Pat Baskett: Could farmed salmon be the answer?
Does farming fish reduce pressure on stocks in our oceans? Pat Baskett suggests that in trying to fix a mess of our own creation, we can create yet another
Industrial agriculture was the 20e the answer of the century to the supply of animal protein to the billions of dollars in the world. Its unsustainability and the environmental disasters that continue to follow are well documented. The elimination of this mode of food production, in particular by dairy farms, is one of the main recommendations of the draft report of the Commission on Climate Change. The salmon you are serving, however, does not have such caveats as to how it can be produced.
One wonders when does a farm become a factory? In the case of fish, can we expect the ocean to be more forgiving than farmland? Do fish farms produce protein in a less unsustainable way than, say, beef farms? Some people might also ask what we do with these creatures that spawn in fresh water, spend their lives in the sea, and return to their inland origins to reproduce.
New Zealand King Salmon (NZKS), our largest salmon farming company, reported an after-tax profit of $ 18 million last year, mostly from the Marlborough Sounds. The Ministry of Primary Industries has a strategy to increase this amount to $ 1 billion by 2025 and then to $ 3 billion 10 years later. This is in line with the international growth in demand. It is said that about half of all seafood consumed in the world comes from aquaculture.
The common idea is that raising fish reduces the pressure on wild stocks – that after depleting the oceans, we can save a minimum for our dinner tables. As a principle, it is patently wrong – not only because in trying to fix one mess of our own creation, we can create yet another.
All captive creatures need to be fed and the problem of what we feed our huge dairy herds is reflected in the fish farms. Food pellets consist of fishmeal, fish oil, vegetable protein and by-products from local poultry and meat industries. Aquaculture has been heavily criticized because fishmeal can come from so-called waste or forage fish, often collected along the coasts of northwest Africa and northwestern Africa. South America, where pelagic species are essential to the diet of the poorest coastal populations. But these species are also an essential part of the wider marine ecology and serve as food for larger fish, as well as seabirds (including penguins) and marine mammals.
NZKS says the fish meal and oil in the pellets it uses include anchovies from Peru in an operation that claims sustainability. NZKS also makes the interesting comment that the proportion of fishmeal in its pellets has decreased from 51 percent in 2004 to 33 percent in 2019. “New sources of nutrients and protein are being developed,” say -they. The industry would be economically unsustainable if a complete marine diet was provided.
The consumer might well wonder what he also eats with his salmon fillet. This earthly part of the food has a profound impact on the flesh and on the omega-3 content. There are two types of omega fatty acids – omega-6 which are found in seed and grain oils, such as sunflower and corn oil, and omega-3s in seafood and in certain plants like flax seeds and nuts. Many fish raised on farms are rich in omega-6 fatty acids due to the important component of the land diet.
Their wild counterparts, on the other hand, have a higher content of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. In one study, the omega-3 / omega-6 ratio was around 10 in wild salmon and three to four in farmed salmon. In the northern hemisphere, they use the omega 6 content to distinguish farmed stock from wild stock to protect the consumer from confusion.
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My question concerns the sustainability and long term viability of using more energy to feed yet another animal species in order to feed us. NZKS uses a nice acronym, FCR, the feed conversion ratio which shows that they use 1.8 tonnes of feed to produce one tonne of salmon – 1: 1.8. It’s better than your beef steak which they say has an FCR of 6:10. Whether it’s salmon or beef, we need a way to eat them that is carbon neutral, does not damage ecosystems or exploit the resources of the poorest countries.
NZKS has caged salmon in the Marlborough Sounds for 30 years. Aquaculture, including mussel farms, is estimated to affect around 3000 hectares and provide substantial employment for the local population. Farming salmon has a higher environmental impact than mussels because mussels get their nutrition from the sea and do not need additional feed. Eleven areas are designated for the Queen Charlotte Sound and Pelorus Sound salmon farms. These sites are in places where the tidal flow is considered high or low.
