When it comes to choosing what food to eat, fish can be hard. Wild fishing has many problems. It destroys the seabed, animals get caught and die in nets and lost fishing gear floats around, polluting the seas. There is also the sustainability issue – catching high numbers of wild fish is causing some fish populations to struggle.
But what about fish farming? It is often seen as the ‘good’ option. A sustainable method that saves wild populations and stops issues such as bycatch and seabed destruction. But is it that much better? The simple answer is no, and here we look at why.
To start with, let’s remember that fish are sentient individuals with personalities and the ability to feel pain and suffer. They, like all other animals, deserve our respect and to have their welfare needs met.
Unfortunately, this is not the case with fish farms. A new joint report by OneKind and Compassion in World Farming talks about the issues with salmon farming in Scotland and mentions:
- High death rates: Millions of fish die on fish farms every year.
- Escapes: Large numbers of fish escape farms and struggle to live in the wild because they are not used to it.
- Sea lice: Living so close together in cages means sea lice spread quickly between fish, causing pain and suffering.
- Disease: Fish on farms suffer from several diseases that spread quickly and can lead to death.
- Horrible treatments: The treatments used to fight diseases and parasites are cruel and inhumane.
- Poor living conditions: Living conditions on farms are unable to meet the welfare needs of the fish.
It’s bad for the environment
While it’s well known that fishing is bad for the environment, people often overlook the negative impacts of salmon farming. We look at them very briefly here, but for a more in-depth look, the following reports are worth a read: Underwater Cages, parasites and dead fish: why a moratorium of Scottish salmon farming expansion is imperative and a Review of the environmental impacts of salmon farming in Scotland.
- Waste production: Uneaten food and faeces sink to the bottom and collect under farms smothering the seabed and killing marine life.
- Harmful Algal Blooms: An increase in the release of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus can increase the growth of algae and plants. This can then lower the amount of oxygen available for fish and other animals.
- Release of chemicals: Treatments release harmful chemicals into the water column that can build up in sediments and cause many problems for marine life.
- Antibiotic resistance: The use of antibiotics to treat fish in farms has the potential to increase issues with antibiotic resistance which could then have implications for medical treatments in the future.
- A decline in biodiversity: Research shows that biodiversity declines around salmon farms as many organisms can’t survive the changing conditions.
- Acoustic Deterrent Devices: Noise from devices designed to scare seals from fish farms can harm other marine life.
- Risks to wild salmon populations: If escaped fish mix with wild populations they can pass on parasites and disease. They may also breed and change the genetic diversity of wild populations.
It’s easy to think that fish farming saves wild populations as it avoids taking fish from the wild but that’s not strictly true. In fact, for carnivorous fish such as salmon, millions of other fish species are taken from the wild to produce food for the farmed fish. That means wild populations are still put under a lot of pressure.
What fish should I be buying?
The obvious way to minimise your impact on fish and the marine environment is to reduce the amount of fish you eat or stop eating it altogether.
If that’s not for you, though, there are resources out there to help you shop. The Marine Conservation Society produce a Good Fish Guide that clearly shows what fish species and catch methods are the best to choose and which ones are a definite no go. You may also like to check out our ‘Top 10 things to think about when buying fish‘ page in the AnimalKind section of our website.