TRANSCRIPT - Anne Kapuscinski
Kapuscinski is a professor of Fisheries and Conservation biology
at the University of Minnesota and an Extension Specialist
in Aquaculture and Biotechnology with the Minnesota Sea Grant
What might be one of the main reasons why an organic or more sustainable
approach to aquaculture is needed now?
needed because aquaculture is growing, but unfortunately a lot of
the growth involves environmentally unsound ways of growing fish
and shrimp and other organisms, and we need a way to redirect aquaculture
towards environmentally sound production.
organic certification, particular, is a good way to do that because
it provides a very strong, positive incentive for the fish farmers.
That incentive is that they can get a premium price for their product
if it meets the standards of organic certification and gets certified.
there's a growing demand for organic foods. For example, this year
the organic market in the US was worth 7.8 billion dollars, and
that was a 20% increase over last year and it's been increasing
at about 20 - 25% over the last 4 years.
Do you think there's a connection or similarity between the demand
for organic produce and organic aquaculture?
of us that are working to place organic aquaculture standards feel
that there is a similarity. The proof will be in the pudding. At
present, most consumers don't know very much about seafood. They
don't know very much about where it comes from, how it's produced,
so there will be a need for some education.
one very positive sign is that there is an increased consumer demand
for organically certified meats, like chicken, and even beef and
pork, so it's not that big a jump from that to wanting to have organically
certified fish. So there is a strong parallel.
Do you think by demanding organically certified seafood consumers
can help the marine environment?
sort of two ways you can get more environmentally responsible ways
of getting seafood to the dinner plate. One is by the pull that
consumer demand gives. And so if you had increasing numbers of consumers
saying at the market, well I want to buy organically certified fish,
that is a pull that will be felt all the way back to the farmer's
is a very positive and influential way that a consumer can have
direct impact and we've seen that impact with terrestrial agriculture
and it's been huge, so there is no reason why we can't have that
same positive impact for having environmentally responsible forms
of aquaculture and therefore seafood production.
other way you can try to get to more environmentally responsible
methods of production is the push, which comes more from government
regulations. You know, essentially having fines; regulations that
you have to comply with and if you don't comply with them you're
in big trouble.
are also important but I think one of the things we've learned watching
the growth of organic foods is that the pull can often be greater
and have a bigger impact than just relying on the pushes.
Is there another reason why it's important to start coming up with
some criteria for sustainable or organic approach to aquaculture?
the main reason that we have organic standards is to have more environmentally
responsible forms of agriculture. There's been sort of a secondary
desire, but the standards themselves don't directly address it,
and that secondary desire is to make it easier for smaller scale
producers and maybe mid-sized farmers to be able to survive financially.
notion is that if you are producing, in our case fish, at a lower
total volume and raising them at lower densities, that makes it
hard for you to compete with a big industrial fish farm. But if
you're doing that in a way that complies with organic standards
and now you can sell your fish for a higher premium, you're in better
the standards themselves don't directly address that; it's more
of a happy side effect. So I think a lot of us who are excited about
organic certification for aquaculture hope that that will be one
of the benefits.
What would be one of the first criteria for organic aquaculture?
one of the first ones would be the fact that the use of antibiotics
would be banned. That's already been established in the official
regulations that were just approved by the US Department of Agriculture
for organic livestock and they were just focusing on animals raised
on land, but it's well understood that the same criteria is going
to apply to animals raised in the water.
banning of antibiotics will mean that an organic fish farmer will
have to place first and foremost having really good conditions in
his fishponds or his tanks, so that the animals have got the optimum
rearing environments. So essentially it's taking a preventive approach
to healthcare; you don't wait until a problem occurs and then try
to fix it with antibiotics. You try to take optimum care of your
animals from the outset.
of the other consequences will probably be that it'll be much harder
to raise your fish at very high densities. Maybe some people will
get away with somewhat high densities but then they're going to
have to have impeccably clean water and really excellent hygiene
conditions in order to prevent the disease outbreak.
should add that in some kinds of aquaculture they don't use antibiotics
a lot, but it varies. In some of the big, industrial salmon farms
there have been complaints about them relying too heavily on antibiotics.
The last few years they've tried really hard to reduce their use
of antibiotics, but when a problem occurs they still turn to antibiotics
in order to save their production stock. And an organic fish farmer
will not have that crutch.
