Aquaculture for all

FAO pressured to remove "sustainable" label from farmed salmon and sea bream

Salmonids Sea bass Sea bream +5 more

Over 160 groups have signed a letter to Dr Manuel Barange, head of fisheries at the FAO, to request that the farming of carnivorous fish – such as salmon, sea bream and sea bass – be excluded from its definition of “sustainable aquaculture”.

A shoal of fish pictured under the water in a fish pen.
Sea bream are widely farmed in the Mediterranean

Environmentalists argue that farming fish that eat feeds containing other fish is not sustainable

The letter was organised by the Rauch Foundation and Eva Douzinas, its president, comments: “We live on a beautiful, blue planet and we want to celebrate life on World Ocean Day [8 June]. Instead, we are witnessing destruction of sea meadows, ecosystems, local fisheries, and livelihoods from the world’s fastest growing food industry. There is a dire need to differentiate what is sustainable aquaculture, like seaweed or small scale bivalve farming, versus what is destructive. Fish farming of carnivorous species such as salmon, sea bream and sea bass (branzino) is proven to be wholly unsustainable. It is an industry that depletes the world’s wild fish stocks and destroys marine ecosystems, not sustains them.”

Despite escalating concerns, the signatories to the letter observe that FAO is aiming for 75 percent growth in global sustainable aquaculture by 2040 compared to 2020. Equally, they point out that the EU has given €1.2 billion to aquaculture since 2014, “allowing for the majority of the funds to go to growing destructive marine-based open net carnivorous fish farms, such as those in Spain, Italy and Greece”.

Catalina Cendoya, director at Global Salmon Farming Resistance, based in Argentina, and co-organiser of the letter to the FAO, adds: “Industrial fish farms are highly polluting due to the vast quantities of faeces and waste generated, which create dead zones around the nets. The layers of slime below the pens can be 2m deep. Regulation has not kept up with aquaculture’s gold rush on industrial fish farming. The FAO must stop labelling this destructive activity as ‘sustainable’.”

The signatories of the letter are determined to press the FAO to explain how they can consider carnivorous fish farms as sustainable, citing their belief that the industry accounts for a growing percentage of global antibiotic use and uses chemicals to control disease and parasites.

They also note that carnivorous fish farming consumes more wild fish than is produced, leading to “an unethical transfer of nutrients from the Global South, where small fish are converted into fish feed for carnivorous fish eaten in industrialised nations”

Other causes of complaint include the eutrophication of waters near farms, due to excess nutrient compounds from fish faeces and waste food, the escape of farmed fish and damage to benthic habitats such as Posidonia meadows, which are 35 percent more efficient than rainforests at removing carbon from the atmosphere.

“Let’s make 2024 the year that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the European Union step in to ensure that future generations can enjoy the beauty and richness of our ocean! We urge people everywhere to get informed, sign the petition to keep ‘Fish Farms Out!’, and stop buying farmed fish,” concludes Cendoya.

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