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Co-authored with John Volpe, University of Victoria, Canada

The quick guide to Aquaculture by Lucas [1] recently published in the international journal Current Biology provides a decidedly positive and one-sided view where the myriad of negative impacts associated with the industry are ignored. Introduction of exotic species or genotypes [2-9], amplification and transmission of diseases [10-13] and parasites [14-18]. Indeed the very nature of industrial-scale aquaculture serves to not only accelerate and intensify these impacts [19] but generates whole new problems when mitigation is attempted [20, 21]. For instance the drug teflbenzuron targets sea lice, a crustacean farm pest, but teflbenzuron is an indiscriminate killer of all crustaceans, equally effective against crab and lobster too. Teflbenzuron levels in the few surviving crustaceans around salmon cages are high enough to trigger human health concerns [22]. The benthic environments around net pens are typically anoxic reflecting the vast biological load of faeces and uneaten feed from farms leading to bioaccumulation of mercury in few wild species left to feed on the deposits [23].

The commodification of farmed seafood products like salmon and shrimp have created a race to the bottom among producers. Those generating the most product for the least investment gain the market advantage in the modern aquaculture world where consumers base purchasing decisions on price alone. Therefore maximizing economies of scale and offloading costs are fundamental to remaining competitive. Thus, overlooked corollary is that environmental issues such as those above in addition to carcinogenic product [24-26], predator control, feed sustainability, and ecosystem alteration among others are the physical manifestation of “cheap” seafood – the magnitude of these issues being directly related to the scale of ever increasing production [27, 28]. Consider the proposed Marine Harvest farm that was being considered for Galway Bay (Ireland) with a capacity of 15 000 tonnes (~3 million 4-5 kg fish). The native Galway Bay salmon number in the 10s of thousands. A single significant escape event, which is all but guaranteed [29], could eliminate this native population both demographically and genetically. All this appears to matter little, as industrial aquaculture is so prosperous that it now buys the support of former critics like the WWF [30].

As demonstrably poor as the international salmon farming industry is, its environmental performance is superior to all other major marine finfish aquaculture products globally [27]. In other words, as bad as it is, it’s as good as it gets. As we turn from fish to tropical shrimp farms the story becomes even darker. Irresponsible development in mangrove areas have eradicated large areas of irreplaceable coastal ecosystems which act as repositories for biodiversity, resources for local indigenous populations, natural coastal defences and sovereignty of local populations [31, 32]. Absence of regulatory oversight dramatically threatens both ecological viability [33] and human health [34, 35].

The underlying business model of all industrial scale fish and crustacean aquaculture is to convert inexpensive inputs to higher value outputs. This means converting vast quantities of edible but low value fish such as sardines, and anchovies into much reduced volumes of salmon, shrimp, grouper and sea bass etc. – a net global loss of edible protein but big profits for producers. Profits peak when regulations (or lack thereof) facilitate maximum consumption of “natural subsidies” such as permitting factory farm waste products to be “washed away” by tides free of charge, penalty-free escape events and transmission of pathogens to wild fauna or wholesale conversion of biophysical parameters in and around the production zone. We contend that such farms should pay the state fair market value for the natural capital their operations consume. The alternative is to internalize these costs through transition to self-contained recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) that can be placed anywhere on land greatly reducing the impact on the environment[36].

Magnus Johnson is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Marine Biology based at the University of Hull.  His views presented here are his own, not his employers.

