TRANSCRIPT - Lester Brown
Brown is the Founder and President of the World Watch Institute.
Can aquaculture take pressure off overexploited ocean fish docks,
or has it added pressure on ocean fisheries?
been a tendency to focus on salmon and shrimp farming. Even though
in quantitative terms they represent maybe two million tons out
of the 40 million ton global aquacultural output. There are particular
environmental problems with salmon for example that have to do with
the use of antibiotics that have to do with concentrating a lot
of waste in a small area, usually offshore areas. There are disease
problems and questions about the quality of farmed salmon versus
wild salmon, for example, so there've been a number of issues that
have come up. Environmental issues probably have not gotten the
attention they deserve yet, in terms of industry being able to effectively
deal with those concerns. Shrimp farming is the same sort of issue.
lot of the mangrove forests have been destroyed in various areas,
particularly in Southeast Asia, countries like Thailand, for example,
for shrimp farming. This a basic loss because mangrove forests play
an important role in protecting and buffering the relationship between
the ocean and low-lying land areas, particularly controlling floods
and storm surges and so forth. It's brought another set of environmental
problems that are of concern and that may be quite costly over the
long term. But when we look at the global picture, we see that the
bulk of fish farming does not have quite the same sort of environmental
problems, meaning the cultivation of omnivorous fish like carp in
China which totally dominates world aquiculture in terms of production.
Catfish in the United States is also huge in aquaculture. In volume,
it is by far the largest aquacultural operation in the U.S.
Can aquaculture help solve the problem of overexploited ocean
fisheries and feed the world, or is it an excuse to mismanage wild
fisheries? How are they connected?
certainly have to manage oceanic fisheries better than we are now,
because they have been a growing source of animal protein for the
world's people for close to a half-century. The fish catch went
from 18 million tons in 1950 to 90 million tons, a five-fold increase
by 1990. That was a major increase. The oceanic fish catch overtook
world beef production. Even today world beef production is about
52 million tons a year, whereas the oceanic fish catch is something
like 90 million tons. We have to manage oceanic fisheries well,
because they are an important source of animal protein and diets
around the world. It's much more important in some countries and
regions than in others, but important worldwide none-the-less.
we hit the limits with oceanic fisheries we can shift to fish farming,
and that's exactly what we did when we went from hunting and gathering
to farming. We used to hunt our animal protein and now we grow most
of it like livestock, poultry, pigs, and so forth. We need to keep
in mind that when we make the shift and we put fish in ponds, in
nets, or enclose them, we have to feed them. When you grow salmon,
you not only have to feed them you have to feed them animal protein
and that usually means fishmeal. Some of that fishmeal comes from
the fish processing industry. When fish are dressed and filleted,
the waste is simply ground up into meal and fed to predatory fish
like salmon. We've been using fishmeal as an animal protein supplement
for a long, long time. Originally it was for pork and poultry, but
now it's also for salmon farming. We're also catching a lot of small
fish like herring, anchovies, and others that are used to feed salmon.
That's not a particularly good ratio because you are using a reasonably
high quality animal protein to produce another animal protein; the
conversion is not so efficient.
omnivorous fish that are being fed grain or soybean meal when the
U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, does the catfish report,
and we produce about 600 million pounds of catfish a year now. That
is a good two pounds for every American. When they do that report,
they have the principal inputs into the industry, and the costs.
The ration for catfish, which is mostly corn and soybean meal, is
basically the same as it is for the broiler industry. The conversion
rate is actually a bit more efficient with catfish than it is with
chickens. So we get low cost seafood from catfish, and it's a pretty
good quality. The breeding improvements in catfish have produced
a fish that is actually widely consumed and served in many restaurants
around the country. China, however, they've gone a step further.
China's been fish farming for least two maybe 3000 years. It goes
way back; there's a long history. They have evolved over time a
particular carp culture.
have four types of carp in the same pond, and one species feeds
on phytoplankton, algae, and other things. Another one feeds on
zooplankton, which are tiny organisms in the water. Both of these
are filter feeders. Then there's a grass carp that feeds on any
grass or vegetation that grows in and around the pond. There is
also a common carp, which is a bottom feeder, and feeds on all the
detritus from the other species of fish. It's really a rather efficient
fish production process. They feed the carp grain and soybean meal,
but they also fertilize the ponds often with duck or pig manure.
