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10 Common Misconceptions Surrounding Aquaculture

The population of the world is ever increasing, and with the rapid growth of humankind comes a bevy of questions regarding the long term effects and sustainability to and for the planet. One of, if not the biggest concern (next to climate change which can be directly linked back to) is how we can possibly continue to feed a growing planet. With severely depleted oceans, lakes, rivers and streams, there are massive threats to the world's reserves of wild fish and marine species. Climate change, industry, development and over fishing are continually depleting the fish resources the globe over, and with more and more people requiring nourishment, it is not hard to see why scientists and researchers the globe over are starting to look for other methods to sustain population growth.

A growing trend, especially in Canada, has been the development of fish farming as a sustainable way of meeting the global demands of fish as food. A viable solution in the fight against over fishing, increasing costs and depleted resources, the fish farming industry is proving to be extremely controversial, despite its greatest of intentions. Negative reviews contrast positive gains by highlighting environmental issues and the overall loss of quality in the food that we are now consuming. While some of these cannot be disputed, there are a number of misconceptions surrounding the topic of fish farms, which have diminished the value that the aquaculture industry provides, and these are the issues we are going to address today, with hopes of enlightening and educating.

Myth # 1: “Farmed Salmon get their pink colour from artificial injections”

Fact: Both wild and farmed salmon get their pink colour from a carotenoid anti-oxidant in their diet called astaxanthin which is traditionally produced by algae that wild salmon consume. Generally, farmed salmon are fed a diet that contains a chemically synthesized astaxanthin so they get their colour from the same anti-oxidant as their wild counterparts.

Myth #2: “There is plenty of wild salmon in the ocean so there is no need for farmed salmon”

Fact: Though the myth is pertaining to farming salmon, the harsh reality is that over fishing of a variety of species is a serious problem facing our oceans. There is not enough wild fish in the ocean to meet the demand from the global population, making fish farming a viable solution to this problem. Another factor is that many species of fish, like salmon, are in fact seasonal, making it very hard to find in the fall and winter seasons.

Myth #3: “Fish are farmed in dirty water and crowded conditions”

Fact: While every farm is unique, it is in the farmer’s best interest to keep their farming conditions as beneficial to their fish as possible. Fish naturally school in close groups so even when there is a lot of space, the conditions may appear to be more cramped than they actually are. Dirty and diseased fish do not profit the farmers, and fish welfare linked to healthy environmental practice is becoming more of a priority worldwide.

Myth #4: “Aquaculture uses more wild fish than it produces”

Fact: Though this may have been true around 20 years ago, today, on a global scale, aquaculture uses much less. On average, about half a metric tonne of wild fish goes into a full metric tonne of farmed seafood. Traditionally fish meal and fish oil were used substantially in aquaculture but as researchers find alternative sources (such as algae and fish trimmings) that provide the essential nutrients, the use of these substances has significantly declined.

Myth #5: “Farmed fish is not safe to eat”

Fact: Farmed fish is both safe and healthy to eat. The diets and environments in which the fish live are monitored throughout the life of the species. In almost all cases, farms undergo regular inspections ensuring the safety of the product.

Myth #6: “Farmed fish doesn’t taste as good”

Fact: This is all a matter of preference, while some people enjoy the taste of wild fish, there are people who prefer the taste of farmed fish as well. Both wild and farmed fish are very healthy for you. In 2011 in the United States, the population ate over one billion pounds of shrimp, including the farmed variety proving that farmed species can’t be distasteful to everyone!

Myth #7: “Aquaculture fish are constantly doused with antibiotics”

Fact: Most aquaculture fish receive effective vaccinations and are closely monitored (with a veterinarian checking in if necessary) which means that medicinal use in aquaculture is not as common as one might think. In some regions, like British Colombia, some aquaculture companies like Marine Harvest Canada make this information publicly available online by reporting it to the government for posting.

Myth 8: “Consumption of farmed fish increases heart disease”

Fact: The American Heart Foundation recommends eating fish (particularly those that are rich in Omega 3s) two times a week. This recommendation includes both wild and farmed fish species.

Myth #9: “Fish farms use inhumane methods to keep away predators”

Fact: Again, while every farm is unique there are non-lethal ways that have been developed to deter species such as sea lions and seals from attacking the farmed fish stocks. B.C. salmon farmers have implemented tactics such as stronger nets and more regular inspections to deal with outside predators. For many farmers, lethal interactions are only used as a last resort and are reported to regulating authorities when and if they do occur.

Learn how Deep Trekker ROVs are used in Aquaculture to frequently inspect predator nets to identify any potential issues.

Myth #10: “Fish farmers do not care about the environment”

Fact: Today’s main reason for fish farming is to reduce the negative effects of over fishing wild species. In terms of general agricultural practices, aquaculture has a relatively low carbon footprint and many measures are being implemented to reduce the environmental impacts of fish farming. While most endeavors come with costs, strict guidelines that farmers must follow have been enforced in several areas to minimize the impacts on the ocean floor as well as on surrounding environments.

While there are pros and cons to most production operations, aquaculture is one that has undergone a lot of scrutiny in recent years. Though some argue that it is not perfect, there are many farmers and activists working to improve farming conditions so that aquaculture can continue to be a solution to the overfishing issue that faces our oceans.

We hope we have helped clarify some of the key misconceptions surrounding the world of fish farming and we encourage you to learn more about our oceans whenever you get the chance; whether it be reading blog posts like this or using an ROV to do your own underwater exploration!