Posted tagged ‘End of the Line’

Aquaculture 2013: “Strike a Chord for Sustainable Aquaculture”

February 22, 2013

Amid the small talk at last night’s cocktail reception, I was asked, “How is it that you came to aquaculture through your interest in marine conservation when so many environmentalists are hostile to aquaculture?”

The full answer would require more than a single blog post, but the short version is, “I came to it naive, without knowing what, as an environmentalist, I was ‘supposed to know’.” As I’ve written elsewhere, when I started down this path several years ago I thought a fistfight might break out during the Q&A following an advance screening of the film “The End of the Line” when an audience member suggested that the film gave short shrift to aquaculture as part of the solution to the problem of global overfishing.

A couple of years later, I was pleasantly surprised during a screening of “Sushi: The Global Catch” to see aquaculture prominently featured as a beneficial component of any strategy to reduce the impact of sushi’s global popularity on bluefin tuna stocks.

Aquaculture 2013’s theme is “Strike a Chord for Sustainable Aquaculture.” Today’s keynote address by climate change expert Dr. Edward Allison of the University of East Anglia and the WorldFish Center (titled: “Aquaculture in a Changing Climate”) presented a much more nuanced picture both of the climate change debate and of the environmental friendliness of aquaculture than we are used to seeing from professional environmentalists. While he didn’t equivocate over whether climate change and sea level rise are real and have their roots in human behavior, he acknowledged repeatedly that the issues are complex, impacts are hard to predict, and “there will be winners and losers.”

“Aquaculture is a small contributor to global warming,” Dr. Allison said, adding that the biggest contributing factor is feed (the capture and processing of fish for fishmeal). So, the biggest factor in a small contribution to global warming is feed production – an impact that is completely addressable through existing and yet-to-be-developed means. When compared with other, more energy-intensive forms of livestock with much higher feed-conversion ratios, aquaculture starts to look awfully good.

Sushi: The Global Catch

August 2, 2012

I received my introduction to the knee-jerk hostility that many in the marine conservation world display toward aquaculture about three years ago, in the Q&A session following a private screening of the film version of The End of the Line, Charles Clover’s book on overfishing. A young lady near the back of the auditorium asked why the film gave little to no attention to aquaculture as part of the solution to the problem of global overfishing and, from the response of the producers and many in the audience, I fully expected a fistfight to break out over the issue.

The world’s love affair with sushi has driven the bluefin tuna to the brink of extinction.

So, imagine my pleasant shock this week, when attending a similar sneak preview of Sushi: The Global Catch — indie filmmaker Mark Hall’s documentary on the history of sushi and its impact on marine health — to find a film that not only acknowledges but embraces aquaculture!

The film very effectively tells the story of how sushi went from being an esoteric delicacy to a global food staple over a few decades.  It does a great job of describing the rise of the industry without demonizing the product’s producers or consumers and is full of interesting observations, such as the role of Japan Airlines in driving the growth of sushi in the 1970s as a means of putting something — anything — in its cargo planes when they were returning from delivering Japanese-made goods to North America and Europe. This economic need on the part of the airline, combined with the rise of improved refrigeration methods, played a key role in the global trade in bluefin tuna and other species.

Sushi: The Global Catch describes the problem of tuna overfishing and provides a balanced account of the tension between market dynamics and ocean health in the context of a growing and increasingly affluent global population. It spends a great deal of time (almost too much, I would argue) exploring the dubious promise of bluefin farming. I would like to have seen more attention paid to other species, such as cobia and barramundi, that are being responsibly farmed in open-ocean and in enclosed recirculating aquaculture systems and to the positive, restorative impacts that can be derived from shellfish farming.  Noticeably lacking was any discussion of shrimp, one of the top three (along with tuna and salmon) popular seafood options and, when fished or farmed irresponsibly, one of the most destructive of marine environments.

But these are nitpicks. The fact that this film could be financed and produced at all is a sign to me that the cause of seafood sustainability is, albeit slowly, gaining traction in popular culture and that “aquaculture” need not be a dirty word in the discussion. I strongly recommend seeing Sushi: The Global Catch, which opens in theaters tomorrow (Aug. 3) in four cities (in New York City, the Quad Cinema) and, if you’re not near one of those locations, hosting a screening.

Why Am I Doing This?

October 16, 2011

The following post is an excerpt of one that appeared a year ago in the feeble first iteration of this blog, created on Tumblr.  Over the ensuing year, I’ve created and moderated the Aquaculture Means Business group on LinkedIn, where I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a lot of people who know an awful lot more about the business of aquaculture than I do or probably ever will.  I now feel better prepared to begin delivering on my goal of bringing together people, ideas and resources in support of  a sustainable, profitable global aquaculture industry.

With that disclosure behind me, here I go again.  Wish me luck!

Why Am I Doing This?

Answering this question is as good a place to start as any.

I love the ocean, always have. In particular, I love to eat things that come out of the ocean. Several years ago, when my doctor told me I should eat more fish to help my “good cholesterol”, I thought, “Hot damn! Medical advice I may actually follow!”

I’d long known the world’s oceans were being abused, but it was only in recent years that I began to understand the extent of the problem and its interconnected causes.  What pushed me over the edge was the book Bottom Feeder by Taras Grescoe. Like most people, I was aware of the mercury issue (though part of me thought, “Wasn’t that in the ’70s? No one talks about it anymore – probably was just one of those overblown health scares that crop up from time to time!”); I knew plastics in the ocean were a problem, but I kind of vaguely thought it was just the occasional seabird or turtle getting snagged in a plastic six-pack holder (sad, but hardly something to get all activist about); and aquaculture — well, I thought farming fish was just a really cool idea, but why would anyone buy farmed fish when the ocean was just teeming with them?

Then I picked up Bottom Feeder. I won’t go into detail here, but let’s just say I promptly gave up shrimp, salmon, and tuna. As I read more on the subject — especially The End of the Line by Charles Clover — I began to wonder if I could ever eat seafood in good conscience again. And the more I learned about the global food industry, the more I wondered whether I could ever eat ANYTHING again.

It took a series of conversations with people like Casson Trenor, of Sustainable Sushi fame, and chef and sustainability activist Barton Seaver, and others, to persuade me that, yes, it is possible to enjoy seafood in ways that make you part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. But it is not easy. I filled my pockets with Seafood Watch cards that I passed out with cult-like zeal to friends, family members, and strangers. I began researching concepts for ocean-friendly businesses.

Aquaculture, I came to believe, has to be part of the solution — however, I quickly learned that my view was not shared by some of my environmentalist friends. At a premiere of the film version of The End of the Line I thought a fistfight was going to break out when one of the viewers suggested during a post-viewing Q&A that the film had given fish farming short shrift.  To be sure, there are major issues concerning feed and waste — some of the same issues that turned me off of shrimp and salmon after reading Bottom Feeder — but I do believe these are issues that can be addressed.

Many of the environmental problems we face were created by business, and I have always believed business must play a role in solving them. Activist passion and the profit motive have to learn to become allies, rather than adversaries. Those of us who care about the oceans have to put our money where our mouths are. Consumers have to learn to make food-buying decisions based on more than price and to hold businesses accountable for the social and environmental impacts of their practices. Businesses have to do more than use words like “green” or “sustainable” in their marketing materials.

More to the point, though, business must return to its roots of satisfying existing needs, rather than artificially creating new ones.

That, in part, is why I’m doing this.



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