What are the dangers of using antibiotics?
are really two issues. The first one is looking out for the welfare
of the animals. You often end up having to depend more on antibiotics
when you're raising animals at very high densities, in intensive
confinement. And that raises a lot of concerns about animal welfare
and whether the animals are really leading a decent life. Although
they're grown ultimately to be harvested for human food, I think
there's a general agreement in our society that you should maintain
good animal welfare conditions during their lives.
other main concern is that we are seeing growing signs of antibiotic
resistance in bacteria that do cause diseases for humans and for
animals. And so the concern is that if we keep indiscriminately
using antibiotics a lot, we're just exacerbating this problem of
the evolution of antibiotic resistance. And then we end up on a
treadmill where you end up then with more virulent or more pathogenic
bacteria and then you have to find some way to control those.
the basic concern is that you'll just make it harder for the fish
farmer to be able to prevent a diseases outbreak and some bacteria
that infect fish out in the natural environment could exchange their
antibiotic-resistance genes with some of the bacteria that might
think we don't know much about how frequently that might occur,
but there's a general understanding that different bacteria in nature,
if they're found in the same soil or they end up in the same water
supply, they can actually transfer their antibiotic-resistance factors,
and in fact that's how antibiotic resistance has spread so quickly
around the world.
both animal health and human health experts around the world now
are really clamoring for the fact that we need to find ways to reduce
our reliance on antibiotics. Because if we end up with antibiotic-resistant
bacteria everywhere, then when we really need them, when somebody's
really, really sick you're not going to be able to rely on them.
It sounds like the use of antibiotics in an aquatic environment
potentially has more risks than it being used on say a poultry farm?
you're talking about risk to the ecosystem, one of the problems
we have is that we have very little understanding of the ecology
of microorganisms in the marine environment, or even in freshwater
environments. We know that there's got to be a huge diversity of
species of bacteria and they themselves are important for the food
chain and for maintaining the well being of the freshwater or marine
ecosystems. But we don't know a lot about which ones really matter,
and if you were to lose them, would that sort of be like removing
a building block from that ecosystem and make it harder for that
ecosystem to thrive?
example in the salmon cages, if antibiotics that are in the uneaten
food or excreted in the feces of the fish end up in the bottom of
the bay, and that encourages the evolution of resistant strains
of bacteria in the bottom of that bay, what we don't know is how
is that going to affect the biodiversity of those marine bacteria
and could it reduce that biodiversity and could that then actually
hurt the ability of that entire bay ecosystem to stay healthy?
What strikes you as the next most important criteria for organic
second one is still under great debate, but it's clearly going to
be one of the biggest issues. And that is the use of fishmeal and
fish oil in diets that would be fed to some of your aquaculture
species. Now this will not be an issue if you're farming oysters
or clams and you're going to get organic certification because you
don't feed them formulated, artificial diets.
the typical way of raising shrimp now, for example, is to use man-made
fish food that's in these pellets and they usually have, as their
main protein ingredient, fishmeal. And they usually add fish oil,
partly to provide an energy source for the fish, but also in the
case of salmon, for example, it contributes to the salmon having
the taste that's typical for salmon because in nature they're feeding
for organic aquaculture there's a pretty big debate going on right
now. But I think it's going to be I think one of two options. One
will be that no fishmeal and fish oil will be allowed at all for
organic certification. That will create a lot of conflict because
that'll mean that many types of fish aquaculture that are occurring
right now will just not be able to get organic certification.
other option, which is the one that I'm more in favor of, is that
you would allow the use of fishmeal and fish oil but only if they
come from sources that you can clearly certify are sustainable fishing.
And in addition to that, you would try to encourage a reduction
of dependence on fishmeal and fish oil.
a lot of progress that's happened in fish nutrition research that
suggests that you could greatly reduce the amount of fishmeal and
fish oil. Some people say you can even get rid of it completely.
That might raise other environmental concerns, but at least in terms
of reducing the dependence on marine fisheries, which in many cases
are overfished, that would be desirable.
I think it should be compatible with organic standards to allow
the use of some fishmeal and fish oil if you can clearly certify
that it came from a sustainable fishery and the certification criteria
for that are really rigorous and set a high bar.
What's the problem of using fishmeal and fish oil?
main concern that's been raised about using of fishmeal and fish
oil is that many of them come from captured fisheries that are themselves
on the one hand, proponents of aquaculture have been saying aquaculture
is a way that we can reduce the dependence on the world's marine
fisheries and it should therefore be part of the solution. But then
critics have pointed out, with some data to back them up, that often
the fishmeal and the fish oil that's going into the aquaculture
diets are coming from captured fisheries and those captured fisheries
are not always managed sustainably.
that's why I take the position that you don't necessarily have to
throw the baby out with the bathwater; you don't have to say absolutely
no input from marine fisheries, but it does make sense to say the
inputs can only be there if they come from a sustainable fishery.
And in fact that might actually be another way to have that positive
pull, to actually encourage more sustainable forms of fishing.
sustainable level of fishing is good in a number of ways, one of
which is that it can also create some jobs for the local people
that are involved in that fishery. But everybody in the end loses
if it ends up being overfishing.
One of the complaints I've heard about aquaculture is the conversion
factor. I've heard that it takes 4 pounds of fish to create one
pound of farmed salmon.
just a fact of life that any animal that feeds higher on the food
chain is going to convert the food it feeds at a lower efficiency.
