Aquaculture 101 by Chef Ned Bell

An Opinion Piece from a passionate, concerned, curious and educated Chef. Written for my peers and all of my ‘friends in fish’

By Ned Bell
Chefs for Oceans, Ocean Wise, Lure Cookbook

Growing up on the West Coast, on the shores of Vancouver Island crunching on crustaceans and whipping bull kelp at my brother and sister or salmon fishing with my Dad, it was impossible to underestimate the impact, inspiration and extraordinary importance of our oceans. Our shared Pacific coastal ecosystem has, for thousands of years, fed our communities and cultures with both wild and cultivated seafood rich with the nutrients we need to thrive. The champions of those species were and continue to be our five species of wild Pacific salmon, crucial to the health and wellness of the Indigenous and First Nations peoples, the orca, the eagles, the bears, the trees, and us. I am told by the Elders that we are made up 80 per cent of wild salmon. I believe it.

When it comes to the fish we eat, global wild capture fisheries have been at, or unfortunately above, sustainable levels for the past 30 years. Today, fish we catch in the ocean makes up less than half of the seafood we eat, the majority comes from farms. Yes, farmed fish, but I am fearful that we only see “farm” as a four-letter word.

Let’s not forget, Mother Nature gives us wild fish, but it isn’t our right to harvest it all. If our growing population wants to keep eating fish (and I certainly want to), the future is farming. I know that’s a massive statement to uncover and understand, but it’s one we need to fully appreciate before we form our opinion, or perceived opinion. Yes, there are challenges, yes there are risks, but the good of farming fish far outweighs the bad of the past.

If we don’t dig in and ask the tough questions, understand the mistakes and build a path forward then all we have is environmental crusades and fear that forms our opinions.

In my view, one of the only ways we can continue to consume seafood with any sense of sustainability is to only consume seafood that is responsibly farmed, responsibly harvested and maybe most importantly, understood.

We have to remember the global sustainable seafood movement is only two decades old. In 2005, Ocean Wise was created using the science and marine biology behind the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, filtering that science through a Canadian lens and recommending the best choices. In 1997 the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) was formed through leadership of the WWF and pioneered the development of a rigorous science-based standard for environmentally responsible and sustainable fishing. Today more than 400 fisheries around the world, landing nearly 12 million tonnes of seafood annually are engaged with MSC – but that’s still only 14 per cent of the global wild marine catch. It’s only been since 2012 that the standards of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), also developed through WWF leadership, has been available to farmers. As a chef, I look to these transparent, science-based standards for guidance and education.

I call them my ocean guardians.

Today, I want to dive into aquaculture – responsible aquaculture.

Responsible aquaculture is needed. We need to utilize our oceans, continually develop and improve technology, include land-based farming, review siting requirements, what species of fish we grow and research innovative feed solutions. Understand what the health of a fish means and the ethics involved. By ensuring we put the ecosystem first, we can care for the fish we grow and, in turn, feed and nourish ourselves.

We have done some incredible work over a relatively short period of time creating awareness and advocacy for responsible, traceable and sustainable seafood, but we have barely scratched the surface. We need to dive deeper to better understand the challenges, the opportunities, and continue to create the road map to get us to a place where we are supporting healthy communities and consuming wild and farmed fish.

Like in wild capture fisheries, there are and have been significant challenges with aquaculture. But through education and awareness we have challenged our fisherfolk to improve, and they have. Through organizations like Seafood Watch, the ASC, and Ocean Wise we have also challenged aquaculture, and today over 600 farms are certified to ASC, and many producers are meeting the Seafood Watch “Good Alternative” bar. Improvements have been made, but we can do more. And we must do more, because responsible aquaculture is crucial for our future.

I encourage my chef colleagues to visit a farm, meet with the farmers, and learn about how the animals are raised. Our customers look to us for knowledge and choose our food because they expect that we’ve done our homework

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