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Frequently asked questions

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In this article, you will find answers to frequently asked questions on the topic of barriers and opportunities of sustainable seafood.

1. Are estimates of fish fraud taken into account when draughting quotas?

Unfortunately not, at least as far as I’m aware. Given the complexities around where and how fraud occurs, accounting for it when setting individual fish stock quotas would be incredibly difficult to do with any real accuracy. If we were to create a ‘buffer’ in an allowable catch (TAC) to account for and offset any estimated fraud, it would be near impossible to measure whether that buffer is having any real impact given we have no way to currently estimate exactly how much fraud is occurring for each species (let alone for certain fish stocks). In saying that, if we were to create a broad approach that included a reduced TAC for ALL fisheries, then in theory we’d be fishing less everywhere. It wouldn’t solve the issue of fraud or mislabelling, but it ‘could’ lower our overall pressure if quota setters followed the scientific advice on reduced overall catch.

2. If there is a way of feeding the farmed fish on what they would eat anyway that has to be better, right?

The short answer is, not really. Given the quantity of fish grown in farms, feeding that many fish the same diets as they would eat in the wild would place enormous pressure on their feed source. If we take salmon as an example, a wild salmon can require around 10kg of wild-sourced natural feed to grow a single kilogram of body weight. For farmed salmon, some are now consuming just 1kg of feed to grow 1kg in body weight. This is for two reasons. Firstly, farmed fish have been selectively bred to be more efficient growers (much like we breed vegetable varieties or other livestock). Secondly, farmed diets are incredibly nutritionally tailored in order to maximise growth as quickly as possible.

3. Can sewages from animal faeces can be converted to fish food?

In terms of using fish sewage to feed other fish, most trials using dried-treated fish waste in feed have resulted in lower growth rates and health in fish, so it’s not likely this is the best option if these businesses are to make money. When it comes to using other livestock manure in fish feed, processed livestock waste has been trialled and used in some land based pond farming to supplement feed, and has been done with some success actually. You can find here an interesting paper that looks at this very topic.

Regulations around the use of waste as feed for other species are still convoluted and restrictive for many regions around the world – one key bottleneck limiting the attention in this option.

Bivalves are a great option to purify surrounding water, but they’ll not be fit for human consumption if they’re constantly filtering high bacterial loads from waste. They can definitely detoxify and depurate over time, and they will do so naturally if conditions allow. While they’re incredible, I do think there’s a limit to their realistic application.

4. I think that a rapidly evolving marketplace and the complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are emerging problems that need the right attention. Could we include the effect of global warming also?

Global warming and many other climate change-associated impacts can (and should) be considered when it comes to barriers facing sustainable fisheries (and food production in general). Even our best management of marine resources is based on data that analyses the impacts of stressors placed on a fishery – from humans, other predators, and the environment around them. The increasing unpredictability and intensity of weather events like storms or heatwaves coupled with ever-changing ocean processes that effect marine life – like water currents and sea temperature, makes predicting how much we should or shouldn’t fish very difficult. As an example of how it’s impacting us right now, in the case of aquaculture, there’s been a sharp recent rise in the incidence of harmful algal blooms killing thousands of farmed fish in open water pens. While not directly attributable to one specific cause, increased temperatures (of air and the sea) are believed to be a major influencing factor. Technology is now evolving to combat this, with many farms shifting to land-based operations where conditions are controllable.

5. As a child, I often heard the term red tide and people were warned not to eat shellfish when it was present in the sea. Is it a form of harmful algal bloom?

Yes, it is a form of harmful algal bloom and it’s definitely advisable to steer clear of shellfish until environmental authorities have given the green light to eat local shellfish again. Even still, eating local shellfish harvested yourself is always going to be a gamble as some toxic algae can remain in the shellfish for months (sometimes a year or two) after they’ve been exposed to a high concentration! Farmed is always going to be safest, but if you’re going to pick them yourself, best to find areas with high water flow and to ask around first.

6. I wonder if we pay the true cost of our food in the ‘global north’ ? Do we include the cost of what economists refer to as externalities – damage to the environment / the cost of antibiotic resistance / the impact on the web of life within our oceans?

The short answer is – no.

Not only do we not pay the ‘true cost’ of our food in the ‘global north’, but we scarcely pay it anywhere on the planet. The unseen burdens and costs of producing food are yet to be clearly identified in the vast majority of seafood supply chains, so no major costs are being passed on to us as consumers. The only notable adjusted values we may see will come in the form of paying more for sustainability. As is the case with a number of other food sectors, practices or businesses that operate more sustainably, especially those who can prove it, generally demand a premium at retail. This added cost to us as consumers could be seen as a ‘true cost’ price adjustment as we are technically paying to offset some of the added financial burden associated with transitioning to or maintaining more sustainable seafood operations. But as far as paying for negative impacts, we’re yet to see these less financially tangible costs passed down to consumers.

Author: Oliver Fredriksson

© EIT Food
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Sustainable Seafood: Barriers and Opportunities in the Fishing Industry

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