INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT - Dr. Daniel Pauly Interview #2

Dr. Daniel Pauly is a fisheries biologist and Professor at the Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia. He is also the Principal Science Advisor for the International Centre for Living Aquatic Resource Management (ICLARM) in the Philippines.


When we speak of aquaculture, the important thing is always to distinguish between these two forms. There is one form, which I call "A", which consists of farming Tilapia, bivalve mussels and clams, and carp. These animals feed on grasses and residues from farms. This form of aquaculture adds to the global food supply, and it adds it at the right place. The other form is what I call the "B" form, which is the farming of carnivorous fish: salmon, sea bass, and eels. These have to be fed with the flesh, usually of other fish, and these do not add a net of fish to the table because other fish gets consumed in order to generate that new fish.

That is a big problem because the fish that is ground up to be fed to this carnivorous fish is, in fact, fish that can be consumed by humans: sardines, anchovies, and mackerels. The industry says it's not so, but there are lots of people to whom sardine and anchovies are perfectly palatable fish. When we speak of aquaculture, the first thing we must keep in mind is that these two forms exist. The point is not only that, but that the products somehow have been produced. They must be available in a local currency, because the people who have produced it are your neighbors. Lots of aquaculture forms, for example Tilapia in the Philippines. It's a rural industry. The ponds are where you live. So, the fish is actually consumed where it is needed, it's produced where it is needed. It resembles rice. Rice, throughout the world, is consumed where it's grown.

About 80 to 90% of the rice produced in the world is consumed within 50 kilometers of where it's grown. About 5% of the rice produced globally is traded internationally. Now, about 50 to 70% of the fish produced internationally is consumed in another country. So, food security is having the food available, because then people buy it and eat it. But, salmon, which is grown, for example, in Chile is not consumed in Chile; they are shipped by airplanes to Europe and North America.

It doesn't contribute to food security; in fact it does the opposite. Since the salmon industry has become predominant in Chile, for example, the food supply of Chileans has radically diminished. The price has gone up because of the scarcity of fish that have not been ground up. Also, because of the way the industry itself has purchased the fish; they market it at a very high price. What you end up with is that the farming of salmon reduces the food supply in the producing country. It's a paradox, but it is the case. These two forms of aquaculture, that I was speaking about "A" and "B", they are very different in that regard. The farming of Tilapia resembles the farming of rice. It is local for local consumption.

For instance, Carp in China, India, and in other parts of Southeast Asia. They are grown exactly where they are consumed, so that people can afford them. It's not only a matter of people knowing the fish or it being available technically in the capital because it's been imported from somewhere. The point is that it be available in an urban shop and sold by people who have the same standard as you have. There is a lateral transfer of the fish within the country, within the countryside. The fish that have to be imported is always going to be expensive for the poor, the majority, if the population is in developing countries.

What is there to do about the declining fish populations?

It is quite clear; we now have a situation where the catch of wild fish, globally, is declining. It's declining because, essentially, we over-fished them; we've over-fished most of the fish resources. Now, the idea is that we should meet the demand using aquaculture. So, it is correct that aquaculture can actually meet some of the shortage from the wild fisheries. However, for this to be the case, it has to be aquaculture that adds to the supply of fish and not aquaculture that requires fish, for feeding the carnivorous salmon and others. Most people don't realize that point. When you look at statistics you have, say, 10 million tons of sardines and 1 million ton of salmon that totals 11 million ton of fish. But, actually, you don't have that much because the sardine have been ground up to make the salmon. So, you don't end up with a net.

If we are going to meet the demand, which I hope we will, especially in the poor areas of the world where most of the world population is continuing to increase and is concentrated, it has to be something that is accessible to people in terms of income. It has to be produced locally by that economy itself in which people live. I have seen this with Tilapia in the Philippines. I have seen this with Cod in Indonesia. You can very well have this production being rural based. If this is integrated in your water supply system, in your water management system, it can also improve the situation with regards to drought. In South Africa, I remember a study that was done that I watched colleagues do, in which having a pond or not having a pond for a farmer made the whole difference in terms of being able to produce vegetables.

Never mind the ability to produce some fish, the pond was a ditch in a sense, a water supply that if it dried up, you could grow vegetables at the bottom of the pond, at least one harvest. The pond served to integrate the entire farm and increase its productivity. Now, there it benefits immediately to people who are usually in need of food. Very often, this form of aquaculture is not even noticed because it goes into local consumption and not for export. Therefore, in the capital, the governments don't even encourage it, because it doesn't show as foreign export, as foreign exchange. It actually contributes to the diet of people. This is in areas where protein is often lacking, animal protein. So, this is the good aquaculture.