This helps produce the phytoplankton and the zooplankton that two
of the species fish on. So, in terms of efficiency, this model's
in a class by itself. This is why today, China's producing around
15 million tons of carp per year, which is very substantial.
aquacultural output now is somewhere around 40 million tons, and
the oceanic catch is around 90 million tons. The 90 million tons
is probably not going to increase very much, but the farmed production
probably will. It takes land and it takes water, and of course feed.
It takes land even for the ponds themselves. In this country, catfish
farming is concentrated in the state of Mississippi. We have about
170 square miles of land with nothing but catfish ponds. So that's
land that much of it was once producing rice, for example, in the
Mississippi Delta area. It's now producing catfish. In China, which
totally dominates world aquacultural output, there must be 12 million
acres or 5 million hectares in carp ponds and other ponds. Another
form of fish farming that's quite common in China and also Japan
is the production of shellfish: oysters and clams. These are in
environmental terms, the least intrusive of any of the farmed fish
grown in coastal regions in saltwater, and they filter the water
and obtain their nutrients from that. So that's one of the big "pluses".
In some countries, almost all the oysters and clams today come from
farming rather than from natural beds. Here in this area, the Chesapeake
Bay, at one time produced 100 million pounds of oysters per year.
It's now down to less than 3 million pounds per year. There was
a time, a few generations ago, when farmers on the eastern shore
of Maryland used to feed oysters to their pigs to fatten them. The
oysters were so abundant, and so they used them to convert some
of them into pork.
Is there any similarity between the mind-set that contributes
to overexploited fisheries and the mind-set that supports the advancement
of fish farming?
of the difficulties we have throughout the economy, it's evident
in oceanic fisheries and fish farming, is a lack of understanding
and perhaps respect of how natural systems work. Over-fishing has
become commonplace. Probably 70% of all the oceanic fisheries today
are being fished, at or beyond their capacity. If they're beyond
their capacity it means their stocks are shrinking and they're headed
for collapse. In fish farming, which has grown so rapidly over the
last two decades, we see a similar disregard for natural systems.
The feeling that we can somehow farm fish without thinking very
much about the environmental consequences is a problem that exists
in the world today. Why are we, now 6.3 billion of us, in so much
trouble on the environmental front? What we're doing is creating
a bubble economy by over consuming natural capital.
what deforestation is all about, or over-fishing, or over-plowing,
or over-grazing, or over-pumping. When you look at the global economy
through an environmental lens, this bubble becomes quite clear.
The food sector is particularly vulnerable because it depends on
over-fishing, on over-pumping, on over-plowing, and on over-grazing.
Let's look at over-pumping, for example, at aquifers which are now
widespread throughout the world. It's an interesting practice, because
it's an effort to satisfy our food needs today that almost guarantees
a future drop in food production when aquifers are depleted. The
same is true for oceanic fisheries. We keep taking more and more
fish. The level of fishing today that sustains us is such that it
almost guarantees the future collapse of fisheries. That's exactly
Are shrimp or salmon a viable food source to feed the world's
looking at the need for animal protein, including that from seafood,
we need to think about the efficiency with which we produce it.
As we look at salmon in particular we see that salmon and other
predatory fish like trout are among the least efficient converters
of feed. We're beginning to see some of the limits on salmon production
because of the limits of the fishmeal supply to feed them. Fish
processing plants and fisheries that provide the smaller, less desirable
fish have their own limits. We need to think about how to most efficiently
satisfy the growing need for animal protein, in this case, the growing
demand for seafood. So I think salmon will not fare well in that
competition over the long run. That's one of the reasons why it's
so small today, compared with carp production in China. Salmon production
is probably not more than one million tons today. Most of it is
produced in Norway, Scotland, Canada, and Chile. Carp production
is maybe 15 times that or so, and growing at least as fast.
Who's economically benefiting from an export crop like shrimp
aquaculture? Does the "trickle down" theory really work?
depends a lot on the type of fish farming. If you look at salmon
production, it's concentrated in the hands of a few companies. The
same companies that have salmon farms in Norway have salmon farms
in Chile, for example. Carp and catfish production are much more
widely distributed. Local farmers in the Mississippi Delta converted
their rice paddies into catfish ponds. In China, thousands and thousands
of local farmers are producing on a relatively small scale. Where
you have good land distribution, as in China, where the average
size farm is only an acre and a half, then you have widely distributed
production facilities. But it's not working when you destroy mangrove
forests and large areas of coast on a commercial basis, like companies
usually do. It depends a lot on the type of fish farming. Some is
broadly distributed, many people benefit from it, and in others
it's much more concentrated.
