‘Fish Meat’: Inviting Viewers to Explore the Challenges and Accomplishments of Aquaculture

Created on Tuesday, 05 February 2013

As the global human population continues to rise, the world’s appetite for seafood steadily increases. However, the oceans’ supply is becoming exhausted. For us humans to continue feasting on the delights of seafood, methods of producing seafood are having to change, with the role of fish farming, aka aquaculture, becoming ever more important. As we make the shift from consuming predominantly wild caught seafood to farmed, we are addressing engineering feats that will hopefully be able to provide food for generations to come. The documentary ‘Fish Meat’ takes an in depth look at the different techniques currently employed by the aquaculture industry and the challenges we are facing as production levels increase.

Dr. Ted Caplow, environmental engineer, and Dr. Andy Danylchuk, fish ecologist, collaborate with filmmaker Joe Cunningham as they travel to Turkey and explore a variety of fish farming methods. As we approach the inevitable of farmed seafood being the primary means of seafood production, it is a struggle for consumers to know what to eat. The ‘Fish Meat’ team visits five farming operations as a way to illustrate the different options, in an objective light.

The first farm they visit is a high-density sea bass farm where the fish are suspended in large pens in the open ocean and feed on pellets. To produce one-pound of fish, three to four-pounds of feed is needed. This operation relies on wild fish from South America for the pellets and net-pen production has several inherent environmental risks, such as the risk of fish escaping to the wild, fish waste polluting surrounding water bodies and diseases from farmed fish spreading to wild populations.

The most high-tech operation looked at was a bluefin tuna ranch. Using the ‘ranching ‘ technique, this highly prized fish is first caught in the wild then grown to market size in open net pens. The fish eat only a fraction of the feed before it passes through the net and settles on the seafloor, where it attracts surrounding wildlife looking for a free meal. This raises concerns over the spread of disease and bacteria and, because the fish are caught before they are able to spawn, there are concerns that this farming technique could negatively impact the future generations of tuna.

They then explore an inland seabass farm that uses saltwater drawn from a local spring and a trout farm that uses the same recycled water for several different stages of the operation. These methods cause less impact on the environment than the net-pen seabass and ranched tuna, however, the feed still relies on wild fish input.

Lastly, an inland carp operation is presented that applies some centuries-old farming methods. A local windmill powers the tanks’ operational systems, the feed is locally-grown algae, and the fish waste is used as fertilizer for a local farm. All steps in the farming process have minimal impact on the surrounding area.

‘Fish Meat’ invites its viewers to take a look at the different farming methods, and begin to identify the more responsible operations. Environmentally speaking, the best system should be one that generates a high output with minimal input, farms a seafood species that is vegetarian or omnivorous, uses minimal energy, and generates minimal pollution, while preventing fish escapes and the spread of disease.

Humans have accomplished countless feats of engineering, and will continue to do so. This film reminds us that the domestication of our food is an age-old tradition, and sometimes it’s best to look to the past before approaching the future. Let’s embrace solutions that don’t create more problems!

‘Fish Meat’ is screened nationally and can be purchased on it’s website.