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Aquaculture Forum: Signs Point to Increased Support for Aquaculture

K. Dun Gifford
By K. Dun Gifford
June 01, 2005

For the last decade, a handful of very wealthy foundations have funded public-relations campaigns to poison the waters about fish farming and slow its growth. These attacks have been successful because they have had the field virtually to themselves; no well-funded groups were employed to challenge the misstatements and set the record straight about aquaculture’s benefits.

It looks now as if this free pass is about over; the weight of powerful evidence supporting aquaculture, coupled with consumers’ common sense, is gradually overwhelming the critics’ PR campaigns. Here are a few points supporting aquaculture’s future:

• Consumers continue to seek out and buy aquaculture’s bounties; shrimp, trout, salmon, catfish, tilapia, oysters, mussels, clams and much more.

• The world’s nutrition experts continue to urge consumption of seafood, because it is, literally, brain food. Recent and emerging scientific evidence steadily accumulates to support this. Fish oils contain compounds called “essential fatty acids,” which our brains need. They are “essential” because our bodies cannot manufacture them, so we must get them from food. As demand for healthful seafood grows, aquaculture will become an increasingly important source of supply.

The growing list of environmental advantages of water-grown animal protein over land-grown includes:

• Feed-conversion ratios (water-grown animals produce higher amounts of edible food per unit of feed than land-grown animals) and waste issues (water-grown animals excrete significantly less waste per unit of edible food than land-grown animals do).

• Farmed harvests don’t incur bycatch as wild fisheries do.

• To survive, wild, carnivorous fish must eat other wild fish. Farmed carnivorous fish need only about a third as much fish as their wild cousins to grow to equivalent size, so farmed fish are less environmentally intrusive.

• Aboriginal aquaculture is on the rise in western Canada, and it will be difficult for environmental groups to mount PR campaigns against these projects as they have against industrial fish farmers.

• After slipping in 2003-04, sales of farmed salmon (the bell-cow for aquaculture critics) increased in the last quarter of 2004 and have continued to grow in 2005.

Even if these are only signposts, they point to a more positive attitude about the environmental and nutrition values of farmed fish and shellfish.

The new edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the national nutrition consensus released every five years, most recently in January, is refreshingly candid and specific about fish: “Keep total fat intake between 25 to 35 percent of calories, with most fats coming from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils.”

For fish, this recommendation refers to two fatty acids: eicosapentaneoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaneoic acid (DHA), both of which inhibit inflammation, the current smoking gun for inception of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and a host of less life-threatening conditions like acne, arthritis and asthma. Nuts and vegetable oils are helpful, too, but the real silver bullet appears to be EPA and DHA, available only in fish. Health experts even advise vegetarians to eat fish oil capsules daily.

The sooner misleading anti-aquaculture PR campaigns evaporate, the sooner Americans will benefit from increased consumption of the bounties of sustainable aquaculture.

K. Dun Gifford is founder and president of Oldways Preservation Trust, a Boston food think tank at www.oldwayspt.org

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