One slide/phrase from the Slow Fish Manifesto presented at UNESCO in Bergen

1. Lucas, J. (2015). Aquaculture. Current biology : CB 25, R1064-1065.
2. Volpe, J.P., Taylor, E.B., Rimmer, D.W., and Glickman, B.W. (2000). Evidence of natural reproduction of aquaculture-escaped Atlantic salmon in a coastal British Columbia river. Conservation Biology 14, 899-903.
3. Naylor, R., Hindar, K., Fleming, I.A., Goldburg, R., Williams, S., Volpe, J., Whoriskey, F., Eagle, J., Kelso, D., and Mangel, M. (2005). Fugitive salmon: Assessing the risks of escaped fish from net-pen aquaculture. Bioscience 55, 427-437.
4. WWF (2005). On the run- Escaped farmed fish in Norwegian waters. 44.
5. Fisher, A.C., Volpe, J.P., and Fisher, J.T. (2014). Occupancy dynamics of escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in Canadian Pacific coastal salmon streams: implications for sustained invasions. Biological Invasions 16, 2137-2146.
6. Sepulveda, M., Arismendi, I., Soto, D., Jara, F., and Farias, F. (2013). Escaped farmed salmon and trout in Chile: incidence, impacts, and the need for an ecosystem view. Aquaculture Environment Interactions 4, 273-283.
7. McKindsey, C.W., Landry, T., O’Beirn, F.X., and Davies, I.N. (2007). Bivalve aquaculture and exotic species: A review of ecological considerations and management issues. Journal of Shellfish Research 26, 281-294.
8. Xiong, W., Sui, X.Y., Liang, S.H., and Chen, Y.F. (2015). Non-native freshwater fish species in China. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 25, 651-687.
9. van der Veer, G., and Nentwig, W. (2015). Environmental and economic impact assessment of alien and invasive fish species in Europe using the generic impact scoring system. Ecology of Freshwater Fish 24, 646-656.
10. Marshall, S.H., Ramirez, R., Labra, A., Carmona, M., and Munoz, C. (2014). Bona Fide Evidence for Natural Vertical Transmission of Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus in Freshwater Brood Stocks of Farmed Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) in Southern Chile. Journal of Virology 88, 6012-6018.
11. Peeler, E.J., Oidtmann, B.C., Midtlyng, P.J., Miossec, L., and Gozlan, R.E. (2011). Non-native aquatic animals introductions have driven disease emergence in Europe. Biological Invasions 13, 1291-1303.
12. Price, M.H.H., Morton, A., Eriksson, J.G., and Volpe, J.P. (2013). Fish Processing Facilities: New Challenge to Marine Biosecurity in Canada. J. Aquat. Anim. Health 25, 290-294.
13. Walker, P.J., and Winton, J.R. (2010). Emerging viral diseases of fish and shrimp. Veterinary Research 41, 24.
14. Krkosek, M., Lewis, M.A., and Volpe, J.P. (2005). Transmission dynamics of parasitic sea lice from farm to wild salmon. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 272, 689-696.
15. Krkosek, M., Gottesfeld, A., Proctor, B., Rolston, D., Carr-Harris, C., and Lewis, M.A. (2007). Effects of host migration, diversity and aquaculture on sea lice threats to Pacific salmon populations. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 274, 3141-3149.
16. Costello, M.J. (2009). The global economic cost of sea lice to the salmonid farming industry. Journal of Fish Diseases 32, 115-118.
17. Krkosek, M., Morton, A., Volpe, J.P., and Lewis, M.A. (2009). Sea lice and salmon population dynamics: effects of exposure time for migratory fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 276, 2819-2828.
18. Liu, Y.J., Sumaila, U.R., and Volpe, J.P. (2011). Potential ecological and economic impacts of sea lice from farmed salmon on wild salmon fisheries. Ecol Econ 70, 1746-1755.
19. Pulkkinen, K., Suomalainen, L.R., Read, A.F., Ebert, D., Rintamaki, P., and Valtonen, E.T. (2010). Intensive fish farming and the evolution of pathogen virulence: the case of columnaris disease in Finland. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 277, 593-600.
20. Burridge, L., Weis, J.S., Cabello, F., Pizarro, J., and Bostick, K. (2010). Chemical use in salmon aquaculture: A review of current practices and possible environmental effects. Aquaculture 306, 7-23.
21. Cabello, F.C. (2006). Heavy use of prophylactic antibiotics in aquaculture: a growing problem for human and animal health and for the environment. Environmental Microbiology 8, 1137-1144.
22. Samuelsen, O.B., Lunestad, B.T., Hannisdal, R., Bannister, R., Olsen, S., Tjensvoll, T., Farestveit, E., and Ervik, A. (2015). Distribution and persistence of the anti sea-lice drug teflubenzuron in wild fauna and sediments around a salmon farm, following a standard treatment. Science of the Total Environment 508, 115-121.
23. Kalantzi, I., Papageorgiou, N., Sevastou, K., Black, K.D., Pergantis, S.A., and Karakassis, I. (2014). Metals in benthic macrofauna and biogeochemical factors affecting their trophic transfer to wild fish around fish farm cages. Science of the Total Environment 470, 742-753.
24. Huang, X.Y., Hites, R.A., Foran, J.A., Hamilton, C., Knuth, B.A., Schwager, S.J., and Carpenter, D.O. (2006). Consumption advisories for salmon based on risk of cancer and noncancer health effects. Environmental Research 101, 263-274.
25. Foran, J.A., Carpenter, D.O., Hamilton, M.C., Knuth, B.A., and Schwager, S.J. (2005). Risk-based consumption advice for farmed Atlantic and wild Pacific salmon contaminated with dioxins and dioxin-like compounds. Environmental Health Perspectives 113, 552-556.
26. Hites, R.A., Foran, J.A., Carpenter, D.O., Hamilton, M.C., Knuth, B.A., and Schwager, S.J. (2004). Global assessment of organic contaminants in farmed salmon. Science 303, 226-229.
27. Volpe, J.P., Gee, J.L.M., Ethier, V.A., Beck, M., Wilson, A.J., and Stoner, J.M.S. (2013). Global Aquaculture Performance Index (GAPI): The First Global Environmental Assessment of Marine Fish Farming. Sustainability 5, 3976-3991.
28. Deutsch, L., Graslund, S., Folke, C., Troell, M., Huitric, M., Kautsky, N., and Lebel, L. (2007). Feeding aquaculture growth through globalization: Exploitation of marine ecosystems for fishmeal. Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions 17, 238-249.
29. FAO (1996). Precautionary Approach to Capture Fisheries and Species Introductions. 1-60.
30. Wilfried Huismann, D.O., Ellen Wagner (2014). Pandaleaks: The Dark Side of the WWF, (Breman, Germany: Nordbook UG).
31. Primavera, J.H. (2006). Overcoming the impacts of aquaculture on the coastal zone. Ocean & Coastal Management 49, 531-545.
32. Bournazel, J., Kumara, M.P., Jayatissa, L.P., Viergever, K., Morel, V., and Huxham, M. (2015). The impacts of shrimp farming on land-use and carbon storage around Puttalam lagoon, Sri Lanka. Ocean & Coastal Management 113, 18-28.
33. Paez-Osuna, F. (2001). The environmental impact of shrimp aquaculture: a global perspective. Environmental Pollution 112, 229-231.
34. Holmstrom, K., Graslund, S., Wahlstrom, A., Poungshompoo, S., Bengtsson, B.E., and Kautsky, N. (2003). Antibiotic use in shrimp farming and implications for environmental impacts and human health. International Journal of Food Science and Technology 38, 255-266.
35. Le, T.X., Munekage, Y., and Kato, S. (2005). Antibiotic resistance in bacteria from shrimp farming in mangrove areas. Science of the Total Environment 349, 95-105.
36. Tal, Y., Schreier, H.J., Sowers, K.R., Stubblefield, J.D., Place, A.R., and Zohar, Y. (2009). Environmentally sustainable land-based marine aquaculture. Aquaculture 286, 28-35.