So if you went fishing and you caught a salmon, to be able to eat
the flesh of that salmon you're benefiting from the fact that that
salmon on its own was catching other fish, and when it caught those
other fish and ate them it also had a conversion factor. That means
that you ended up with less protein in the salmon than when you
started with in the fish that that salmon ate. That's just a law
it's also true for you and me. We also don't efficiently convert
all the protein that we take in; a certain amount of it goes out
in waste. So there's no way to get totally rid of that, unless you
are going to only be a vegetarian and there are some people who've
decided that's what they want to do. If you're going to eat fish
that feed naturally on fish, I think you just have to accept that.
then the trick becomes can you do things to reduce the inefficiency
of the conversion? And maybe what we should be asking is, are you
raising those fish in a way that overall is environmentally responsible?
If you are using some fish protein as input, are you making sure
that's done in a way that doesn't hurt the population from which
you're harvesting it, and is also done in a way that doesn't actually
displace the access of local people to that fish?
are some cases where the fish that are being harvested to produce
fishmeal themselves are a protein source for local people. Now that
doesn't make a lot of sense if we're concerned about trying to maintain
adequate protein for the world's growing population. Clearly if
there's a fish species, like mackerel, that local people can catch
and eat directly, we should be encouraging that rather than discouraging
it might be that you can get your fishmeal from a different source.
For example, there's a menhaden fishery in the Gulf of Mexico, and
menhaden are fish that most people don't want to eat. They're very
really oily, watery, bony; they've never really been something eaten
by people. If we can have a sustainable fishery of those menhaden
without leading to the decline of those menhaden, without hurting
that marine ecosystem, I guess I would argue that that's okay.
Is there one more factor that needs to be addressed?
criteria that will be very important for achieving organic certification
for an aquaculture operation will be assuring that the effluents
from your organic aquaculture operation do not pollute the environment.
That involves a number of complicated issues.
of the big ones is to make sure your effluents don't have an excessive
load of nutrients in the water that could lead to blooms of harmful
algae and other kinds of undesirable changes in the river or in
the bay ecosystem where the effluents are going out.
also concern about making sure you don't have exotic species escaping
from your fish farm, and people don't always think of that as a
form pf pollution, and but you can think of it that way. There's
going to be concern about making sure that you don't have pathogens
leaving your effluent because you've mismanaged the health of your
questions that nutrient pollution brings up are things such as:
have you elevated the level of phosphorous and the nitrogen compounds
in your water and have you greatly decreased the dissolved oxygen
so that your effluents then end up changing the ability of wild
organisms to survive in the bay or in the river that's receiving
this is an issue that the aquaculture industry has been criticized
for quite a while and there are many efforts under way to clean
up their effluents. Basically, organic aquaculture standards will
just set a very high bar for that and organic producers are going
to have to show beyond the shadow of a doubt that they're not polluting
with their effluents.
Is discharging of effluents a problem for commercial mariculture?
effluents from aquaculture operations, especially from the high-intensity,
large-scale operations have been a problem for aquaculture. They
have included everything from excessive feces and uneaten food causing
a kind of blanket of particulate matter at the bottom of the bay,
to effluents from sort of end-of-the-pipe kinds of operations where
they are on land but you've got the effluent then going out into
a bay, being too low in dissolved oxygen or the phosphorous levels
being too high.
been a big concern with shrimp farms, where they've had huge viral
outbreaks, that you'll end up essentially spewing millions upon
millions of virus particles into the bays. And we don't have a good
sense of how able the wild organisms are to fight that off.
To what extent has disease, such as viruses, been a problem to the
has been a growing problem for the viability of the aquaculture
industry itself. Probably the most graphic example is outbreak of
viruses in shrimp farms. We don't have ways of directly treating
virus diseases. Viruses don't respond to antibiotics. And about
the only thing you can do about viruses is to develop a vaccine
against them. Vaccines are very difficult and expensive to develop,
and as far as I know we don't have a commercially available vaccine
for any of the shrimp viruses today, even though there's a lot of
research under way to try to develop them.
when the shrimp farms get these huge virus outbreaks, they end up
with no choice but to abandon the shrimp ponds that they have, and
I know this is a problem in many parts of the world personally.
seen places in Thailand where they had to just abandon huge expanses
of multiple shrimp ponds because they couldn't get rid of the virus,
and the only thing they could do is to leave. And this has been
compared to slash-and-burn agriculture and it's not good for the
shrimp farmers themselves. It's a huge loss of capital and it can
eventually bring down the industry in totality.