Who is most affected by the environmental consequences of aquaculture,
of the great weaknesses of our modern market economy is that the
market often does not tell the ecological truth. If a company in
Thailand destroys the mangrove forests, put you in the coastal zone
between the oceans and the land, they play an important buffer role.
If a company simply clears those because it wants to do shrimp farming,
then the people in those communities will pay because there won't
be anything to prevent the storm surges. When there's a hurricane
or a typhoon, as they are typically called in Asia, it can destroy
a lot of villages and inundate farmland with saltwater and so forth.
The companies will not pay for the damage; the individuals will
have to do that. It's a bit like the heat wave in Europe in August
of 2003. According to our latest numbers 34,000 people died. Who's
responsible for that? The answer is that everyone is responsible
to some degree, but particularly those who are primarily responsible
for CO2 emissions that are raising atmospheric CO2 concentrations
and therefore the earth's temperature.
market economy worked reasonably well when there weren't very many
of us and the scale of economic activity was small. For example,
at the beginning of the last century, a century ago, world population
was something like one and one-half billion, maybe even less. The
economy was only one-sixteenth of what it is today. So we didn't
do that much damage, but with this enormous growth in human numbers
and the expansion in the economy, suddenly we're pushing against
limits everywhere. The market does not respect limits of fisheries.
If you look at the fish market and notice when the fishery starts
to collapse, the prices go higher and higher. The fishermen work
harder and harder to catch whatever's left. It almost insures in
the absolute intervention that the fishery will collapse and many
have. We have to figure out how to deal with this; it may mean establishing
a quota for fisheries, and then auctioning off those quotas.
get a permit to catch 20,000 tons of fish a year without going beyond
that, that's one way of doing it. But the key is to get the market
to tell the ecological truth. I remember Exxon's vice president
for Norway in the North Sea said that socialism collapsed because
it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism
may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological
truth. He distilled a lot of wisdom into that very short statement.
Our problem today is that with fisheries or climate change, we're
not taking into account the environmental consequences. Deforestation
is a perfect example. Consider China in the summer of 1998, record
flooding in the Yangtze River Basin went on for several weeks and
eventually did 30 million dollars worth of damage. That's equal
to the annual wheat and rice harvest of China. It was huge. The
government kept saying, "Oh this is an act of nature"
and so forth. But finally in mid-August they held a press conference,
and they said, "We now realize there's a human contribution
to this, in the form of deforestation."
that point 85% of the original tree cover in the Yangtze River Basin
was gone. So they banned tree cutting in the Yangtze River Basin,
which was home to 400 million people. Then they supported it with
an interesting bit of economics. They said, "Trees standing
are worth three times as much as trees cut." And the point
was that the flood control services provided by forests are far
more valuable than the lumber in those forests. That was a major
conceptual breakthrough, but that's the kind of breakthrough we
have to make with oceanic fisheries and fish farming. We have to
get all the costs on the table and incorporate it into the price
of the product. Otherwise we delude ourselves. We have an accounting
system, the market, which is not very good at taking environmental
issues into consideration. We have an accounting system that's even
more flawed than that of Enron. We have a lot of costs that are
being shifted to offshore sources, so to speak, and we're not taking
them into account, at our own peril.
What kind of aquaculture can take pressure off the oceans and
provide food security?
many ways China is the model for aquaculture in the future, not
that everything it's doing is right, but it's doing a lot of things
pretty well. Beginning a century ago, when population built up in
Japan, the Japanese turned to oceanic fisheries for much of their
animal protein. They used the small land area to grow rice, and
then they caught fish. They evolved the fish and rice style. Today
Japan consumes 10 million tons of seafood a year. Now, if China
was to move in the same direction. It would need 10 times as much
seafood as Japan, because China has 10 times as many people. But
100 million tons of seafood would be the oceanic fish catch. So
China cannot go that route.
they have concentrated heavily on fish farming. The big one is carp
production with a poly-culture system, which is ecologically much
more sophisticated than any other system in the world. They've been
doing it for a long time so they've evolved this system. When the
need for dramatic expansion in seafood production evolved, they
were ready for it. The salmon farming or the shrimp farming are
both historically very recent, and I don't think we've had a chance
yet to sort things out. We've kind of hit them rapidly on a fairly
large scale compared with the natural production of both salmon
and shrimp. We find ourselves in a lot of trouble.