The most abhorrent occupation in the world?

Imagine you have a business.

You’re not breaking any laws and its something your family have been doing for hundreds of years. Your whole community has been doing it and whole cultures, traditions, music, stories and clothes have evolve around it. Industries have thrived on your products. Your product is gluten free, contains no additives, has a low carbon cost, doesn’t involve ploughing and transforming the land and gives us beautiful food that kings and commoners alike adore.

Your industry is one where workers can do well just by dint of tenacity and hard work. The aristrocracy and powerbrokers don’t go near it. Your activity is the source of identity for coastal communities. At work you are free.

Now imagine, having been bombarded with insultingly simplistic hyperbole about the impacts of your industry, that the middle classes decide not to like you. They view your job as one for greedy, good for nothing skivers, folk that take something for nothing. These people are more articulate than you, better off, better connected, more numerous and have no economic link to your business. If you fail it has no impact on them. In fact, they earn more money the more despicable they can make you appear. Casting aspersions on your character and industry is a multi-million pound business. Not only that but their success in vilifying you makes them feel smug. These people make such a good job of making you look bad because that is what they are paid to do, they can afford good lawyers and bad politicians.

You, on the other hand, are paid to work. Not to wear a suit and sit in an office wearing a shirt and tie in meeting after meeting, discussing the nuances of situations over canapes.

You find yourself and your industry being eroded. Not by fact-based evidence but by the wild ramblings of people who are ideologically driven to persecute those that make a living from a common resource.

If this is you my friend, you are a fisherman. Be proud. Be strong. Be safe.

Dr Magnus Johnson is a lecturer in Environmental Marine Science at the Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences, University of Hull. His views are his own.

