Fish on a Farm: The Result of a Fish Farmer
While fishing concerns are prominent in the state of Alaska, aquaculture is a hot topic all across the world. With the dangers it causes and effects it has on both the environment and human health, it seems appropriate for such a topic to be frequently discussed. Both positive and negative outcomes are deliberated, but fish farming continues to take place. Although many nations rely on aquaculture as a source of food production, the fish farming industry is a continuous threat because of the pollution it creates in inland and coastal waters, the negative impact the farming has on natural fish stocks, and the health hazards it creates for humans.
One of the harshest effects from fish farming lie directly in the waters fish call home. Through many actions, inland and coastal waters are polluted to the point that fish are continuously breathing in unhealthy and risky water. The overfeeding of fish can cause threatening changes in the water including benthic community structure. The increase of mineral and organic nutrients, a process known as eutrophication, has also been shown to harm fish culture. The fight to control the pollution of inland and coastal waters continues, but with much struggle to protect these fish.
Farmed fish are constantly being overfed which unfortunately results in much of the food going uneaten. As food is added to the surface of the water, fish begin to consume it as the food makes its way down through the channels of water. Because of the limited tight space the grown fish have to move, it becomes a struggle to eat enough of the food before it reaches the bottom. Seeing this, fish farmers overfeed them in order to ensure the fish are eating enough. After the fish have eaten what they can, the excess food continues to the seafloor. It is here that organisms, known as benthos, decompose the remaining food. Craig Emerson, Supervising Editor of Aquatic Sciences ASFA, Oceanic (1999) notes that this change of the natural food web structure can greatly impact the environment of fish.
Hand in hand with overfeeding, a process known as eutrophication endangers farmed fish and its waters. Eutrophication is the increase of phytoplankton in a body of water, which in this case, is the water in which farmed fish are living. Nutrient levels are raised when excess food and fish fecal matter combine. As a result, a suitable environment for algal blooms is created. As more excess food and fish excretion is produced, more algal blooms form, further harming the fish environment. As algal blooms die, they settle to the seafloor and deplete oxygen as they are decomposed. In addition, toxins are likely to be emitted into the waters before death; these toxins are deadly to fish.
As overfeeding and eutrophication continues to play a role in fish farming, pollution control strives to do its part, as well. Because inland and coastal waters are so diverse, separate measures must be taken. Inland waters are easy to control because of the outflow management. Waste treatment systems are more convenient to set up in order to reduce the fish waste found in the water. Coastal waters have a different way of controlling its pollution. Sea cucumbers can be used to feed on the organisms causing the pollution. Various plants and water creatures can spread other nutrients, as well. Another effective way of reducing water pollution is by reconstructing the feeding systems for fish. Emerson (1999) mentioned, “feed pellets are designed to stay longer in the water column,” which slows them down from reaching the bottom before fish are able to eat them. While pollution is impossible to avoid entirely, these small steps can become huge in controlling the amount of pollution farmed fish are exposed to.
While inland and coastal waters remain a threat to farmed fish, these fish are endangering the natural fish stocks, as well. Through farmed fish, parasites and disease are becoming a larger risk to natural fish culture for various reasons. Sea lice are a dominant threat to both farmed fish and natural stocks due to the overcrowding within farms. Furthermore, farmed fish feed is jeopardizing the lives of natural fish stocks by taking natural fish out of waters in order to provide for the farms. All in all, both fish stocks are suffering primarily from the farms themselves.
Farmed fish are being infected with parasites and disease left and right. After taking a look at all they are exposed to, it only makes sense. Sea lice have been found in most fish farms and are not specific to salmon farms; however, The Pure Salmon Campaign (2010) claims that they are the most infectious parasite found in salmon farms. Sea lice attach themselves onto fish and feed on their flesh. They weaken the fish, making the fish unable to balance their salt-to-water ratio. Unfortunately, sea lice are the cause of death for most farmed fish. Likewise, this harmful parasite attacks natural fish, as well. Because fish farms are located near natural fish routes, sea lice are easily able to escape the farm and attach themselves to small juvenile fish that have yet to develop scales to protect them. They are then the cause of sea lice transportation into natural waters and are easily killed. Studies continue as researchers find the various types of sea lice found in farmed fish. In a 2007 article, authors Saksida, Constantine, Karreman, and Donald write about a study taken place from 2003 to 2005 where two types of sea lice were found: Lepeophtheirus salmonis and Caligus clemensi. These reports continue to concern researchers in finding ways to cure this problem.
