MOOSE JAW, Sask. — Aquaculture is the future of seafood supply, a Norwegian marine economist told a prairie audience at a recent conference.
Frank Asche from the University of Florida said trying to maintain wild fisheries for human food supply is “useless” and farmed fish will actually help wild fish stocks recover.
“Fishing is our last big hunting industry,” he said. “The problem when you’re hunting is you have virtually no control of production.”
Wild fish reached peak production in the 1980s, Asche said. Fish produced at aquaculture operations is now a larger source for food fish, although wild fish still figure largely in fish meal production.
The United States, for example, imports 90 percent of its seafood and much of it comes from aquaculture.
“By 2030, aquaculture is going to be by far the main source of seafood,” Asche said.
Seafood is one of the largest traded groups of food products thanks to better logistics and distribution systems over the past 30 years. He said salmon in Europe reaches retail stores less than three days after it is caught.
Seafood is also defined as an industrial product under the World Trade Organization, he said, which means lower tariffs.
Asche said there are organizations whose mission is to kill the aquaculture industry to protect small-scale fishermen, comparing them to small-scale farmers.
There were environmental challenges to aquaculture but research has caught up to the rapid expansion, he said. For example, salmon pens are about 10 times larger now than they were in the 1980s, Asche said, and fish waste is dispersed over a larger area.
Concerns about antibiotic use in the fish have also been alleviated through research and he said virtually none are now used.
A large aquaculture industry increases the demand for feed, and that puts pressure on wild stocks. Asche said cultured fish don’t actually need fish meal and oil in their diets and plant-based products are replacing them, which is also good news for the wild population.
Asche said more than half of the veterinarians in Norway are now becoming salmon veterinarians in response to the industry’s growth.
On the Prairies, there are only a few operations producing fish for the human food market while others produce fish to stock public fishing areas and private dugouts.