Just from the consumers' point to view, is there any danger to consuming
these fish products with diseases or with antibiotics?
understanding is that there isn't a direct danger. Most of the fish
diseases -- meaning the bacteria or the viruses -- are not also
pathogenic to humans. You really should ask a good fish microbiologist
because there's there might be a few exceptions to that. And in
terms of antibiotics, again, antibiotic residue in the actual flesh
of the fish you're eating probably are not going to be very high.
think eating antibiotics itself won't make you sick. The concern
is more this indirect problem that if you end up with a lot of antibiotics
floating around in the environment, you encourage the evolution
of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and that could come back to haunt
you later. But I don't think it's going to directly hurt the health
Is there anything else that we should cover?
fourth criterion that will probably end up in organic aquaculture
standards (because they already have been cemented into the regulations
for terrestrial organic agriculture) is that you will not be able
to raise genetically engineered organisms and have them certified
as an organic aquaculture product. There was a clear signal from
consumers throughout the nation that they did not want genetically
engineered organisms to be able to fit under organic certification.
have been a draft proposed organic standards issued by the US Secretary
of Agriculture about three years ago, and the law requires that
they undergo public review. And the Department of Agriculture received
about 250,000 individual comments and one of their main message
was: we don't want genetically engineered organisms to be certified
as organic; we want organic foods to be a clear choice of a different
the Secretary of Agriculture ended up agreeing this is what the
consumers wanted and that you have to meet the consumers' demand
and so genetically engineered organisms are not allowed under organic
certification, and I'm quite sure that the same would be true for
What would be your definition of sustainable aquaculture?
aquaculture is environmentally sound, especially for the local environment,
it's economically viable for the producer, and it's socially just,
for both the people involved in the aquaculture operation and the
people in the communities that would be directly affected by the
And when you speak of sustainability, do you mean long-term?
first part of it, environmentally sound, means that you want
to be able to sustain the health of the ecosystems that your aquaculture
operation depends upon. And so that actually means both the local
ecosystem that might be receiving your effluent or that your getting
your water from that you need for the aquaculture, but it can also
mean the more distant ecosystems, for example, where the fishmeal
is harvested from.
financial or economic viability is also a question of sustaining
over the long-term. If you're a producer you want to have an aquaculture
operation that you know you'll be able to make a profit from throughout
your productive lifetime, and ideally that you could pass it on
to your children or you could sell it to somebody else. You don't
want the situation that's happened with some of these shrimp farms
where you have to abandon the operation in about 5 years. That's
not economically sustainable.
then, be socially just. For example, on the coast of India, large-scale
shrimp farms moved in and displaced smaller-scale agriculture systems
where farmers for centuries had been rotating rice cultivation with
small-scale shrimp farming. That led to all kinds of political and
social upheavals. People's homes were being burned down, etc. on
purpose. The people who wanted to chase out the small farmers were
changing the way the water was being managed in the area with little
levies so they had salt-water intrusions to the farmers' rice fields.
kind of really extreme social injustice ends up triggering political
instability which then triggers economic instability and that is
unsustainable to the social well-being both of that community, and
if things get bad enough, for the country as a whole.
we want to sustain social justice for reasons that are good both
for the noble cause of being kind to everyone, but also really for
the political and economic stability of the whole community and
ripple effects it has on the whole country.
So what are the potential problems consumers may unwittingly be
contributing to when they buy a pound of prawns?
person buying shrimp from their local seafood market might be unknowingly
contributing to damage to the environment and to the destruction
of the lives of the local people in the area. And if we can get
credible and high-quality certification standards in place, such
as organic aquaculture certification, that would give consumers
a clear choice. They'd be able to clearly pick out the certified
seafood and know that when they buy that they're not contributing
to damage to the environment.
Many people say that shrimp and salmon farms necessarily need to
be intensive operations in order to be profitable for farmers and
investors, and that traditional farming techniques, since antiquity,
that were not intensive haven't been commercially viable. Is this
think it really depends on what your intended market is and how
you're going to define commercial viability. If you want to produce
shrimp for a local, domestic market, your transportation costs aren't
high, etc., you may easily be able to have a profitable operation
in which you're raising shrimp at lower densities.
you want to go for export markets, that's often when there's the
pressure on the company to have an approach where they're going
to produce high volume and bring down their per unit cost of production.
I think there it's a real challenge, and it may turn out that some
of those kinds of operations just would not be able to survive if
they had lower densities.
silver lining might be if you could find ways to mix your production
of salmon, for example, with raising some seaweed that are also
useful in industrial manufacturing, for example, an ingredient to
cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. You can put a habitat, for example,
below the salmon net cages and encourage the growing of some shellfish
species, some mussels, maybe even some snails that are edible.
basically if you can diversify the kinds of seafood products that
you're producing in your fish farm, you could still maintain a fairly
good total yield, but you have a lower density of any one of the
species. And one of the basic ecological principles that could be
better applied in aquaculture that would lead to more environmentally
sound aquaculture is to have a diversity of species.
they each use a slightly different kind of food, they fill a different
niche in your water column, and they don't all have the vulnerability
to the same disease. So diversity can actually make your aquaculture
operation both more environmentally sound and also less vulnerable
to certain kinds of problems.
now in the forms of aquaculture that have really captured consumer
attention and the public's attention, like salmon farming and shrimp
farming, there's been very little experimentation with diversifying
the species. But there is some work starting and I think it holds
the more traditional forms of aquaculture, such as evolved in China
thousands of years ago, one of the basic principles was to be raising
more than one species at a time, to have that diversity and be able
to benefit from the synergies from that.