Is aquaculture the "silver bullet?"

Aquaculture is not a silver bullet because most of the fish that are farmed are very close to the wild form. They have not been domesticated at all. We have not used the genetic potential that these animals have. So, if we lose the genetic diversity that is in the sea, we will not be able to get the best breeds that we could get by having them in the sea, taking them, and breeding the forms that we need.
If we are going to do marine aquaculture, we certainly need to have this, because the forms that we are cultivating are not necessarily the best breeds. The same applies as we see fresh water. If we inoculate many species, we have a river that has lots of giant fish of various kinds that are being wiped out.

Maybe these animals could provide better growth potential or food conversion potential, et cetera. But, we're losing them. We should not think that the few animals that we have domesticated for fish farming are the animals we will be farming 50 years down the line. Therefore, we should not wipe out the other ones. Besides, fisheries continue to be a very cost effective way of producing fish flesh. In terms of energy spent, we use less energy to produce fish through capture fisheries than through aquaculture. The ratio is 1 to 2. So, if you are in a situation where forced energy becomes a problem, you become limited. Now, this applies especially for the "B" form of aquaculture where you farm salmon, for instance. On the other hand, you use very little energy to grow Tilapia in the tropics, but that's a different story, there.

How important is the managing of capture fisheries? Is aquaculture promising enough to let the fisheries go?

The idea of letting capture fisheries' resources go down the tube and instead do aquaculture is silly on first principal because if we let capture fisheries go it means that we haven't cared about coastal zone management, we haven't cared about the regulation fishing effort, and we haven't been able to regulate the way we interact with nature. If we have not been able to do that, aquaculture is going to fall apart. We are not going to regulate the number of farms that are set up along the coast, we're not going to regulate the effluents, we're not going to regulate the way they use energy. The process by which we regulate fisheries and we learn to interact with nature in a sustainable manner is also the process by which we will invent a process of fish farming which is sustainable. But, if we let go of fisheries that means we devastate one thing and we're likely to keep devastating them. We haven't learned in the process to husband anything or to maintain and sustain anything.

To what degree is the mindset with farming carnivorous species the same mindset that led to overfishing?

The two forms of aquaculture that I was talking about, one that is sustainable, herbivore-oriented, small industry, small enterprise, and the other that is industrial oriented, carnivorous, and is usually large enterprise. In fisheries, you have exactly the same trend. You have the small-scale fishers who tend to use more benign gears that are being squeezed out and replaced or rather, pushed aside by large operations. The mindset in government that encouraged the concentration in fisheries is the same that encouraged concentration in aquaculture. In the end, you end up with the same devastation, because you undermine your social goal of having income generation over your entire country. You end up with a few firms, which are heavily concentrated. Perhaps that's the reason why they encourage them because then the owners can interact with politicians and so on. You also end up with few firms and with relatively little employment. When something goes wrong it goes wrong big time. If these monster operations, whether that is a fleet of draggers or a set of farms, if something goes wrong, in form of a disease or something, then it devastates the entire industry. Then, the little people who don't even have the farm or the disease are affected anyway.

What was originally considered to be the promise of the "Blue Revolution?"

The Blue Revolution, I benefited a lot from it because the blue revolution was a follow up to the green one. What was the green one? It was an alternative to the red one. What was the red one? After WWII, there was an attempt by socialist communist forces throughout Asia to take over the world. There was a need to really produce a huge amount of cheap food to keep lots of people happy and not raise hell. So, a number of centers were created by philanthropic organizations, notably the Rockefeller Foundation. The first of them was the International Center for Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. The second was a similar center for rice, for wheat and corn in Mexico, and then a whole family of them was created throughout the world. These scientists worked there through traditional breeding techniques and generated the miracle rice, the miracle wheat and so on which grew faster, but required more water and required more pesticide and so on. It contributed to such an increase in yield that the famine that Erlich and others had predicted would happen, did not happen.

There was this notion that this Green Revolution could be duplicated at sea. So, the Rockefeller Foundation, following its successful operation in the late 50's and early 60's, created a center called International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management, ICLARM, which was supposed to do a "Blue Revolution?" I was hired one year after it was created in '78 in the Philippines. Then, the notion was that we should do something that was equivalent to the Blue Revolution, but the problems of fisheries are not problems of the animals not doing the right things, in other words, equivalent to the plants not growing fast enough. The problems are issues of common access to resources, the inability to limit effort, and the tragedy of the commons. All of these issues that came up were actually societal problems, social issues.