This consideration is important for the dispersion of food residues (nitrates, phosphates) and salmon faeces which impact the benthic environment, as well as the copper build-up from the paint which is used as an antifouling agent, such as on boats. Studies by the Ministry of Primary Industries are mostly optimistic about these effects. A 2013 MPI “Review of the literature on the ecological effects of aquaculture” describes the main ones such as organic enrichment and smothering, the fall of biofouling and debris and the shading of the seabed by structures . He also states that “the development of management strategies to reduce (this) risk has been largely successful.”
Thus, the industry prospered economically, with resource authorizations granted by the Environmental Protection Authority. It was not until 2019 that Fisheries New Zealand published ‘Best Management Practice Guidelines for Salmon Farms in the Marlborough Sounds’, their aim being to provide’ a core set of quality standards for the industry. (WQS) and requirements for monitoring and managing potential nutrients in the water column. enrichment….”
This project involved the participation of all stakeholders including NZKS, MPI, NIWA, Cawthron, Council and community representative Rob Schuckard.
It is estimated that 85% of the deposits under the cages are dissolved, the remainder being particles.
The assurances in the guidelines that the immediate impact “decomposes rapidly with distance, primarily with mixing with more distant waters”, but also with absorption by sea creatures, are tempered by caution about these effects. causing changes more widely than immediately under the cages. Water quality in the Marlborough Sounds is also affected, they warn, by land runoff and it is the total accumulation that is important.
Eric Jorgensen describes himself as “born and raised” in sounds. He has served on various advisory groups with MPI, including the group that provided advice on moving low-throughput sites. He is also a member of the stakeholder panel of the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge whose goal is that “New Zealand’s marine environment is understood, cared for and used wisely for the benefit of all, now and in the future”.
The two community representatives, Schuckard and Jorgensen, have spent a lot of time working “for the common good” but express their frustration. Jorgensen describes the “deposit footprint” of low-flow salmon farms in the Sounds as “on the verge of disaster”. He also cites a lack of forethought and inadequate strategic planning with regard to the development of deep-sea aquaculture.
Schuckard describes the practices of NZKS as giving non-compliant environmental readings. The farms are run with too many fish. Running them less “hot”, he says, is the only solution. He is concerned about the effects on one of our most endangered seabirds, the endemic King Shag, which numbered 800 and whose only habitat is the Sounds. This iconic species is a top predator and in many ways reflects the general well-being of sounds. A management plan was initiated and partly funded by the NZKS, the Department of Conservation, the Marlborough Council and the Marine Farming Association. Nonetheless, says Schuckard, “the implications of the slow drift in marine farming, including salmon farming, on the quality of the feeding area of king shags are only indirectly and marginally studied.
The two men talk about the effects of warmer water temperatures, increased fish mortality and lower productivity. Both men are concerned about the need to find new broadband locations for six of NZKS ‘farms.
Schuckard criticizes the political process around the consideration of relocation sites. “Council did not support strong condemnation by community members of MPI’s unfair relocation process, which banned environmental legal aid to the community and expert cross-examination was not possible . “
Meanwhile, as the row continues over where to place these six existing farms, NZKS and MPI have another plan up their sleeves that they see as key to achieving these economic goals. An open sea farm 6 km off Cape Lambert will avoid competing uses and values that complicate expansion closer to shore, they say, and ensure better waste dispersal. The application of NZKS is inherent in access to an asset – the ocean – which, Schuckard points out, is part of the commons. “All New Zealanders have this resource. If ocean farming is more or less the same thing, we need to be concerned. “
Jorgensen is – in the truest sense of the word, he points out – ambivalent. It considers that deep sea agriculture, suitably located in high energy sites, will significantly reduce negative environmental effects compared to existing sites. This will likely lead to increased productivity and continue to create jobs. But, he says, strategic direction and regulatory frameworks are essential.
“Really,” he says, “we should aim to move towards closed farming systems where waste is captured and reused.”
The Cape Lambert site is listed by the Marlborough District Council as an Outstanding Natural Landscape with habitat for dolphins, seabirds and migrating whales. Putting fish farms on land is another possibility, as has been done in Canada, Norway and China.
No, said NZKS, too expensive. Hearings on his request to farm off Cape Lambert were postponed until April. NZKS chief executive Grant Rosewarne said the delay will result in more salmon deaths in warmer waters closer to the coast.