Are you saying then that shrimp and salmon cannot be farmed in an
intensive manner, with high stocking rates, and still be sustainable?
instinct is that you won't be able to raise them at as high a density
as we have now. But it might turn out that if you seriously apply
some of these ecological principles, you could reduce the density
but still have it be relatively high.
thinking of an example of the work that I learned is beginning to
happen in southern Chile, where there's an aquatic ecologist who's
starting to work with the salmon culture industry. And she's trying
to find ways to get them to prevent some of their effluent pollution
problems, for example, by greatly improving the way they feed the
fish, so that they minimize uneaten food leeching out into the surrounding
she's also experimenting with putting floating pens around the salmon
cages where they're raising mussels or other kinds of clams and
even algae that essentially will absorb those nutrients. So it may
turn out that if you perfect those kinds of approaches that you
could still have fairly high densities.
Then a lot of the shrimp, for example, that are exported from large
intensive aquaculture operations in places such as Thailand and
Ecuador, will never be able to make this organic label?
think that's right. To be completely honest about it, the mainstream
ways of producing shrimp in shrimp farms and mainstream ways of
producing salmon in salmon farms will have to change dramatically
to be able to meet organic certification. And those two forms of
aquaculture are probably the most graphic examples where huge changes
will be needed in their practices. That's not to say that some operations
won't come up with effective ways of meeting those certification
standards, but they're going to have to really change from what
they're doing today.
also opens the door for real innovative farmers who might come up
with a different way of raising the shrimp and the salmon, produce
a smaller total volume but be able to take advantage of the premium
and the growing demand for organic-certified and still have a very
viable business and possibly even a more profitable business.
Why is a reliable certification program important when it comes
to identifying organic products?
you're going to have a label on the product that says this is organically
certified, consumers need to know that there is consistency in the
standards that the operations were required to meet and they need
to know that those standards are high. So you need to set a high
bar and know its consistency. It's very similar to the Good Housekeeping
Seal of Approval. Consumers aren't going to believe in it if it's
a moving target and in some places it's a high standard and in other
places it's a low standard.
So what is the problem of the industry running its own certification
problem with any industry running an entire program for certifying
some kind of an eco-label for its products is that it's going come
across to the public as the fox guarding the chicken coop. There
isn't a system of checks and balances. Our system of government
in the US works that way on checks and balances. And at the end
of the day I think it's in the industry's best interest to have
it be an independent party that does the certifying. Otherwise what
they'll end up doing is undermining the credibility of their own
eco-label and they'll just actually lose more consumer confidence.
In establishing criteria for what will be certified as organic farm-raised
seafood, why is it important to provide a diversity of producer
stakeholders and consumer stakeholders?
important to involve a diversity of stakeholders of the producers
and the consumers in developing organic standards because from the
producer's perspective you've got to make sure that the standards
are actually practical, that somebody can actually raise the fish
and keep it alive and have some kind of chance to be able to earn
a living doing it. If you come up with something that's great in
theory but totally impractical, then no producer will try to get
organic certification for aquaculture and it will just provide no
benefit to all these wonderful environmental goals we have.
need to involve a diversity of stakeholders from the consumer's
perspective because you need to have a good sense of what matters
to consumers. And you need to make sure that you are going to meet
the demands that consumers have. So it's really a marriage of the
two, making sure that they're practical from a producer's perspective
and that they're meeting the needs and the desires of a diversity
What's the best way to farm salmon, as far as locating the actual
enclosures where the fish are raised?
best way to farm salmon if you want to protect the environment is
to minimize the direct contact between the container you're raising
the salmon in and the natural environment. So if you can raise them
on land, or enclosed systems, you're better off. It's much easier
to prevent escapes into the natural environment; you can almost
completely eradicate them. You have an end-of-the-pipe effluent
so that it becomes easier to treat that effluent and make sure that
the final discharge is as clean much as possible.
you raise them in a cage that is just floating in a bay, you don't
have the ability to do that end-of-the-pipe treatment of the effluent,
and it's very difficult, if not impossible, to prevent them from
Is this going to be another case where a premium price must be attached
to an organic label in order to make organically farmed products
commercially viable, or would they be available on a wider scale?
current situation is that the corporations that are running the
salmon farming industry put all their capital in the existing equipment
that they have. And so the way our market economy works, they have
really no incentive to switch their capital to new equipment that
will be very expensive upfront to put in place -- closed systems
possible that the premium that you would pay for organically certified
salmon would give them some of that incentive. But I think some
companies might end up deciding that it's not enough and they either
won't try to go for organic certification or eventually they'll
go out of business. Definitely it will help the conversion of at
least some of those operations.
We've heard some horror stories about diseased salmon that escape
from net-pens and then infect wild fish populations. How serious
a risk is this and is it the main risk?
think there are three major problems with salmon escaping from cage-culture
fish operations. The first one is actually a genetic pollution problem.
