Archive for the ‘Aquaculture’ Category

The Secret World of Cobia

Photo by Some rights reserved.

Photo by Some rights reserved.

We’ve talked a little bit about aquaculture and fish farming before on the GM and how the industry has changed and evolved over time. One of the biggest criticisms against raising fish in captivity is that the fish are not healthy and therefore not as delicious when they hit our dinner tables (other, less selfish concerns with the industry are that it is wasteful, due to the amount of processed food it takes to feed these fish, and that the possibility of fish escaping their pens and contaminating the gene pools of ocean-raised fish). Brian O’Hanlon, through his company Open Blue, aims to change that.

Founded in Panama in 2009, Open Blue is an aquaculture business that does all of its fish-raising in, you guessed it, the open blue waters of the Caribbean. Open Blue has set up giant pods that float in the open water, designed to hold 35,000 fish. Then pens are weighed down and anchored to the sea floor, and monitored by boat with cameras and sensors to detect and discrepancies. On top of all that, divers make daily expeditions down to examine the cages and check the health of the fish.

O’Hanlon and his company set up shop in Panama because the government there was more receptive to his work. In the U.S., the necessary permit would only extend a few years and the operation would no doubt be scrutinized both by environmental groups and local residents. “What we’re trying to do takes a lot of capital and commitment,” says O’Hanlon in a profile by National Geographic.

But there’s more to Open Blue than just there methods – they are also making investments in the fish of the future. It’s an inevitability at this point that our favorite fish to consume (salmon, trout, bass) take a lot of energy (and resources) to produce. As the state of the oceans change and resources grow more scant, we will have to look to more efficient fish to feed our families. That’s where cobia come into the picture. Growing to full size in one third the time it takes salmon and diverse enough to be used in a number of cuisines, cobia seem like a solid bet for the kind of fish that will end up taking the place of our current favorites, and its cobia that Open Blue has chosen to focus on. Their operation is still young and the reality is that cobia still has a ways to go before it topples salmon as the people’s fishy champion, but the math is encouraging. Open Blue ships nearly 250 tons of fish out across the world every month, and last year, their demand outpaced their supply for the first time.

New England Fisheries to Reopen, and the Missing Identity of Most Seafood

Photo by Jim Maragos, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Jim Maragos, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Some rights reserved.

The New England Fishery Management Council opened 5,000 square miles of protected waters off the coast of New England Thursday to new applications from commercial fishermen. These areas were closed in the 1990s to preserve habitat on the seafloor and give cod, haddock, and other species a safe place to spawn.

Fishermen have cheered the move, saying the 2010 adoption of a quota-based protection system made the geographic conservation areas an unnecessary restriction. Worried that 2013 will bring drastic cuts to the quotas for cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder, industry groups will have to wait until January for the Council to review further fish stock data.

Environmentalists and scientists are concerned in particular because the protected areas provide a haven for older female fish that help increase stocks – but hope that the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, which has to approve the vote and is expected to act by May, will be more cautious.

Fish are also noteworthy this week with the news – or reminder – that seafood fraud is widespread. That means seafood is often labeled as something it is not, usually a cheaper look-alike. A new report by Oceana, an international organization dedicated to ocean conservation, finds that 39% of seafood from 81 grocery stores in New York City was not what appeared on the label, and that 100% of the 16 sushi restaurants investigated sold mislabeled fish. Last year, a Boston Globe investigation found a problem of similar scope.

The problem goes beyond economic duping. Consumers and diners are buying fish whose incorrect labeling might mean it was caught illegally or contains unlisted and illegal chemical additives. Enforcement, however, has focused on health claims, and individual restaurants know that they are at little or no risk of being caught.

Personally, I was glad to read the tuna steak I bought last week had been injected with carbon monoxide to keep its bright red hue. Many of us in Seattle enjoy our inexpensive Japanese cuisine, but the New York wholesaler quoted in the Times is right: “People want cheap sushi, and this is what happens.”

GAO Slams FDA for Poor Oversight of Imported Seafood

Photo by adactio. Some rights reserved.

I hope you haven’t eaten yet. Or if you have, that it wasn’t sushi.

Approximately 50% of seafood imported into the US (and remember, 80% of the seafood we eat here is imported) is factory farmed. These “farms” pack fish in fin-to-fin, causing conditions that foster bacterial infections, which are subsequently treated with antibiotics. Eating these antibiotic-residue-laced fish has been found to cause antibiotic resistance and even cancer in humans.

Still hungry?

Maybe you’d regain your appetite if you knew that the FDA, whose very job it is to ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply, had visited the farms of foreign supplies, tested fish for drugs approved for use in say, the EU, but not in the US, or even effectively implemented their sampling program. Well, according to a recent GAO report, the FDA has done none of these things.

In 2009, the FDA signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) pledging to enhance seafood oversight and to cooperate to ensure that fish and fishery products are safe and meet FDA requirements. But this, too, says the GAO, has been a bust: “FDA and NMFS have made limited progress in implementing their 2009 MOU, resulting in a lack of systematic collaboration between the agencies.”

This isn’t the first time that the spirit of a FDA-NMFS MOU has been violated. In 1974, the two agencies signed a similar agreement, vowing to “improve the efficient use of FDA’s inspection resources by minimizing the number of FDA inspections at establishments already inspected by NMFS.” Again, the GAO found that the FDA had “not fully met its responsibilities under the MOU.”

For the gruesome and disappointing details of the FDA’s inspection program, check out the full GAO report.

NOAA Releases First National Aquaculture Policy Draft

Photo by Loozrboy. Some rights reserved.

Though it originally slipped past me, I was recently made aware (by way of a blog post on the Atlantic) of the release of NOAA’s Draft National Aquaculture Policy, which is intended to guide NOAA’s “actions and decisions on aquaculture and to provide a national approach for supporting sustainable commercial production, expanding restoration aquaculture, and researching and developing new technologies.”

More than half of the fish consumed globally is “produced by aquaculture,” yet domestic aquaculture supplies only 5 percent of the seafood Americans eat (and we do love our seafood, stresses Commerce Secretary Locke: we consume 5 billion pounds of it each year!). The NOAA policy – which was released jointly with a complementary draft policy from the Department of Commerce – aims to fix this imbalance by funding innovative in-house aquaculture technologies and creating job initiatives that encourage industry growth in the U.S.

The policy stresses a sustainable approach to aquaculture that includes a tip of the hat to habitat restoration and the rebuilding of wild fish stocks, but it’s the impact from fish farming on these same wild stocks that is often the concern of aquaculture opponents. Indeed, many of the comments already submitted on the policy voice this concern:


“I am one of the millions of citizens who do not approve of developing and selling genetically engineered salmon. You must be aware of the environmental harm that was done when 600,000 nonnative fish escaped in 4 years in the Northwest so the claim to sustainability cannot be true.”

“But wait you say…everyone knows that farmed fish are bad.., bad for the ecology, bad for the wild species in the area, bad for the farmed fish themselves and bad for the consumer. Ah-ha, never fear, NOAA is here. NOAA will make sure that everything is done sustainably. Not only that but (and this is the best part of all), NOAA and the United States Department of Commerce will make sure to tell everyone how safe and environmentally sound our new grand Aquaculture Industry really is. They’ll probably have posters with rainbows and kittens and happy cartoon salmon.”

Agree? Disagree? Click here to submit a comment on the draft policy before April 11, 2011.

%d bloggers like this: