Sunday, December 10, 2006

You don't have to hurt the penguines

I just got another question in e-mail about environmental concerns of eating fish.
Hi Helen,

As someone who enjoys fish and would prefer to eat them with impunity, I appreciated your posts on issues such as mercury ingestion and the effects of fish on pregnancy.

Yesterday I saw Happy Feet, an "appeal to [our] better nature" to stop over-fishing masked as a cute kids' film about singing and dancing penguins starving in Antarctica. Recently, I've also seen a rise in the number of news articles and editorials about the issue of over-fishing. To be honest, I've largely avoided reading them to avoid feeling compelled to add eating fish to my list of other environmental concerns.

I would appreciate learning your views on these issues to help me assess whether and how I can continue eating lots of great fish without hurting the penguins.

I thought that Corey is not the only one curious about these issues, so I am posting my reply here.
Dear Corey,

I haven't seen Happy Feet, so can't comment on that. But here are my views on environmental concerns.

If you eat a variety of fish instead of getting hooked on one or two species, it will be better for the environment and your health. I am pro fish farming. I just think we need to learn to do it better. It's a new concept and there have been some improvements in the fish farming technology already. At some point, humans started farming cows and chickens. Well, it's now time to farm fish, that is if we want to supply our population with 3 fish servings a week as FDA recommends.

What we can do as consumers is stop turning up our noses at farmed fish, as if it's inferior somehow and start asking intelligent questions -- like how was the fish raised, what was it fed, was coloring used, were antibiotics used, etc. We also have to be willing to pay for quality seafood. There is no such thing as free lunch with fish -- you get what you pay for. If we were willing to pay $12-15/Lb for high quality farm raised salmon, farmers wouldn't have to pack them into cages as tightly, and many environmental issues would be resolved.

There is also a ton of fish that is cheap, plentiful, and extremely good for you that we keep ignoring -- bluefish, sardines, mackerel, and mahi-mahi.



Corey said...

Thanks for answering my question, Helen!

Anonymous said...

I know that your recommend shopping at Whole Foods for fish. Does their farm-raise fish also pass these criteria?

Helen said...

Hi Anonymous,

Sorry for a late reply. I just asked the Whole Foods fishmonger yesterday and he said that their farm-raised salmon is not given any antibiotics or artificial coloring in their feed. They are also raised in cages with water filtering technology.

If you ever have questions, don't hesitate to talk to your fishmonger.


Djoma said...

Hi Helen,

I am glad to know that you are pro-fishfarming. It is surprising, though, to read that the Whole Foods in your area sells farmed salmon. Let me add a few notes to these two issues.

As a fishmonger at Whole Foods Vancouver, BC, I have encountered many customers who turn away the moment they see the farmed fish tag. The major issues about fishfarming are about environmental impact and food-chain effect. Having been a fishfarmer for 18 years in my country of origin, there is such a thing as "organic fishfarming" (aquaculture lingo: extensive or traditional farming). We feed the fish with natural food that they would otherwise be eating when in the wild. Culture density is managed to what we would call here in North America as the equivalent of "free range" making the fish sturdy and less stressed (thus, no need for anti-biotics).

Kona Blue in Hawaii ( is an excellent demonstration of responsible and sustainable fishfarming. The Snow Pass Coho Salmon in Alaska ( is an example of "sea ranching": the fish are released to grow in the sea and harvested as adults when they come back to their birth place to spawn and build the next generation. This method removes the concern about what food additives are used that can harmed humans.

The great bulk of the supply of farmed salmon in Canada comes from here in British Columbia (sample farm: And yet our Whole Foods store does not carry farmed salmon. We prefer the FAS (frozen-at-sea) during this off-season, until such time that a supplier of farmed fish can meet the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certificate, provide verifiable evidence of humane farming methods and safe fish feeds. We do carry other farmed fishes: fresh white meat rainbow trout - no vegetable dye in the feeds - (; fresh artic char ( and; fresh catfish (

Keep up the great work Helen! Hope to visit your Kitchen when I come to attend the Boston Seafood Exhibit on March 11-13, 2007.

Helen said...

Hi Djoma,

Thanks so much for all this helpful information about fish farming. I tried Kona's products once and loved them! Unfortunately, none of the fishmonger in my area now carry their their lovely kampachi, and the shipping is a bit pricy for me to order directly :( Can you get their fish easily in Vancouver?


rick said...

I live on the Pacific coast of Canada, source of a lot of commercial farmed Atlantic salmon.
High anxiety over farmed fish, farm licences rammed through by a pro business government against the wishes of most locals who have little to say about the activities of huge corporate organizations.

They ignore all the scientific evidence and observations from the people on location.

There is devastations on the environment, from the ocean floors covered with fish feces and wasted food( many feet thick ),killing all ife on the ocean floor. To run the gauntlet of sea lice which coincidently surrrounds the fish farms, smolts are covered with sea lice as they pass by fish farms on their way to sea. The Spring salmon species may soon be history.

If it were not for the food dye the flesh would be grey since the fish food is not the natural diet of the salmon, which comes to the practicality of feeding three pounds of white fish to produce one pound of salmon?
With net pens, the accidental loss of Atlantice salmon is already showing up in the streams of local rivers. Ask any biologist what happens when a foreign species is introduced to an enviroment without natural predators.

There must be some reason why some countries ban fish farms in their waters.

If all Fish farms were responsible , like closed pens or on land pens, maybe, but that costs too much and it's the bottom line.

Helen said...

Hi Rick,

You say, "If all Fish farms were responsible , like closed pens or on land pens, maybe, but that costs too much and it's the bottom line." Does this argument apply to chickens and cows too? If all chicken farmers were responsible, we can eat chicken, but since some of them raise chickens in terrible conditions, let's just throw in the towel on farmed poultry all together? This doesn't make any sense to me.


Cara said...

Unfortunately Rick's statements about the effects of salmon farming in British Columbia are true. If a fishmonger can attest that their farmed salmon is raised with respect for my country's land and waters (there are a few reputable farmers in B.C.), then I will purchase it. If my fishmonger can't tell me, I will not, just as I won't purchase chicken unless the seller can tell me it was raised responsibly.

Unfortunately, in B.C. the practices suggested by Djoma are not generally in use. Supporting farming doesn't mean not questioning farming practices, and objecting to those that cause harm. I would think that this makes perfect sense, in that it provides incentive for improvement.

At the same time, we can reward those who practice responsible fish husbandry with our business. To this effect, I have a farmed rainbow trout fillet in my fridge that I must attend to (the real reason why I visited your lovely site today.)