If you have salmon escaping into environments where there are wild
salmon populations and if they're from the same species, if they
can interbreed, they can alter the genetic makeup of the wild populations.
And often those wild populations themselves are in decline and in
trouble, and altering their genetic makeup could just be the last
nail that drives home their ultimate demise.
second problem in parts of the world where there are not wild salmon
populations, such as Chile or Australia and Tasmania, is if you
have salmon escaping from the cage-culture operations and establishing
viable populations in the natural environment, you've essentially
introduced an exotic species and the question is, is that altering
the biodiversity of that marine ecosystem and hurting some of those
understanding is that we have not been collecting the data that
are really needed to figure out whether they're causing harm or
not, but there are a lot of principles of ecology that would suggest
that if they establish viable populations and they become a dominant
part of the natural ecosystem, they will have probably displaced
some local species and then you really need to look hard to ask
whether you're destabilizing that ecosystem.
third problem is the disease one that you've heard about. And again,
in many cases we haven't been gathering the data, we haven't been
doing the monitoring that we need to be able to get a sense of how
often do the farmed fish transfer the disease to the wild fish versus
how often did the wild fish harbor it already.
are some clear cases that have emerged recently that strongly suggest
that the farmed fish caused a disease problem for the wild fish.
One of the ones that I've heard about is the spread of sea lice
from the cage-culture operations in parts of the United Kingdom,
in Ireland I think, and finding sea lice on wild runs.
this case I think it was the brown trout, which in that part of
the world are sea run (they go to the sea for part of their life
and then they come back into fresh water) and some of them were
found infected with sea lice that very, very likely came from the
fish farms, where at certain parts of the year the fish are coated
with so much sea lice it almost looks like they're wearing a fur
coat. Sea lice infestations have been a really big problem.
On the Pacific coast, salmon fish farms are almost exclusively farming
Atlantic salmon. What is the problem of Atlantic salmon escaping
into Pacific Ocean?
biggest ecological problem that escaped farmed Atlantic salmon pose
on the West Coast to wild salmon is competing directly with steelhead,
which is one of the wild salmon species. And steelhead populations
are in decline, many have gone extinct; they are in trouble up and
down the entire West Coast.
Then what's the problem with farming Pacific salmon?
main danger there would be that if they have large numbers of escapees
and they don't come from the same gene pool as the wild fish, they
will be able to directly interbreed with the wild Chinook salmon
populations and alter their genetic makeup in such a way that those
wild populations won't be as well adapted to the natural environment.
And again, wild salmon populations, as almost all species, are in
decline and we don't want to add insult to injury.
genetic makeup, the current genetic diversities are sort of an insurance
policy against further changes in the environment. It maximizes
the chances that they'll be able to adapt to their natural environment,
and if you have them interbreeding with domesticated lines of fish,
you're reducing their ability to remain vigorous and to thrive in
their natural environment.
We met some Thai shrimp farmers who believe that intensive shrimp
farming is worth the risks posed by disease because they can make
5 to 10 times more money than growing rice. What would you say to
them? Do they have hope with this organic label, or is going organic
too costly an investment for the small family farmer?
hope that the small-scale shrimp farmers in Thailand and other parts
of the world will be able to benefit from an organic label. They
may have to form some sort of marketing cooperative or pool their
resources so that they have enough total volume to export. But if
they really meet organic certification standards they are going
to have a big competitive advantage over the larger scale shrimp
farms that essentially have a certain amount of inertia in their
business plan. It'd be harder for them maybe to convert their practices
and their capital, so it could give the smaller producers an edge.
I realize that the world of finance is complicated and it might
not work out that way for everybody. My guess is that the more entrepreneurial
of the small-scale farmers, the ones who want to get in on this
early on and are willing to make the real changes in their production,
and if they're willing to work with other small-scale producers
-- essentially have a kind of marketing cooperative -- I think that
they might have a real advantage.
other thing, though, that I would say to those small-scale farmers
today even if organic certification never came into existence is,
think of your children, think of the future generation. If you can
make a lot of money now but in 10 years you'll be out of business
and you've destroyed the productivity of the soils in that farmland
to be able to produce something like rice, which is so important
to the food security of your country and your community, you will
be making the future much, much harder for your children.
What's the main problem in raising genetically modified salmon?
main threats, if genetically modified salmon escape into the wild
environment, is that they can become a new kind of nuisance species,
displacing some of the native species that are important to the
ecosystem or even to local fishermen. And another threat is that
they could trigger extinction of the wild salmon populations through
something called the Trojan Gene Effect.
Trojan Gene Effect occurs when you get genetically modified animals,
in this case salmon, that simultaneously have a mating advantage
but have a great reduction in the viability of their offspring.
So if they mate with wild relatives in the environment, because
they have a mating advantage they drive their genetically modified
genes into the wild population. But then the result is that those
wild fish have lower survival in the natural environment, and over
time that causes a dramatic decline and could lead to extinction
of wild populations.
