I believe fish farms are completely necessary in today's day and age. Farmed fish takes pressure off of wild fish stock, provides fish year-round, and has progressed in technology and methods to be considered sustainable. In Canada, farmed fish has received heavy resistance because of the media and public concern. Like any business, fish farms heard the public outcry and have worked hard on providing a strong product that follows expectations of sustainability. A fish farm is like any business, its bottom line is to produce products you want and they are listening. If we only relied on wild fish in Canada, we would run out in no time. An ever-growing population cannot rely on a non-renewable resource such as this. In other words, an economy based on endless growth is unsustainable. The following is to start a discussion about this important topic and not meant to attack either side of the industry.
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Why are we so obsessed with whether or not salmon is farmed but when it comes to other fish we don't bat an eye? For example, all trout sold in B.C. is farmed. Many of our Mediterranean favourites, like Branzino and Dorade, are farmed. More importantly, Vancouver's favourite dish, sushi, uses a lot of farmed fish.
How could this be? We all banded together and got wild salmon on the menu and kicked farmed salmon out. We brought up the Ocean Wise program for restaurants to follow. How could our favourite food be farmed? People often want a more authentic experience when it comes to Japanese cuisine. For a more authentic experience, you need the fish to come from Japan. Where are a lot of fish farmed for sushi? Japan.
Japan started farming fish to create affordable seafood after the war. This worked relatively well for some time. Farmed species started with tai snapper (sea bream), hamachi (yellow tail) and various flatfish (flounder and sole). Today, these fish have worldwide demand and are charged a premium. It's not for the price tag anymore; now we are buying it because it says "Japan" or "Tsukiji" on it. It's a branded product. The other reason--it's fatty. We can say we don't like force-fed animals, but the numbers say otherwise. We aren't in love with bacon, foie gras and toro for no reason. We love the fatty animals and we will keep buying them. What's funny is as we stuff our face we claim to hate farms and don't like the flavour because it tastes like the animal's feed.
Farms in Japan are very successful. Today, there are more species being raised in farms. New efforts are going into mackerel farming. The biggest recent accomplishment is raising tuna from birth. Tuna farms are a very heavy subject that we could discuss for hours. I don't believe that the world's favourite fish could ever be truly sustainable, however hard people are trying. Currently tuna farms work by trapping wild tuna into a circular net and feeding them until they are big enough for market. Tuna are brought feed from all over the world to mimic their eating habits and migration. However, tuna requires 10-15 kg of feed to grow 1 kg. A lot of great fish such as sardines and skip jack are being used as feed for these massive fish which in turn drive up the costs. What I find most interesting is that by netting off wild tuna and feeding them delicious fish with higher yields, we give it the stamp of approval and consider it sustainable.
Again, a lot of our favourite fish are farmed. We can't just be happy with avoiding farmed salmon. There's a lot more important details and facts that we need to uncover. There are sustainable wild options that can replace a lot of the sushi market. There are sustainably farmed salmons that are organic and have no steroids or chemicals. There are "sustainable" options that may be doing more harm than good. We need to be more open to food sources and pay attention to the facts. Wild fish can be sustainable if monitored very closely and strictly with real penalties. Farmed fish can be economical and in-sync environmentally. We all love seafood and want to keep eating it as long as we can. Don't ruin it for us.
On another note, pay attention to tuna farms. We will probably write more about it in the future. There are facilities trying to hatch and grow tuna which has been very difficult. There are also trials of "green tuna" that are being fed soy and other vegetable sources to offset the cost of raising tuna and minimize the pressure on other fish used for feed.
Note:. The pic used is wild Madai (Tai). Ike Jime harvested from New Zealand's North Island port of Leigh. The fisherman that fish for Leefish have mastered the art of iki jime day boat fish that can be used for sushi. In 99% of Canadian sushi restaurants you'll find the farmed version of this fish farmed in Japan. Ask your server next time for wild and taste the difference, or better still get to hear the story behind the fish and who caught it.