What's Wrong With Fish Farms?

Salmon fish farm in Norway
Naki Kouyioumtzis/Design Pics/Axiom Photographic Agency/Getty

There are plenty of things wrong with fish farming, but let's start with the fact that we now know without a doubt that fish are sentient beings. That alone makes fish farming a bad idea. In an article published on May 15, 2016, in the New York Times, author of "What a Fish KnowsJonathon Balcome writes about the intelligence and sentience of fish. From an animal rights standpoint, that's a pretty good reason to criticize fish farms.

Setting aside for the moment that fish farms are inherently wrong because they kill fish, let's look at what the industry is really about. While some believe that fish farming is the solution to overfishing, they do not take into account the inherent inefficiency of animal agriculture. Just as it takes 12 pounds of grain to produce a pound of beef, it takes 70 wild-caught feeder fish to produce one salmon on a fish farm. Time magazine reports that it takes 4.5 kg of ocean-caught fish to produce 1 kg of fishmeal that is fed to a fish on a fish farm.

Floating Pig Farms

Regarding fish farms, Daniel Pauly, professor of fisheries at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver states, "They're like floating pig farms . . . They consume a tremendous amount of highly concentrated protein pellets and they make a terrific mess." Rosamond L. Naylor, an agricultural economist at Stanford's Center for Environmental Science and Policy explains about aquaculture, “We are not taking strain off wild fisheries. We are adding to it.”

Vegetarian Fish

Some people are catching on, and recommending that consumers choose farmed fish who are mostly vegetarian, to avoid the inefficiency of feeding wild-caught fish to farmed fish. Scientists are even trying to develop (mostly) vegetarian food pellets to feed to carnivorous fish on fish farms. However, eating vegetarian farmed fish looks environmentally acceptable only when compared to eating carnivorous farmed fish. There is still the inherent inefficiency of feeding soy, corn or other plant foods to animals, instead of using that plant protein to feed people directly. There is still the matter of fish having feelings, emotions and intelligence once thought to be only the province of land animals. Some experts posit that fish feel pain and if that's true, vegetarian fish are just as capable of feeling pain as carnivorous fish.

Waste, Disease, and GMOs

In June 2016, an episode on The Dr. Oz Show dealt with genetically modified salmon. Although the FDA approves it, Dr. Oz and his experts believe there is reason for concern. "Many retailers are refusing to sell genetically modified farmed salmon," Oz said. Regardless of whether the farmed fish are eating fish or grain, there is still a variety of environmental problems because the fish are raised in confinement systems that allow waste and water to flow in and out with the oceans and rivers in which they are located. While fish farms cause many of the same problems as factory farms on land – waste, pesticides, antibiotics, parasites, and disease – the issues are magnified because of the immediate contamination of the surrounding ocean water.

There is also the problem of farmed fish escaping into the wild when nets fail. Some of these farmed fish are genetically modified, which forces us to ask what happens when they escape and either compete with or interbreed with wild populations.

Eating land animals also causes problems for marine life. Vast amounts of wild-caught fish are being fed to livestock on land, mostly pigs and chickens, in order to produce meat and eggs for human consumption. Runoff and waste from factory farms kill fish and other marine life and contaminate our drinking water.

Because fish are sentient, they have a right to be free from human use and exploitation. From an environmental standpoint, the best way to protect fish, marine ecosystems and all ecosystems is to go vegan.