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October 17, 2017  |  Login
Buying Fish: The Issues Surrounding Farm-Based and Wild Fish
By Yvonne Jeffery, Liz Barclay & Michael Grosvenor
 

Buying fish brings with it a whole range of ethical issues. The world's fish stocks are dwindling, which means that fishermen have to go farther afield into deeper waters to bring home their catch. Fishing in deeper waters means greater use of dragnets that catch endangered species as well as fish for the stores. Fish are taken from the sea younger, further depleting stocks because fewer breeding fish are in the sea. Only 3 percent of the world's fish stocks are underexploited. At the same time, demand for fish is growing, doubling in the last 30 years alone.

One answer to the decrease in fish stocks has been to farm fish such as salmon. Intensive farming methods have resulted in the same sorts of problems faced in livestock farming, however. The use of chemicals, antibiotics, and disinfectants to protect the farmed fish from disease has led to worries about toxins and cancer-causing chemicals in the fish you eat, and there are concerns about escaping fish carrying contamination into wild fish stocks. All this comes at a time when nutritionists advise eating more cold-water fish species for the benefits of the heart-protecting omega-3 oils that they contain.

Various national and international quotas are in place that set the amount of fish that each country can take from the various fishing grounds. These restrictions have done a lot to conserve fish stocks, but some fishermen cross into non-quota-controlled waters in order to meet demand, and many conservationists are concerned that current quotas aren't low enough.

When you go shopping for fish, you need to think about:

  • Whether the fish you're buying is from sustainable stock: Sustainable stock means that the fish are replacing themselves at the same rate as they're being fished. Cod, for example, used to live up to 40 years and grow up to 6 feet long, but now the stocks are so depleted that most of the fish caught are less than 2 years old and haven't bred replacement fish. People usually are advised not to buy cod in order to allow stocks to build up again.

  • What the fish's body may contain: There's a major concern that many fish - including swordfish and Chilean sea bass - contain higher than healthy doses of substances such as mercury.

  • Whether the fish is farmed or wild: Buying wild fish may contribute to overfishing, but the fish may be a healthier option than farmed. If you choose to buy farmed varieties, opt for farms that use sustainable practices. Wild Alaskan salmon usually are considered healthy and sustainably caught.

  • How the fish was caught: Catching fish by line doesn't cause further damage to the marine environment, but net fishing can do a huge amount of environmental damage. For example, fishing for Yellowfin tuna with purse seine nets in the Eastern Tropical Pacific kills hundreds of thousands of dolphins. Fishing for shrimp and other bottom dwellers often is done using drag nets that destroy the ecosystem of the sea floor being fished.

Buy fish from a store where the staff members know how and where the fish were caught, where any farmed fish come from, and how they were farmed. Check out the fish facts from the Marine Conservation Society Web site at www.fishonline.org or from the Marine Stewardship Council Web site at www.msc.org. Also keep on top of changing information about species that are threatened or potentially contaminated: Check Seafood Watch at www.seafoodwatch.org for the latest news.

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