Aquaculture: Causing Carbon Ripples

Aquaculture, or fish farming, has been moving in the right direction over the last couple of decades, as it tries to keep up with the demands of fish-crazed consumers. Unlike the commercialization of cattle, fish farms seem to have a much higher environmental consciousness. While many challenges still face the industry, most U.S. fish farms have shown a real commitment to sustainability.

When buying fish, the best thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is to buy organic, locally-grown, farm-raised fish. Farmed fish is often fresher than wild fish, which typically takes days to reach the dock and then get to market. The world’s natural fish populations have been over-fished for the last few decades, and many popular varieties, such as cod, are now on the brink of facing rapidly diminishing supplies. 

The recent Green Blizzard review of the iPhone app, Seafood Watch, will help you identify the types of fish to avoid and those to purchase from an environmental impact perspective. It will also give you new insights into the overfishing issue.

It’s a good idea to ask your fishmonger where the fish came from before buying it, as most sellers are more than willing to talk about it. As an added bonus, fishmongers are some of the most colorful and interesting people I’ve met, so a discussion with them will liven up your day as well. It’s also important to buy organic fish in order to avoid some of the chemicals used in fish farms. Less chemicals means a happier Mother Nature, better tasting fish and a healthier you.

Another tip for lowering your carbon footprint is to try and reduce your consumption of carnivorous fish, such as salmon. Salmon consume at least two to five pounds of other fish in order to create one pound of flesh. This is what environmentalists call a “net protein loss.” In the big picture, this means you are losing protein that the earth is producing when you eat too much salmon. Consider farm raised carp, catfish and tilapia because they are vegetarian and produce less waste.

When it comes to picking a fish farm, what’s most important is the way the fish are contained. Hard-wall pens and containment ponds are two of the best ways to raise fish because they prevent the waste and disease that the fish produce from reaching the ocean. In addition, recirculating systems are one of the best innovations that many fish farms use. Buying American is also another good guideline, since many seafood items are not as heavily regulated in foreign countries. For instance, Thailand has destroyed countless beaches and polluted the environment with its concentration of shrimp farms, so it’s important to look for trusted companies if you buy foreign fish products.

The Chinese have been fish farming for centuries, and they often locate fish ponds next to rice paddies. This helps to reduce waste that the environment has to absorb, as fish waste is reused as fertilizer. In addition, in an interesting spin on agriculture’s “crop-rotation” in which crops are rotated every few years in order to preserve the quality of the soil, fish farms are often combined with mussel farms. Mussels are a natural filter, so they help reduce the environmental impact of fish. The Chinese have been successfully illustrating ways in which fish farms can rotate and combine with other food production processes in order to help reduce the collective carbon footprint.

With your “green” fish purchases, you can truly help save our fish and protect the environment, while never having to give up that delicious fried catfish, fresh sushi or baked haddock with lemon sauce.

Sustainable Living writer John GarnettVisit the Green Blizzard Store and check out these other related Green Blizzard articles: Seafood Watch, Are We Eating Fish Into Extinction?Carbon Impact of Meats, Local Produce, Sun Tea, or Growing Basil.


About the author

John R. Garnet

John's work in the energy market fostered his interest in the environment. He recently completed his graduate work at George Mason University, But more interestingly, John has a passion for food and cooking and to provides some light-hearted tips to make people's lives greener while enjoy the good life with everyday practical tips from brewing tea, growing basil, or drinking raw milk.