In doing stock assessment, we would help resolve this issue, but it doesn't matter because the social forces that generate these pressures, for example poverty or pushing people into small scale fisheries because they have no land which actually is driven by the green Revolution because you don't need so many people working the land, all of these issues are social issues, which a Center such as the one I worked, could not resolve. However, it took so long for us to realize. Now, the Blue Revolution has now been focused. It is going to be aquaculture, technology. Just like breeding super wheat was technology. The technology is to breed a super salmon, or a super tilapia or a super something that is going to help us out of this problem. That is going to resolve this social problem. It's not right; it's not. What it will do is it will make a few people very rich who will produce luxury goods, and that's what they do. Luxury fish, carnivorous fish, that's what they are.

The issue of poverty and especially the issue of lack of access to cheap animal protein is not resolved, because the only way you can do it is to have income increased, that's one thing. The other one is having fish that can be produced, if it's going to be fish that can be produced without damaging the environment and in sufficient amount. You cannot, what is the expression, rob Peter to pay Paul? If you are going to have a country that produces sardines you cannot grind up the sardine to produce salmon, and think that it is going to improve the situation of the people. You have to have a situation where lots of people can access cheap fish. That means producing herbivorous fish, as is done in India, as is done throughout Southeast Asia and China.

Some people say that the Blue Revolution was supposed to help take pressures off the ocean, alleviate poverty, and increase world food security. To what degree do you think that shrimp aquaculture has done this?

Shrimp aquaculture is obviously not the way to deal with lack of fish, because in order to start producing shrimp, you have to first get rid of the people who fish in the mangroves, where you are going to put your farm. Then you are going to have to grind up fish to make the pellets that you are going to feed to your shrimp, etc. At the end, you have the shrimp being exported because it's not going to be consumed locally, and the money will never come back to the country, let's say Bangladesh. It's going to stay firmly in Switzerland. It has nothing to do with food security. It will not contribute to food security; shrimp don't do food security. For example, let's exaggerate a little bit. Imagine a start-up operation where I raise sturgeons to produce caviar. People would know that I'm not doing it with food security, right? They would know that I'm producing a luxury good that is used for ritual purposes, like marriages, Christmas, whenever when you eat caviar; I don't know when you do. But, with caviar we understand right away what it is. Shrimp is a more popular form of caviar; it is a luxury good. The more that countries produce it, the less they have in terms of food security.

What are your thoughts on fishmeal and fish oil as they pertain to feeding carnivorous species? How about as threats to the ocean ecosystem?

On one hand, you have fisheries that are directing fish that is fit for human consumption into fish pens. A good example is sardines being used in the Mediterranean for Blue Fin tuna that are kept in pen. That is a disaster because in the Mediterranean you cannot argue that sardines are not liked by people, they are. Everybody loves sardines around the Mediterranean. They get such a high price for turning the sardines into sushi. This doesn't add to food security. In some other countries, duck farming, fish farming, or shrimp farming has provided an outlet for what is known as trash fish, very small fish that were part of the by-catch in the trawl fishery. The trawl fishery, by the way, has essentially devastated the bottom fish resources and turned everything into trash fish. The bulk of the fishery works to feed the aquaculture industry, and that has happened in Thailand.

The bulk of the fish caught by the trawlers is what they call trash fish and it goes into the fish and duck production. Yet, if the fishery had been managed properly, it would continue to produce fish directly for human consumption, or it would continue to produce far more fish directly for human consumption. A good example is Thailand where the bottom fish fishery has essentially reduced the average size of all fish to very small. So, you have small fish and the juveniles of big fish being declared to be trash fish and used to make fish meal and that is used for shrimp and duck. The existence of this outlet is in the shrimp farms and they maintain the fisheries, fisheries which otherwise would have collapsed.

What's the risk of draining untreated pond water from the shrimp farms directly into the ocean and near-shore waters?

The risk that emanates from draining these ponds is obviously pollution, because what you have is water that has a huge organic content going into waterways. You get the usual lack of oxygen problem. You also get diseases. This is basically the reason why the Thai shrimp industry, along with other industries in the region, has recently largely collapsed. What has happened is that these practices, which were not well regulated, which were not reasonable, led to the dissemination of diseases, viral disease and bacterial disease. These were dealt with by putting lots of antibiotics and chemicals in them. At the end of the day, these things always end up with the pathogen winning. The disease spreads and now there are, in the Gulf of Thailand, lots of abandoned ponds. The interesting thing now is that these ponds have been appropriated by big guys, the rich people, they grabbed those ponds from whoever was working there and they are now of an uncertain status. Nobody knows who owns them. They are essentially vacant land. People cannot use them for farming, they are lost and they are polluted sites and there are lots of them in the Gulf of Thailand. Polluted areas that are used for nothing and they are not even replanted with mangrove.