In addition to sea lice, farmed fish are also the result of other diseases spread to natural fish stocks. The most prominent cause of these diseases is the overcrowding taking place in farms. Thousands of fish are trapped in small areas to grow and live for years. As the fish grow larger, the space for them to swim and survive becomes tighter. Their individual space is limited, causing stress and aggression in the fish. Compassion in World Farming (2011) states that, “overcrowded fish are more susceptible to disease […] and physical injuries such as fin damage.” Their bodies rub against each other as they struggle to move and weakness arises which creates opportunity for disease to step in. Grescoe (2009) writes in his periodical about a salmon anemia outbreak in Chilean fish farms caused by overcrowding. In addition, reducing the quality of the water decreases their oxygen and the fish begin to fight for survival. Unfortunately, this problem is happening in fish farms throughout the world.
Despite sea lice, this is not the only issue natural fish stocks face. Unfortunately, natural fish are easily snatched from their waters and become feed for the farms. Emerson (1999) explains, “fish meal and fish oils from natural stocks are the primary components of artificial compounded feed.” Unfortunately, this means that natural fish are being pulled from their waters to feed hungry farmed fish. Commercial fishermen catch thousands of unwanted fish in their nets called bycatch. Bycatch has become a large controversy among sport fishermen as they argue what is done with these extra fish. They are unable to be returned to their waters so a decision must be made. Fish meal for fish farms comes from bycatch, meaning that farmed fish consume their own kind. It has been found that a fish will ingest between 5 and 10 kilograms of the same type of fish (as cited in Sabaut, 2002). In the end, this results in a loss of protein, unhealthy to consumers. The fight for artificial feed continues as natural fish struggle to remain in its waters.
Farmed fish are endangering themselves, as well as natural fish stocks. Nevertheless, the main concern is the danger to its consumers: the human race. In the lifespan of one farmed fish, it is exposed to many deadly toxins, chemicals, parasites, and diseases. Consumers remain concerned as to what these effects may have on them. Some studies claim that farmed fish cause cancer while others promote antibiotics and vaccines. When it all boils down to it, consumers are scared of the health hazards farmed fish may present.
As mentioned earlier, many toxins and chemicals are pumped into farmed fish. Color-enhancing chemicals are only one of the many chemicals farmed fish ingest. These chemicals are packed within the feed pellets provided to the fish in order to boost their coloring, making them more appealing to buy when put in the market. Due to disease and weakness caused by the farming, fish would look grey and unpleasant to the eye if not for these chemicals. In a way, these chemicals are used to hide the evidence of the actual health in farmed fish. In addition to color-enhancing chemicals, antibiotics surround farmed fish. Like those chemicals, antibiotics can also be found in feed pellets, used to control the spread of parasites and diseases. Sadly, this does not always work. The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform claimed, “escaped fish caught in a Broughton Archipelago stream carried bacteria known to cause a range of human maladies that were resistant to 10 different antibiotics” (as cited in Georgia, 2011). Because these fish are resistant to antibiotics, they continue to carry disease and parasite outside the farm and onto the plate of its consumer.
The effects of chemicals and antibiotics injected into farmed fish have claimed to be harmful to the human race. The Georgia Strait Alliance (2011) discusses the threat of PCBs being “cancer-causing chemicals.” In addition, higher levels of soy in feed pellets for farmed fish have been reported dangerous, a cause of heart disease in humans. Antibiotics in fish have shown negative effects, as well. While fish may be resistant to these antibiotics, humans have also been seen to resist antibiotics. Sorum observed furunculosis, or boils, in a 1999 study and reported, “36% of furunculosis bacteria were resistant against one or more antibiotics” (as cited in Bellona, 2009). Bellona (2009) states that this turn off to antibiotics will grow to “create new problems for human health.”
Fish farming will never come to complete halt; many rely on it for their source of fish. On the downside, fish farming will continue to harm the environment and the people living within it. Its pollution of inland and coastal waters caused by overfeeding and eutrophication, its impact on the natural fish stocks through parasites and fish meal, and the health hazards it creates for humans such as diseases and antibiotic resistance are only a few of the dangers it can generate. It is important that people recognize these threats and do all they can to decrease the risk that is upon them. Fish farming is a growing industry and people need to be warned.
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