Sustainable Aquaculture

Posted Monday, Feb 13, 2017

The Vancouver Aquarium started the Ocean Wise program in 2005 in order to provide consumers with an easy way to confidently choose sustainable seafood. Sunnyside Natural Market is proud to carry only seafood that is Ocean Wise recommended. 

Sustainable seafood  is any species that has been "caught or farmed in a way that ensures the long-term health and stability of that species, as well as the greater marine ecosystem.” Yet for many consumers, the idea of farmed fish holds many negative connotations. 

Can farmed fish be sustainable? Can it be healthy for both the environment and the consumer? It’s a complicated issue, and it depends on what species is being farmed, and how. Ocean Wise recognizes that in some cases, the “farmed option is far better than the wild counterpart.”  

In Canada, much of our understanding of farmed fish, or aquaculture, comes from the boom of salmon farms in B.C. that began in the late 1990's and continues today. This industry attracts a lot of negative attention to aquaculture, and rightfully so. The vast majority of salmon farms use open net-cage systems, one of the most harmful forms of aquaculture. This set-up uses nets that float in the ocean or large fresh-water lakes, letting water and waste freely pass through. The David Suzuki Foundation describes this style of aquaculture as “floating feedlots.”

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    Images Courtesy of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.

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As with cattle feedlots, the shear overpopulation of this system results in spikes of disease and parasites, and in many cases the industry relies on antibiotics and pesticides to control these issues. Parasites, such as sea-lice, spread from the farmed salmon and effect the wild habitat. Wild fish numbers in areas with open-net aquaculture suffer huge population reductions, sometimes more than “50% per generation.” Beyond parasites, the most popular salmon farmed in B.C. is Atlantic salmon, an introduced species. Approximately 160,000 of these farmed-fish escape from the net-pens into open water in B.C. annually. These non-native species have been known to have severe effects on native fish populations, out-competing them and spreading disease. 

Like cattle feedlots, the waste pollution caused by open-net aquaculture is destructive. Fish waste accumulates below the pen and in the surrounding water. Alone, this can dramatically change the surrounding ecosystem, and when combined with pesticides and antibiotics the results are devastating. In 2009, the Fraser River sockeye salmon run dropped by nearly 90% due, in part, to open-pen aquaculture set-ups in the river delta. This not only effects the immediate ecosystem, but also the many animals that rely on the salmon run for food. 

You can find out more about open-net aquaculture and its effect on B.C.’s coastal ecosystem here. Yet open-pen aquaculture isn't the only way to farm fish. 

At Sunnyside Natural Market, we get all our fresh - and some frozen - seafood from Albion Fisheries, a founding member of the Ocean Wise program. All of our seafood is sustainably caught, and, if farmed, sustainably farmed. 

Steelhead trout, also known as steelhead salmon, is a Pacific coast salmonide fish with a habitat that stretches from southern California to the Alaskan peninsula. They are similar to other Pacific salmon with one exception: they can be repeat spawners, like trout. They straddle the line so well between salmon and trout, that proper classification has been an issue for scientists.  

Currently, the wild population is yellow-listed, as many populations have declined due to habitat damage or over-fishing. In many regions, steelhead trout have already gone extinct. Because of this, steelhead trout that is farmed using proper methods is the only way to eat the fish sustainably.

Our steelhead trout comes fresh weekly from Lois Lake, B.C., a landlocked reservoir about 4 hours north of Vancouver. This trout is raised in semi-closed containment, using a solid-walled tank that floats in the reservoir separating farmed fish from the external environment. Disease transfer is mitigated by the solid wall, and technology is used to monitor nutrients to ensure feed and waste are minimized in the surrounding environment. No growth hormones or antibiotics are used, and the flesh is not dyed pink - as it often is with farmed salmon. The farm is currently working towards zero waste. You can learn more here.

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    Sustainable Aquaculture in Mission, B.C. 

Our whole rainbow trout is sourced from Miracle Springs farm in Mission B.C. Their trout is raised in closed-containment ponds, without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics. The fish are raised in cold-water, like they prefer, and because of this the farm has to account for added time for the fish to grow. 

Miracle Springs is well aware of the impact some forms of aquaculture can have on the natural ecosystem. To that end, they go to great lengths to minimize their impact. When the ponds are cleaned, waste is transferred into a settling pond where worms recycle the feces and water is then filtered through a sand, gravel, and dirt bank before returning to the creek that runs along the property. They also make sure to avoid spraying pesticides or herbicides on their property to avoid any runoff into the watershed. 

Sunnyside Natural Market also carries fresh arctic char fillets. The Oceanwise program recognizes farmed arctic char as one of the best alternatives to unsustainably farmed or wild caught salmon. Like steelhead trout, arctic char is in the salmonidae  family of fish. In the wild, the species is native to alpine lakes, and arctic and sub-arctic coastal regions.  

While arctic char can be sustainably wild-caught in Nunavut, it would only be available one month of the year. We get our char from Icy Waters Arctic Char, a land-based aquaculture setup in Whitehorse, Yukon.

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Arctic Char aquaculture facility in Whitehorse, YK.

Icy Waters uses a gravity fed flow-through aquaculture facility that uses streams and springs as source waters. Their set-up is similar to the one found in this video. Like Miracle Springs, they use settling ponds to “remove particulate matter and effluent before returning the water to the natural wetlands downstream” of the facility. They are also a zero-waste operation, and provide waste and ‘leftovers’ as high-oil food for dog mushers, or as a fertilizer for local farmers. 

While farmed fish has drawn plenty of negative attention over the years, it’s important to recognize the important contributions certain types of aquaculture can make to the health of our world’s oceans, rivers, and lakes. Sustainably sourced farmed fish, such as the trout and char we carry, provide a source of seafood that has little strain on wild fish populations and the delicate aquatic ecosystems they are a part of. 

You can find a full list of seafood, both wild and farmed, and the current Oceanwise status of the species here.

Matt Gigg Posted Feb 13, 2017