A recent report published by FoodPrint and the North Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) finds the current expansion of large scale aquaculture may cause serious harm to traditional fishing structures.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), aquaculture, also known as farmed seafood, is the fastest-growing food production system in the world. Much of the growth is attributed to consumer demand as approximately 3 billion people depend on seafood as their primary source.
“Aquaculture has been practiced responsibly and safely for a very long time through fishponds and lakes to rice rotations in Asia,” Ryan Nebeker, a co-author of the report and Research and Policy Analyst at FoodPrint, tells Food Tank.
But the report finds that recent developments in aquaculture, including large scale fish farming, are worrying consumers and activists. These groups point to examples of escaped fish, which disperse into non-native environments.
Once out of their pens, fish may prey on and mate with wild native species, destabilizing ecosystems, spread diseases commonly found in fish pens, and release dangerous chemicals into the environment.
The report also raises concerns about the recent re-introduction of the Advancing the Quality of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act.
Some states believe that the introduction of offshore aquaculture may have a positive economic impact on local economies by bringing attention and jobs to the areas.
But the report explains that regional policies currently help to ensure that the farmed fishing practices are sustainable by working with the specific needs of the area. In contrast, legislation like the AQUAA Act, which gives a single government organization control over a diverse range of ecosystems, is dangerous.
“The AQUAA Act would allow companies to effectively bypass many important government regulations designed to keep the oceans cleaner and put tighter restrictions on aquaculture,” Rosanna Marie Neil, a co-author of the report and Policy Counsel from NAMA, tells Food Tank.
According to Neil, the AQUAA Act allows aquaculture companies to operate three miles from shore, close enough for the facilities’ wastewater to reach native fish populations. This pollution has the potential to harm local ecosystems that communities have maintained for hundreds of years.
In response, groups like NAMA are advocating for the Keep Finfish Free Act of 2020. This act is intended to maintain the current congressional process to approve fishing and aquaculture in federal waters.
States are taking action as well. Fearful that it will destroy local fishing industries, Maine and Alaska are blocking attempts to establish new aquaculture operations, according to Nebeker and Neil.
“Fishers in Maine have cultivated an incredibly successful and carefully monitored system for their prized seafood like Maine Lobsters. Officials recognize that an introduction of aquaculture in this system would jeopardize that and likely harm the ecosystem,” Nebeker tells Food Tank.
Groups like FoodPrint and NAMA explain that consumers can also do their part to help fight for a more sustainable seafood system. Eating wild-caught fish, reading educational materials, contacting congress members, and attending local hearings about farmed fish can help consumers ensure their voices are heard.
Photo courtesy of NAMA