The world market takes no notice of the environmental toll that
oceanic fishing has on it. What is the solution to this problem?
we need is to incorporate all the costs of fish farming in the price
of the fish we produce. Whether it's finfish or shellfish or shrimp
or what have you. We're not doing that now. A lot of the environmental
consequences of fish farming are being born by people other than
the fish farmers. But that's not going to be viable over the long
term. People are simply going to resist it too much and with good
reason. The key is to incorporate these costs. Maybe with salmon
production, one ought to have a waste discharge cost for example,
so that if the waste builds up in an area at least there would be
a cost associated with it and the fee would discourage the discharging.
It would affect the distribution of the industry. It would be much
more widely distributed in order to fit more easily into the natural
Can consumers, and their buying needs, be a part of the fish
with certification. If it's honest and reliable certification, then
you have a potential of giving to those who are environmentally
conscious and sensitive, a way of expressing that sensitivity. There
have been a number of oceanic fisheries, for example, that have
been certified, because they have sustainable management. They're
very careful not to exceed the sustainable wield of the fishery
and so forth. We need much more of that. We may need it as much
in fish farming as we do in oceanic fisheries. It is a way of establishing
a criterion for producing farmed fish of various kinds that are
environmentally sound. We do not now have that. One could achieve
these goals through regulation, but regulation is a crude and heavy
instrument in many ways. We could use market incentives like certification.
It's an economic incentive to produce in an environmentally responsible
way. I think it's a strong move in the right direction.
Are submerged net cages (implemented recently by the National
Marine Fishery Service) a good investment for large companies/corporations,
like The World Bank?
a little difficult without knowing more of the details of what kind
of fish would be farmed and what sort of feed they would be consuming.
But if they're mostly predatory fish there may be some limits on
how far we could go. One of the interesting things that is happening
with salmon farming now is they're actively trying to breed salmon
that will be not predators but that will be able to subsist largely
on a vegetarian diet. Whether that will work or not, and whether
what you end up with something that will resemble salmon remains
to be seen. But there's clearly an effort to move in that direction,
because of the recognition that there are limits on the amount of
fishmeal that will be available for feeding over the long term.
My guess is that we will figure out ways of doing things.
culture seems to be working quite well in most of the world. Carp
production and catfish production are doing well. The offshore ones
like salmon and shrimp have not worked that well. They've created
quite a few problems. Some of which have not yet been solved. How
we move offshore remains to be seen. It's probably going to take
quite a bit of sorting out before we eventually get it right. Sometimes
economic forces lead us to adjust our diets. Sometimes breeding
can improve the quality of farmed fish. For example, in this country,
people who live in the South and the Mississippi Delta Region in
particular consume catfish locally. But it was not a widely consumed
fish 30 years ago. Today it's consumed throughout the country. The
breeding of the fish has improved the culinary quality of the fish.
The ways of preparing it have now evolved in several different directions.
So I find myself often ordering catfish because I find it a tasty
fish. That might not have been true 30 years ago when it came from
the bottom of the Mississippi River. It might have had a muddy flavor.
That's all gone now, so I find carp quite edible.
Anything you want to add?
like to mention a little bit about water, since it's important in
fish farming. Just to give you a sense of the importance of water,
it is known that we drink typically about four liters of water a
day. The water required to produce the food we eat each day is 2000
liters, 500 times as much. Now, the "we" I've been using
is the global average. But for Americans, the water required to
produce the food we eat is probably more like 5000 liters a day.
Five tons of water per day is needed to produce the food we eat
each day. It's enormous. I don't think we've fully grasped that
yet. Most people sort of accept the idea that we're facing water
shortages. If we're facing water shortages, we're facing food shortages.
70% of all the water that we pump from underground or divert from
rivers is used for irrigation. Water scarcity is now for the first
time crossing national boundaries via the international grain chain
because it takes 1000 tons of water to produce 1 ton of grain. Countries
that are facing water shortages import grain instead of water, because
it's so much more efficient to import the grain. So they use whatever
water they have for cities and so forth and import the grain. Countries
are using grain to balance their water books. Trading in grain futures
now is, in a sense, trading in water futures.