Fisherfolk: Conservation Refugees Reloaded

Fourteen Million indigenous people have been displaced on land by conservation activities. Indigenous peoples have lived on their lands for generations and their behaviour has generally been determined by norms rather than written laws and what they have to do to survive. Protected area managers are supported (generally) by western NGOs whos behaviour is determined by economics, written laws, idealism and superficial science. Often poverty is used as a lever to “improve” the lives of primitive peoples. Brockington points out:

“One problem facing antipoverty advocates is the way that poverty is quantified. Personal income is the benchmark. It seems impossible for economists to understand that people living in the complete absence of money can be far wealthier that their neighbours in close proximity who love at the edge of the local (and global) economy. Indigenous people earning zero dollars a day, but with balanced protein-rich diets, clean water, protection from the elements, traditional medicines and strong cultures should not be placed beneath or even on a par with people earning a few dollars a week from menial labour but who have short lifespans, bad health, undernourishment, no medicines and a brutish culture”

Indigenous peoples are generally regarded with distaste in their homelands. Consider for example how the average UK citizen views gypsies, how Indonesians view the Bajo, the mistreatment of the Inuit in North America and the shoddy treatment of Aboriginies by Australians. Much of this is likely to do with the chasm that there is between the way in which goods are valued. Indigenous peoples, often living in small groups, survive on reciprocity and social responsibility, a value system often oiled by their close family ties.

Conservationsists love the word SCIENCE. Brockington and Igoe point out that generally organisations claim this word when they are striving to acquire power and prestige and to suppress opposition. The public find it hard to question “scientific facts” and a variety of techniques are employed by conservation organisations – selective choice of facts to use, using irrelevant but impressive sounding facts and ignoring inconvenient truths.

Fishermen are a bit like indigenous folk. They live, quite literally, at the margins of society, they work irregular hours, have their own social codes, can occasionally be viewed as uncouth, do something most people don’t understand and they are viewed by many as taking something for nothing from a public resource. Most conservation organisations appear to find it convenient to ignore the fact that fisherfolk have been working the sea for hundreds or thousands of years (without adding tonnes of pesticide, fertilizer or resorting to GM crops). In passing you might like to watch a world renowned fisheries scientist (Ray Hilborn) comparing the ecological impacts of fishing v farming. The differences between them and a landowner are:

1) they don’t have a piece of paper that says they own anything,
2) their ancestors didn’t steal land from peasants by force,
3) they are not over-represented in the house of lords,
4) you can’t do a mickey mouse degree at Oxford or Cambridge in “Marine management” because your parents come from the right social class
5) when you retire you leave with a broken body and a boat that is worth less than when you started.

Fishing has been perhaps one on the last occupations where you can succeed purely by dint of hard work and tenacity.

Recently we have seen the high profile application of pseudo-science to the world of fisheries by a cook. Would you ask a fisherman how to chop vegetables? Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall is making enormous amounts of money out of his public haranguing of the fishing industry (Fishfight isn’t a charity by the way). With his initial campaign against discards I just felt a mild irritation that someone who chops vegetables and heats meat was able to get further than many many marine scientists who have wrestled with the problem of discards for years. More recently however he has jumped on the Marine “Conservation” Zone bandwagon. Something that rich propaganda organisations such as Conservation International and Greenpeace are only too happy to support. I recommend listening to Ray Hilborn for a bit of balance in the face of this well financed barrage of mis-information.

The fact that there is virtually no evidence to support the idea that MCZs work in temperate areas, especially over soft sediments, seems to have been completely ignored. The government and most sensible people agree that there is a complete vacuum of evidence to support the establishment of many of the proposed MCZs and some work that suggests their dominance as a paradigm in marine conservation ecology is a function of ideology rather than hard science. Simple folk like to believe that if you leave things alone things will get better and the world will return to some halcyon state – the “Erroneous equilibrium paradigm”. Real and positive conservation/resource management requires us to look more broadly than single species or drawing lines on charts. As Ostrom said, complex situation require complex solutions – there is no single solution, no magic bullet. As Beth Fulton said at the last World Fisheries Congress, “We need to tread lightly and with a broad footstep”

Excluding fisherfolk from areas that they have fished for generations in order to salve the consciences of middle class, sandle-shod, cord-wearing intellectual hippies is not the answer. Look at the chart here (provided by Mike Cohen of Holderness Fishing Industry Group) and look at how much area could be off limits to fishermen. This area will be fished harder and unsustainably as the fishing industry is more and more squeezed. There is no evidence of any sort of spillover effect likely to occur in this region. Note how MCZs work around the requirements of the Energy Industry (new kids on the block) but not the unfashionable fish folk. Fisherfolk are likely to be the new conservation refugees and if the extremists get their way there will be further marginalisation, job losses and poverty in rural coastal towns and villages in the UK. The pretty ones will be sources of 2nd homes to the middle classes escaping from the city – packed in summer, tumbleweed and closed shops in the winter. The ugly ones will be left to rot.

Map of MCZs and Windfarms

Proposed and current fishery exclusion zones off the yorkshire coast

Although my ancestors were fishermen and whalers, I am not blindly pro-fishing and I am not anti-conservationist. I’m just anti-stupidity.

Dr Magnus Johnson is a Marine Biologist at the Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences. His views are his own.