquaculture, a cut-bait answer like the Sea Around Us Project is no real solution at all.

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