a fish story
Here’s a story I wanted to share earlier that slipped my mind.
When I was in Ucluelet, I was chatting with one of the roommates of the person we stayed with, and found out that he works at a salmon farm. I told him (truthfully) that I had never visited a fish farm, and did he enjoy working there? The response I got was interesting and insightful. The company in question is one that’s striving to create a better living environment for the fish it farms; it uses an offshore, in-ocean pen (cage) system and doesn’t crowd so many fishes into each pen as some other farm do. The worker was pleased to know this, and also proud that the company avoided using antibiotics sub-therapeutically* (something that’s done to many different “food” animals who are raised in conventional systems.) (*This means feeding antibiotics frequently/routinely to animals who are not yet sick.)
Some things this person is unhappy with included observing the parasite load of the fishes in the pens and thinking about what impact that might have on the surrounding ocean ecosystem. He also felt conflicted over the way the fish were fed; their main source of food at the farm was herring (salmon are a carnivorous fish). He explained to me that he felt proud to work for a company that was trying to improve fish farm standards, but that this fact means the price of the salmon is high and thus only available to high-paying customers. Basically, the rich get to eat the salmon, the salmon eat herring (which could be feeding more people), and the area around the fish farm was potentially being affected by its presence in a negative way.
This conversation was so interesting to me. The part about feeding herring to the salmon really illustrates the steps required to produce animal-sourced foods. In this case, it took at least 3 steps to get to the salmon itself: growing feed for the herring, then growing, killing and processing the herring and shipping it as feed to salmon farms, and then feeding it to the salmon. It doesn’t seem very efficient (although the salmon are probably better off eating something like this that’s close to their natural diet.) Another thing I noticed being on the west coast is how aware people are of declining wild fish populations; at home we consume as we please, and some folks try to stay up-to-date on fish populations before deciding who to eat, but not once did I hear anyone out here say anything about wild fish populations that are stable or flourishing. Everyone who mentioned it painted a pretty grim picture.
The point the farm worker made about feeding a few rich folks vs. feeding a larger number of people in general was a good one. The same argument can be applied to land animals – as was mentioned in my last post, it takes a massive amount of plant foods, water, and land to farm animals for human consumption. And meat can be quite expensive – as this website states, it’s produced “for people who can afford it most…animal-based foods are a form of overconsumption and redistribution that reduces the amount of available food and increases the price of basic food staples. In short, those with financial resources outbid the poor and increase hunger.” Think about what the world would be like if we took those resources currently used to grow luxury foods like meat, and diverted them to where they were really needed – no one in the world would be dying of thirst or hunger! Amazing. (That is, if all people were given access to food and water regardless of whether they could pay for it.) The world’s hunger problem is not just caused by a food deficiency; it’s caused by a food distribution system that’s based on profit. (I realize that distributing food worldwide has its own problems too, like transportation as a pollutant, but one has to prioritize – and remember that the “livestock” industry itself is way up there on the list of global warming culprits, in some cases above the world’s transportation-based pollution). The site I linked to above, A Well-Fed World, has some excellent points about global food scarcity and distribution, classism in the world’s food system, etc. so if you’re into this stuff, I recommend taking a look!
I also asked the farm worker about potential escapees from the salmon farm, and what that might mean for the ocean ecosystem. Obviously the parasite/disease potential was a concern, but what about a non-native species establishing a wild population? (The salmon on the farm in question are Atlantic salmon, even though they are being raised in the Pacific ocean, which apparently is common). His answer was that Atlantic salmon are slower than many other salmon species, and he assumed any escapees (which he told me are numerous) would be eaten by larger predators before a stable wild population could be established. According to this article, escaped Atlantic salmon have been found in BC waters (ocean and rivers), but it’s unknown whether a breeding population has developed, or if the fishes discovered are just new escapees each year.
I’m happy to have conversations like the one with the salmon farm worker. Sometimes they come up on their own, and sometimes as a result of someone discovering my veganism, but in any case these conversations are consistently enlightening and encouraging to me.
Anyway, just for good measure, here’s a nice (non-farm-related) picture of Kokanee Lake, where I went hiking last weekend.
Posted on August 18, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged farmed fish, farmed salmon, fish farming, food insecurity, food security, global food system, global hunger, hunger, salmon, sustainable farms, vegan. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.