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Editor's Note: A sustainable debate

Property of SeaFood Business magazine
By Fiona Robinson, Editor in Chief
March 01, 2007

MPastime: Cooking at home 
with family and friends

Cuisine: Mediterranean

Game fish: Grouper

Hobby: Collecting vinyl records

Music genre: "I love it all!"

Sports teams: N.Y. Knicks 
and Orlando Magic

any seafood-related conversations these days revolve around sustainability. Not a day passes without 
someone calling or e-mailing me about sustainable seafood. In January, I attended the Seafood Choices Alliance Seafood Summit for the first time and was pleasantly surprised to see so many seafood companies and non-profit groups in one venue. This would have been taboo in 1997, when the World Wildlife Fund and Unilever launched the Marine Stewardship Council. Clearly, a lot has changed in the past decade.

For many years, the industry and NGOs have had competing views of what sustainable seafood means. I thought I had a pretty good understanding of the issue until I went to several scientific 
seminars during the summit. One session outlined a Dalhousie University student's research on the lifecycle assessment for producing organic farmed salmon in British Columbia. The research included a detailed analysis of the energy required to harvest fish to produce fishmeal for farmed salmon. I only could comprehend about half the discussion, and began to realize why defining farmed fish - or wild - as sustainable is so complex.

Fishmeal is the sticking point for most NGOs to ever fully accept farmed fish as sustainable, or even organic for that matter. I listened to one tilapia farmer discuss a sustainability program at a Honduras fish farm. The company has taken an entire village that relied solely on forestry for its livelihood, which was leading to destruction of all wildlife in the area, and completely turned it around. Schools, medical care and machinery that runs entirely on bio-fuel made from fish sludge were just a few points of the complete program. But in a later discussion about the farm with someone from the environmental camp, I learned the tilapia farm would never be considered sustainable by NGOs because the feed it uses comes from Cargill. All of that time, energy and money spent on reducing its impact on the environment and supporting an entire village and the farm would still not be considered sustainable? I was dumbfounded.

It would be naïve to say the industry is completely onboard with how the Seafood Choices Alliance and other NGOs are defining sustainable seafood. And considering the tilapia farm comment, it should remain skeptical. One of the largest hurdles to any NGO accepting farmed seafood as sustainable is fish feed. If all the greenies had their way, farmed fish would eat 100 percent soy-based feed. But a fish that tastes like shoe leather is not one I'd want to eat, and neither would consumers.



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