Are there any circumstances under which you think GM salmon could
be raised in a safe manner, such as in tanks sealed off from the
best way to assure environmental safety if a fish farmer wants to
raise genetically modified salmon would be to have multiple barriers
in place. One would be to grow them in a closed system or at least
in on-land facility so you can have really good mechanical barriers
to their physical escape.
the second thing you should do is to make the fish sterile and there
are ways of doing that. And until we know better what kind of ecological
behavior these fish will have, you should also require that each
fish be screened to assure that it's been made sterile. And I've
argued that there are cost-effective ways of doing that.
The industry says that the genetically modified salmon are sterile
so that eliminates the danger posed by the escape of GM into the
of all, genetically modified salmon are not naturally sterile. You
have to do an extra step to make them sterile. The methods for making
them sterile are easy to apply, but they're not 100% foolproof.
So to really assure that all the production fish are sterile I argue
that we need to screen each fish before it gets put in the net-cage
operations to confirm that it is indeed sterile.
I figured out that the cost would be minimal, especially when you
look at the cost relative to the price you can get for selling a
harvested adult salmon. It's going to be something like 2 to 5 cents
extra per pound of salmon that's harvested as an adult. And given
that we don't know well enough what environmental effects these
fish will have, that seems to be a small price to pay at this point
to assure that every fish is sterile.
there is a precedent for requiring confirmation of sterility of
each fish on a large scale. In Florida, the state allows people
to introduce an exotic species, grass carp, for weed control in
their canals. But they require that each fish be screened to prove
that it's sterile. So if they can do it in Florida, we should be
able to do it in the salmon farming industry.
Can you address the argument that 95% assured sterility is good
I don't think that 95% assured sterility is good enough. When you
consider that genetically modified salmon could be raised in many,
many fish farms, when you consider the scale of escapes that happen
-- we know that storm events can lead to escapes of hundreds of
thousands of fish at a time -- when you consider that we don't have
direct proof that these fish are environmentally safe, so you put
all those things together I don't think 95% sterility is good enough.
Does the industry really want genetically modified salmon?
there have only been a few public pronouncements by industry groups
about genetically modified salmon and so far all of them have said
very clearly, "We're not interested in raising genetically
modified salmon." The Canadian Salmon Farmers Association have
said that. I was recently in Chile and a key person leading one
of their major salmon farming associations in Chile publicly stated
very emphatically that they're not interested in genetically modified
whatever public statements out there indicate that salmon farmers
are not interested in these fish.
Why not, if they grow faster and bigger?
I think a couple of reasons. Right now, there's been a consumer
backlash against GM foods. And the salmon industry has a fairly
good reputation with consumers. Salmon are considered a high-quality,
desirable food and I think they don't want to lose consumer confidence.
there's a second reason that could turn out to be really more important,
and that is that the GM salmon are patented. And when a fish farmer
buys these they have to enter into a contract with the company that
would sell them the salmon, they have to pay a royalty fee and I
heard direct statements in Chile, for example, that Chileans are
not comfortable becoming even more economically dependent on outside
parties. They would rather develop their own domesticated lines
of salmon and do their own breeding programs.
What do you think about efforts to genetically alter salmon or shrimp
so that they require less fishmeal in their feed?
suggestion that you could genetically modify salmon or shrimps so
that they will require less fishmeal in their feed strikes me as
a classic example of a quick fix that will backfire. First of all,
what makes salmon taste like salmon is that there is some fishmeal
and fish oil in their diet. If you remove that totally from their
diet, they're not going to taste like salmon and consumers might
really lose interest in them.
we know enough about genetic engineering now to know that very often
you end up changing more than one trait. You don't only change the
trait you want to change. And some of those other trait changes
might not be desirable for the fish farmer, they could cause some
ecological problems, and in some cases they might even cause some
food safety problems. So you're fixing one problem but you're maybe
opening the door for a whole bunch of other problems.
seems to me it would make a lot more sense to figure out how we
can reduce the total percentage of fishmeal and fish oil in the
diets, have enough in there so you still get that real salmon flavor
and you meet the basic protein needs of the fish, make sure you
don't waste the feed that you have good feeding methods, and then
make sure that the fishmeal and fish oil come from sustainably-harvested
Is there a potential risk to people eating GM salmon?
kinds of GM salmon that are proposed to be commercialized today
probably will not pose a food safety risk to consumers, but that
doesn't mean that others in the future might not. You would have
to look at it on a case-by-case basis.
David Suzuki, a geneticist, says that the science of genetic altering
foods, etc. right now is in its infancy and people have no idea
what kinds of problems they might be creating. Would you care to
comment about what stage of the science the industry is in?
state of the technology is paradoxically both a very powerful technology
but one where the genetic engineers don't have much control over
what they're doing. They cannot control how many copies of a gene
get inserted, they can't control where in the animal's chromosomes
they get inserted, and it turns out that all those things matter.
