Congratulations to Jonathan Safran Foer for his article in The Guardian newspaper today exploring fish farming and the serious issues that it raises.
The welfare of farmed fish has long been an interest of mine. In fact, it was the subject of my first ever published report here at Compassion way back in 1992. I remember it provoked quite a reaction from the salmon farming industry at the time and, I’d like to think, raised the profile of this little known area of factory farming. Because that’s what it is; tens of thousands of fish often crammed at high stocking densities into barren cages or pens.
Jonathan’s article makes the link between factory farming on land and the intensive rearing of water-borne animals:
“Factory-farmed chickens, turkeys and cattle all suffer in fundamentally similar ways. So, it turns out, do fish. We tend not to think of fish and land animals in the same way, but “aquaculture” – the intensive rearing of sea animals in confinement – is essentially under-water factory farming.”
Jonathan expands on some of the welfare problems evident in intensive salmon farming:
“The Handbook of Salmon Farming, an industry how-to book, details six “key stressors in the aquaculture environment”: “water quality”, “crowding”, “handling”, “disturbance”, “nutrition” and “hierarchy”. To translate into plain language, those six sources of suffering for salmon are: water so fouled that it makes it hard to breathe; crowding so intense that animals begin to cannibalise one another; handling so invasive that physiological measures of stress are evident a day later; disturbance by farmworkers and wild animals; nutritional deficiencies that weaken the immune system; and the inability to form a stable social hierarchy, resulting in more cannibalisation. These problems are typical. The handbook calls them “integral components of fish farming”.”
Fish farming is growing rapidly worldwide. Some see it as a way of taking the pressure off wild stocks of fish by providing an alternative. However, the reverse is true. When farming carnivorous species, such as salmon and trout, it actually adds to pressure on wild fish populations. This is because it takes over three tonnes of wild-caught fish to produce one tonne of farmed salmon, for example. As with other farm animal species, farmed salmon and trout do not produce protein – they waste it. Simply put, feeding wild fish to farmed fish puts wild fisheries under pressure.
You can find out more about the welfare and environmental issues raised by fish farming on our website including our latest in-depth report by Peter Stevenson and advice to consumers on higher welfare alternatives.