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What's Wrong with Fish Farms?

Fish farms are aquatic factory farms

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Farmed Salmon

Salmon on a fish farm, Bainbridge Island, WA

Ron Wurzer / Getty Images

While some believe that fish farming is the solution to overfishing, they do not take into account the inherent inefficiency of animal agriculture. Just as it takes 12 pounds of grain to produce a pound of beef, it takes 70 wild-caught feeder fish to produce one salmon on a fish farm. Time magazine reports that it takes 4.5 kg of ocean-caught fish to produce 1 kg of fishmeal that is fed to a fish on a fish farm.

Floating Pig Farms

Regarding fish farms, Daniel Pauly, professor of fisheries at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver states, "They're like floating pig farms . . . They consume a tremendous amount of highly concentrated protein pellets and they make a terrific mess." Rosamond L. Naylor, an agricultural economist at Stanford's Center for Environmental Science and Policy explains about aquaculture, “We are not taking strain off wild fisheries. We are adding to it.”

Vegetarian Fish

Some people are catching on, and recommending that consumers choose farmed fish who are mostly vegetarian, to avoid the inefficiency of feeding wild-caught fish to farmed fish. Scientists are even trying to develop (mostly) vegetarian food pellets to feed to carnivorous fish on fish farms. However, eating vegetarian farmed fish looks environmentally acceptable only when compared to eating carnivorous farmed fish. There is still the inherent inefficiency of feeding soy, corn or other plant foods to animals, instead of using that plant protein to feed people directly.

Waste, Disease, and GMOs

Regardless of whether the farmed fish are eating fish or grain, there is still a variety of environmental problems because the fish are raised in confinement systems that allow waste and water to flow in and out with the oceans and rivers in which they are located. While fish farms cause many of the same problems as factory farms on land – waste, pesticides, antibiotics, parasites and disease – the issues are magnified because of the immediate contamination of the surrounding ocean water.

There is also the problem of farmed fish escaping into the wild when nets fail. Some of these farmed fish are genetically modified, which forces us to ask what happens when they escape and either compete with or interbreed with wild populations.

Eating land animals also causes problems for marine life. Vast amounts of wild-caught fish are being fed to livestock on land, mostly pigs and chickens, in order to produce meat and eggs for human consumption. Runoff and waste from factory farms kill fish and other marine life and contaminate our drinking water.

Because fish are sentient, they have a right to be free from human use and exploitation. From an environmental standpoint, the best way to protect fish, marine ecosystems and all ecosystems is to go vegan.

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