To what extent have Blue Fin tuna populations been in decline since the advent of modern fishing practices?

Blue Fin tuna is the flagship species for extinction in the making. If any bony fish is going to go down, that is the one. These populations were very big before. There were all these places where they were killing in the Mediterranean in these huge fisheries. The Blue Fin tuna were going all the way to Norway. There was a fishery in Germany, in the North Sea. All of this is the past, it's finished, the thing is declining, and it's declining very rapidly. The story about there being two stocks, one in the West Atlantic, one in the East Atlantic, also turns out to be not so sure, and therefore you cannot really guarantee that the Western stock will not be affected by what happens in the Eastern Atlantic. It's a really, really horrible story. We have added what is known as aquaculture, which it's actually delayed killing. Basically what you do, you grab this juvenile tuna, you put them in pens, and you feed them sardines and the few fish that were left in the Mediterranean, you feed them that.

What's the result? You get these beautiful tuna to grow and be slaughtered and right when you want them, you fly them to Japan and you get beautiful sushi. It's not counted as being caught. That's one of the ironies; it's not counted against the total allowable catch because it's not killed right away, right? You have this semantic game being played where, say you have a boat house where you have 10,000 tons, you catch 2000 tons of juveniles to put in pens, but you don't count them because they're not killed; well yes, they are killed about 6 months later. But, that's the games people play. On top of it, you increase enormously the pressure on the food fish, on the forage fish. Now, this forage fish, they're needed obviously for the remaining ones, the ones that are not penned. They're also needed for the marine mammals, which supposedly are being protected.

There is the Mediterranean monk seal, which is on its way out, going extinct, and some of the common, very common dolphin, becoming more and more rare. In fact, for the Mediterranean, it's the only place that I know where you can see marine mammals whose ribs are showing, like mangy dogs, you can see the ribs of the marine mammal because they are starving. What we're talking about is there is such a strong incentive to go after the last tuna and the last sardine to go feed that tuna that perhaps the Mediterranean will be one of the first places where these things are going to implode, including dragging down the monk seal and other marine mammals that depend on this forage fish.

Is farming Blue Fin tuna akin to farming lions and tigers?

Lots of people would say that farming tuna is the same as farming tigers or lions. But actually, it's not true. Because, look at where a tuna is. A tuna eats little fish that eat zooplankton, which eat algae.

The industry claims that they have "closed the circle on the lifecycle" of the Blue Fin tuna (in Japan). They say they will commercially produce Blue Fin tuna babies in hatcheries and release them to the wild and thereby replenish the wild stocks.

The idea of "ranching" the sea, that is releasing the young, whether it's salmon, tuna or cod, is an absurdity because it cannot help the wild stocks. The genetic selection that occurs in the domestic context is such that the animals are not competitive in the sea. Either they will get eaten right away by predators, as has occurred in lots of cases, or they will not, in which case they will swamp the genetically superior animals that are out there and compete with them for the food. If you want to drive out animals from their habitat, that's a good thing to do. If you want to drive out natural tuna from their habitat, just swamp them with farmed raised tuna. If you want to drive out salmon from their rivers, just make them compete with things from the hatcheries. That's the experience we already have. You cannot maintain in a hatchery the condition that will make the animal fit for life in the sea. Either they're going to die, or if you raise enough you swamp the ones that are adapted. You do the opposite of what you think you're doing.

Do you have any concerns about deep-sea, offshore, submerged cage aquaculture being the wave of the future?

I think it's such a waste. If you think, nature produces fish for us, and cheap. It'll do that. All we have to do is catch them. All we have to do is catch those that we can sustainably catch. But no, we devastate the whole thing. Then we build monster farms out there. I'm not going to say it can't be done, because enough fools have said you can't fly, you can't do this, you can't do that. But, what I will say is that once one of these farms is built, one monster farm out there, I will wait until the next hurricane and see what happens. I hope they are well insured.

Can you say something about the potential of shellfish / bivalve aquaculture to help cover the shortfall of fish protein?

