Advocacy Group Releases Report; Factory Fish Farms Cause Documented Job Loss, Environmental Damage
Brussels, Belgium – On Thursday, a week before the European Parliament is set to debate a new report that will lay the foundation for a European-wide policy for sustainable aquaculture, Food & Water Europe released a report detailing the damage caused by a particularly controversial type of aquaculture supported by the agency. Known as open ocean aquaculture (or factory fish farming), the practice consists of the mass-production of fish using floating cages or net pens in open waters.
The report, Fishy Formula: Why the European Strategy Doesn’t Add up to Sustainable Aquaculture, is a harsh indictment of open ocean aquaculture (OOA); a practice that has caused documented economic damage and job loss in local communities where it has been implemented.
Employment in the farmed salmon sector in Scotland (a hotbed region for open ocean aquaculture) for example, fell 28 percent from 1998 to 2008, despite a 16 percent increase in production. According to the report, an additional five thousand sport angling and tourist related jobs were lost due to the expansion OOA.
“Factory fish farms promise much more than they deliver,” said Gabriella Zanzanaini, Director of European Affairs for Food & Water Europe. “In this economy, the last thing we need is more job loss. The European Parliament must recognize that these massive, industrial operations could devastate Europe’s economic and environmental health for years to come.”
The European aquaculture industry spans a variety of forms, including both OOA and land-based re-circulating operations that recycle the water initially put into the system. Ownership of these systems ranges from small-scale businesses in rural areas to massive publicly traded international corporations.
Nearly three-fourths of the EU’s total aquaculture production – namely farmed salmon, trout, seabass and seabream – originates from the more unsustainable, often corporate-owned OOA systems. According to the report, this figure has quadrupled since 1990 and risen 15-fold since 1985.
The report links the rise in OOA to a rise in local economic damage, citing communities that have experienced the loss of thousands of jobs as OOA operations have polluted coastal waters, undergone numerous corporate mergers, and replaced employees with new technology.
According to the report, OOA operations have polluted waters with disease, filth and (sometimes unapproved) chemicals/antibiotics that can leak from the cages.
A 2000 study revealed that Scotland’s 350 marine salmon farms, for example, produce more sewage waste (in the form of nitrogen and phosphorous) than the country’s entire human population.
Outside the European Union, nearby Norway has suffered similar damage. In 2009, Norway’s Pollution Control Authority called OOA operations “the largest source of anthropogenic emissions of nutrients” in Norway’s coastal areas. According to the agency, a mid-sized farm producing 3,120 metric tons of salmon each year is equivalent to a sewage spill from a city of approximately 50 thousand inhabitants.
“There are different types of aquaculture and factory fish farms are the least sustainable,” said Eve Mitchell, Food Policy Program Manager with Food & Water Europe. “We’re alarmed that the European Parliament is promoting open ocean aquaculture as a viable sustainable enterprise.”
Pollution is not the only threat introduced by OOA. Fish escapes, which can jeopardize wild fish due to competition for resources, introduction of disease, and interbreeding, have been reported in fish farms in Europe and around the world.
Last year in Argyll, Scotland, one hole in a net led to the escape of 60 thousand salmon. In 2008, Scotland’s salmon industry was threatened with outbreaks of infectious salmon anaemia – a deadly virus that can spread to wild populations and has crippled salmon industries elsewhere.
Chile, the world’s second-largest exporter of salmon and trout, saw its salmon exports reach a record high in 2008 before the virus spread quickly through the country’s crowded fish farms. The resulting devastation has led to the loss of at least 20 thousand jobs and a 40 percent drop in Chile’s 2010 salmon exports.
Contact: Gabriella Zanzanaini, Food and Water Europe: +32488409662, gzanzanaini(at)fweurope(dot)org.
Link to reports:
Food & Water Europe is the European program of Food & Water Watch.