Kirtanya Lutchminarayan is an intern for the WWF-SASSI programme. She holds a Master’s degree in Biological Science.
When I was a child I loved telling jokes. My favourite joke found on the back of a cereal box stuck with me, as it may have to others who were probably less enthused. I told this joke many times: “Why is the ocean so friendly?” and with great enthusiasm I would answer "Because it waves!"
A seemingly senseless joke now invokes different kinds of thoughts. The philosopher in me now wonders, “Why is the ocean so friendly? Why does it wave? Is it saying hello or is it waving goodbye?” This wonder gradually developed into a question, one that demanded an answer. I soon realised that my existential crisis on behalf of our ocean comes from knowing and seeing the harm we inflict on it. Becoming a marine biologist meant that I could find answers and do something.
The more I learnt, the more questions I had. The more fish I saw on people’s plates, the more I imagined an empty ocean. Growing appetites and shrinking seas pose a real challenge. In the near future, I’m sure we don’t want to be living the nightmare of “Where have all the fish gone?” We’ve heard countless times that there is no Planet B, but how fascinating would it be to “clone” parts of our ocean and our fish? In my mind, that’s the solution that aquaculture poses – creating controlled environments to farm fish, in order to satisfy our seafood craving.
Aquaculture (farmed fish) is in fact one of the fastest-growing industries in the world and it is estimated that one in four fish eaten today is farmed! While aquaculture has provided praise-worthy solutions to the problems associated with wild-caught fisheries, we do need to be cognisant of the varying impacts surrounding farmed fish.
Diseased or pleased?
Prawns, for example, are farmed in semi-closed ponds, cages or fenced-off areas, which can impact the environment. The risks of widespread disease outbreaks due to high densities are a serious issue, as young prawns can become less resilient. Remember that various prawn species on the SASSI list are either red or orange-listed. Red means don’t eat and orange means think twice! There is no green-listed prawn.
It’s a “fish eat fish” world
Farmed fish are fed with fishmeal made from smaller wild-caught fish, and the conversion ratio of fishmeal to farmed fish can be as high as 10 to one – for Norwegian salmon it is three to one; for bluefin tuna it can be up to six to one! This means that there is no decrease in the pressure on wild fish stocks, and now we are exerting pressure on wild stocks to feed farmed stocks! There are other options being researched and we need to get there fast.
The “loo” in pollution
Nutrient pollution caused by farmed fish at high densities in the form of faecal matter and uneaten food can cause high nutrient loads in the water and often result in harmful algal blooms.
The benefit of aquaculture is that it is selective and there is no bycatch. This means that turtles, birds, sharks and dolphins are not at risk of being caught.
What we don’t want is for a solution to become a problem. However, there are indeed ways for aquaculture to be practiced sustainably and responsibly. Not all farming methods are green, so be sure to check the WWF-SASSI app whether the fish you’re eating is farmed sustainably.
From my wonders about the ocean and knowing our impacts, to becoming someone who can do something, I urge you to do the same. Next time you see the friendly ocean wave, I hope it’s saying “thank you” rather than “goodbye”: “Thank you for making choices that keep me thriving.” After all, we have a choice, so let’s #ChooseGreen.
Did you know? The Two Oceans Aquarium's Atlantic Ocean Gallery, including the Touch Pool, is sponsored by Skretting - a world leader in the manufacture and supply of aquaculture feeds. The Aquarium decided to partner with Skretting because we share intrinsic values of sustainability; Skretting prides itself on its responsible sourcing and sustainable partnerships, and so do we.