I would agree with the general statement that it's not as precious
a technology as people might think it is. Maybe some day, with great
improvements in the methodologies you would be able to more directly
control exactly what happens when you insert the genes and be able
to more directly predict the outcomes.
right now it is sort of a black box. It's sort of like a kid discovering
some new tool but not really knowing what are all the consequences
of using that tool in many different circumstances.
Is it a reasonable argument for farming genetically engineered fish
if the product would use less fishmeal?
genetically modified salmon that have been engineered with extra
growth hormone genes do indeed require less fishmeal per unit of
salmon flesh you produce, that's all well and good but it's not
sufficient justification to encourage the salmon industry to switch
from normal salmon to GM salmon because those GM salmon raise new
sets of environmental problems. So you are partly solving one environmental
problem but raising new sets of environmental problems and that's
not a net gain for environmental sustainability.
How important to food security is aquaculture now, and do you see
it as becoming more important?
think aquaculture is important for food security in a number of
developing countries. China is one of the prime examples, but in
many parts of SE Asia and to some extent in Africa, when local small-scale
farmers can produce their own fish that gives them food security
because they have control over the means of producing their own
fish species that will contribute to their food security are not
the ones that are the high-valued, the high-priced ones that can
then be exported to developed, rich countries. They're the ones
that the local people can afford to eat themselves.
exception to that is, for example, in India for centuries people
were mixing shrimp farming with rice cultivation and it was a much
less intensive form of shrimp farming than these big industrial
shrimp farms. And at that time the local people could afford to
eat the shrimp and that's partly because their whole market structure
was different, so that can also contribute to food security.
think therefore it really depends on where you are looking. What
community you're looking at and what aquaculture species you're
talking about. It makes absolutely no sense to think that high-priced
aquaculture species contribute to food security. It's going to really
be more the species that the local people can control, produce themselves,
and can afford to eat themselves.
Do you know what percentage of the seafood consumed in the world
today is being farm raised?
percentage of seafood produced in the world today that comes from
aquaculture is 20%. That's 1997, 1998 statistics. The Food & Agriculture
Organization predicted that it could get as high as 30% of all the
seafood produced by the year 2000, but they haven't cranked through
the numbers yet for the year 2000. That prediction's important because
it shows that the percentage of seafood that is coming from aquaculture
is growing rapidly.
A lot of scientists still have hope that marine aquaculture will
take the pressure off captured fisheries. What do you think?
I think aquaculture could take the pressure off captured fisheries if it's the right kind of environmentally responsible aquaculture and at the same time we have policies that encourage sustainable fishing. We need both. Aquaculture itself is not a silver bullet.
The bulk of the world's farming of fish happens in China. Are they
doing it right?
China is the birthplace of aquaculture, about 4000 years ago. And for most of those many thousand years they had been doing very sustainable forms of aquaculture and we could learn a lot from their dominant, traditional forms of aquaculture.
in the last few years, especially starting about 5 years ago, with
the increasing incomes in China and increasing connection to the
global economy they have begun to convert some of their extremely
sustainable aquaculture systems to more westernized forms of aquaculture
where they're raising single species, higher-valued species, but
species where they need to put in more formulated feeds, including
I'm worried that they might abandon their thousands of years of
wisdom and start to go for the glitter of the high-priced, high-valued
species that the West desires. And in fact recently I learned that
soybean producers from the US, who are desperate to find new markets
for their soybeans, are even trying to convince the Chinese to buy
soybeans to make more artificial feeds for their aquaculture species.
would actually be a step backwards because the beauty of the traditional
Chinese aquaculture system was it was a poly-culture system where
they were raising 3 or more species of fish at the same time, and
all relying on natural foods. They had natural blooms of small animals
and small algae in the ponds and they could just use inputs and
fertilizers that came right from their local farms. And the beauty
of that was that they were recycling and reusing all the locally
you now are going to import soybeans that are produced in the US
using high amounts of fossil fuels, really high energy, and soybean
farming itself raises some environmental problems, you're now going
to export those soybeans to China and put them into the fish food
for the fish you're raising in China, you're increasing the energy
inputs rather than keeping them minimal, and all the transportation
costs, etc. It's a step backwards.
But what has worked positively for China?
Modern-day aquaculture in developed countries could learn a lot from the thousands of years of experience with aquaculture that comes from China. The Chinese had thousands of years to work out a really sophisticated system that is highly productive and environmentally sound.
produced both a high volume of fish protein per volume of their
fishpond, with minimal of inputs and maximizing the recycling of
the nutrients and the recycling of energy. So it's really very ecologically
sound form of aquaculture. And it was really well integrated with
their crop farming and even their pig and their duck farming, so
it was a really well integrated system that fits many of the principles
What can you say about invertebrates?
One form of aquaculture that has great potential for being environmentally responsible and meeting consumer demand is the farming of invertebrates. This can include mussels, clams, oysters, abalone, and even giant clams. The potential benefits of farming invertebrates is that they don't need to be fed diets that have fishmeal or fish oil in them, they feed very low on the food chain, and you can raise them in fairly small growing areas.