Fish Farming-Still Swimming Upstream From the Purists

Fish Farming Courtesy of JLM Visuals

Fish Farming Courtesy of JLM Visuals

I was recently surprised to learn that fish farming is one of the world’s fastest growing businesses. According to TIME Magazine: “Close to 40% of the seafood we eat nowadays comes from aquaculture; the $78 billion industry has grown 9% a year since 1975, making it the fastest-growing food group, and global demand has doubled since that time.” This is an astonishing number in view of the rapid decline in stocks of wild fish.

Salmon is now farmed in nearly every country with a cold deep- water coastline. Already more than half of the salmon eaten in the United States comes from fish farms. salmon

Yet, aquaculture, which began in China circa 2500 B.C., really is the aquatic counterpart of agriculture. We evolved from hunters to farmers, and just as we decided to cultivate food rather than venturing out to capture savage animals, a parallel can be drawn to those who farm fish rather than brave stormy seas in search of wild ones. An added bonus of fish farming is that each species is raised separately without needlessly catching and destroying other unwanted species.

A well-managed farm is a place where the advantages of aquaculture are most clearly seen. Experts decide when the fish have reached the desirable size and weight. At that moment, thousands of identical fish are channeled into a filleting factory where they are cleaned and sent off on their way to market. The fish farmers can go home for lunch and never need invest in a sou’wester (traditional fisherman’s waterproof rain hat) or even own a pair of waterproof boots.

The sparkling fresh fish are delivered clean and safe to eat on a predictable schedule and at a predictable weight and price. In contrast, commercial deep-water fishing is the most dangerous trade in the world. More men die at sea than in coal mines.

The rapid growth in fish farming was made possible with the development of super-technology — growth lights, nutritional food pellets, vaccines to protect the fish against bacteria and viruses, and underwater video monitors to watch over them. Like farm animals, “factory” fish depend on the farmer to ensure that they don’t become sick, overcrowded, or hungry. Robots feed them on a strict time schedule with precisely measured quantities of formula. Special mechanized equipment creates movement of the water in the pens so the salmon, for example, develop firmer flesh by swimming against man-made waves.

U.S. fish farmers also have an economic edge over their competitors in other countries because the feed for fish farms comes not from the ocean’s food chain but from grains raised inexpensively on the land. As feed constitutes such a major cost in raising fish, farmers are constantly seeking more efficient ways of increasing what they call the “conversion.” Though some may argue the numbers, a pound of soybeans and fishmeal, generally speaking, converts into a pound of fish: a ratio of 1 to 1. (Beef cattle, in contrast, require 15 pounds of feed to produce just 1 pound of meat.)

However, because of their diet, many farmed fish are not considered nearly as beneficial as fish caught in the wild. Fish farming is not yet a panacea for solving our problem of over-fishing, but it is a growing and useful segment of agriculture, or more correctly, aquaculture. It’s the way of the future and when responsibly operated, lets the natural life of the oceans regenerate. Surely, there are great opportunities here.

Getting Started

Fish farm entry-level positions involve assisting with the growing and cultivation of fish and the maintenance of fish farm premises and equipment. Fish farm hands may be employed in either fin fish farming or shellfish farming. They usually work outside, either on or in the water or at shore-based facilities located in sheltered waters. Most fish farm hands are expected to work overtime, particularly in the summer months. Some employers also require a diving qualification and/or a license to operate a barge. This means that to work on a fish farm, employees must enjoy outdoor work, have a reasonable level of physical fitness and be able to swim.