I personally like the idea of shellfish aquaculture. These are animals that stay quiet, they stay where you put them, and they clean up the water. They eat what they have extracted from the water that they clean. Now, obviously there are potential problems. You have to make sure they don't pollute because they produce feces. If the system is well designed, and France is an example of a country that has a long tradition of raising shellfish, you can produce absolutely enormous amounts of food, of wholesome, human food, food for people, in a very small area. It's reasonably cheap because you don't have inputs such as expensive fishmeal or something that you have to do. Also you have to be very careful of not having local pollution. They don't bio-magnify. You don't have enrichment, up the food web, of persistent organic pollutants. So, shellfish is the way to go if we can maintain clean waters along the coastlines. Shellfish, in fact, have the potential of feeding humanity, if we go that way. Think about the mussels all over the place. Mussels are excellent.

What about tilapia?

Tilapia have often been represented as the aquatic chicken, and it's perfectly justified. There was at first disappointment a little bit, because the first wave of tilapia, experiments with tilapia were based on the wrong species - it's called tilapia, or Oreochromis mossambicus, and it didn't grow well. After that, breeds were developed out of another species called Oreochromis nilotica and that species just happened to be right; that is the one consumed in the States. It's a filter feeder; it can eat a little bit at the bottom, and it eats essentially phytoplankton and detritus that is to be found in ponds. It doesn't have to be fed with flesh. It is a very tasty fish, robust. It can handle a wide range of environmental conditions. You can grow it in a backyard operation but you can also grow it in an industrial context. That could become the chicken, the aquatic chicken of the future. It responds very well to classical breeding programs where you have a number of populations that you mix. If we apply ourselves we can get tilapia and that could be the right thing for us.

If you were to caution us about the ongoing development of aquaculture, what would it be?

There are these two forms of aquaculture. But, those who promote, let's call it the bad form, they hide behind the needs of the good form. We do need the fish that the farming of herbivorous fish, shellfish, etc. can generate; humanity needs that. That need is expressed especially in developing countries, which have a heavy population of poor people. Now, aquaculture is positive in that context. But, behind that, the positive thing, there is this essentially nasty stuff that is destroying species, destroying habitat, and destroying things, and it's hiding behind it. So, every time you try to say something about aquaculture, that is negative, salmon people say, "Oh, you don't want to feed the world!" But actually, we do. The point is not to do it that way, because it doesn't work. It is not feeding the world. It is actually taking food out of the mouth of children, that's what it does, raising salmon.

What do we stand to lose?

There are six, soon to be seven, billion of us. In a few decades, there will be eleven or twelve billion and perhaps then humanity will stabilize. People will have to eat. They have to eat decent food and that will have to contain animal protein. Fish is a beautiful source of animal protein; fish and shellfish and so on. I do hope that aquaculture and fisheries will provide the mix. These things cannot work against each other. Aquaculture cannot be feeding on fisheries; it must make its own contribution. It can do that only by raising animals which themselves don't need fish.

The earth's ecosystem turns out to be more fragile than we had thought. The oceans are ¾ of the earth's support system. What's at stake by threatening one of life's most important support systems?

I'm often asked what it is that we're doing to the sea. What kind of metaphors could be used to describe what we are doing? The one I find that is most telling, but is at the same time most disturbing, is that our impact is similar to one of these huge meteorites that hit the earth and wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. People say, but we are not a meteor; it cannot be comparable, this explosion and so on. But in terms of eliminating population of animals, species of animals, modifying habitat, we almost have the same effect. We in fact, over centuries, have the same effect as this kind of destruction that was brought on by a meteor hitting the earth. You can show that in terms of numbers. Basically when that crunch is over, let's hope we are going to wise up, we should end up with as many species as possible. Right now, the practices that we have developed, both in fishing and in farming, are so destructive, so disruptive, that we are losing species, we are losing habitat for these species. We should not be having the effect of a meteorite hitting the earth.

As we have done with EOEN, we hope to inspire viewers to get involved in becoming part of the solution. What can an average person do?

Lots of people think that the major thing they can do is as consumers. It's true, by targeting, by consuming the right fish, in this case, like tilapia, conch and shellfish, we can as consumers reduce the pressure on the tuna and so on. But basically, I think that our major impact should be as citizens. Most of us are lucky enough, fortunate enough, to live in democracies. That means that we can, as citizens, speak up. We can, as citizens, influence through our vote, by raising hell, by writing letters, by calling our representative, influence the way decisions are made. There are quite a few countries in which the representatives will respond, rather than hit us on the head. Those of us who are living in democracies, we should actually use our right as citizens to influence this and not only rely on our behavior as consumers.