Posts Tagged ‘responsible aquaculture’

Delectable Abalone

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

When you eat an abalone, which is a kind of marine gastropod or snail, you eat the chewy and tasty muscle that is – or was – its foot.

Have you eaten farmed abalone lately? Might be worthwhile.

Three living but upside-down Haliotis discus - each displaying its yummy looking edible foot.(panoramio.com)

Three living but upside-down Haliotis discus – each displaying its yummy looking edible foot.(panoramio.com)

The immense stretch of floating abalone farms in Luoyuan Bay, Fujian Province on the southeast coast of China is one of 20 stories featured in Watermark, the new movie by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky, whose previous film was the remarkable Manufactured Landscapes.

Burtynsky's photograph of some of the floating abalone farms in Luoyuan Bay (designboom,com)

Burtynsky’s photograph of some of the floating abalone farms in Luoyuan Bay (designboom.com)

Although Waterpark lacks much narrative or a clear focus, the videography is again extraordinary, and the story on the abalone farms stands out – it includes a little more detail and complexity, even a little explanation with the briefest of reflection. Millions of acres of Luoyaun Bay are covered with tethered, floating pens where abalones are grown, fed on kelp until they reach harvestable size. There is no larger abalone farming site in the world.

Working the abalone breeding pens in Luoyuan Bay (infoyu.net)

Working the abalone breeding pens in Luoyuan Bay (infoyu.net)

Abalones are grown increasingly easily, in onshore water runways, in floating pens in the sea, and in sea ranches where bottom predators and competitors have been removed. Abalone are herbivores, eating microalgae when they are small, kelp when they get larger – and neither kind of food supply is in short supply. Done right, the farming has little effect on the kelp canopy which is cut for feeding the mollusks, for it regrows rapidly.

Only a few species are now cultured, and most of the aquaculture occurs in China, with much less in Chile, USA, and Australia. Any sea ranching gets bad press from Monterrey Seafood Watch because of the ecosystem modification that is involved, but farmed abalone get ‘Best Choice’ designation from MSW.

One way to eat abalone: sashimi, cut thin and eaten raw (wikimedia.org).

One way to eat abalone: sashimi, cut thin and eaten raw (wikimedia.org).

This all is very recent. Few abalones were farmed in 1970, though there was a limited commercial fishery which soon depleted the available stocks. Commercial fishing is now illegal most places, though not yet in Mexico. By 1990, a few farms around the world produced about 300 metric tons of abalone, by 2000 about 1000 mt. Now the annual total is more than 100,000 mt, and most of it is in China.

Annual aquaculture of abalone has grown rapidly from nothing in 1970 to 100,000 metric tons now (fishtech.com)

Annual aquaculture of abalone has grown rapidly from nothing in 1970 to 100,000 metric tons now (fishtech.com)

There are few drawbacks to sea-pen aquaculture, but they do exist – mainly risks from disease and from storms. The Chinese now culture an abalone that is a hybrid of the naturally occurring Chinese stock and the more disease-resistant Japanese stock – both from the same species, Haliotis discus. As for storms, tying the floating pens together in immense masses reduces the potential wave impact- though how much so is still untested by an intense typhoon.

The vast majority of abalone aquaculture occurs on the south east coast of China, and little of it, if any, is exported. These are data from 2010.  (fishtech.com)

The vast majority of abalone aquaculture occurs on the south east coast of China, and little of it, if any, is exported. These are data from 2010. (fishtech.com)

An aquaculturist working on the Luoyuan Bay pens, interviewed briefly in Watermark and thinking about the possibility of typhoon impact, observed that nothing lasts forever. Clearly a healthy attitude to have these days, but even if a damaging storm hits, the pens can be quickly rebuilt and the culture reestablished, and it can all continue.

Unlike fish farming – think salmon, halibut, cod, shrimp – abalone farming is resilient, sustainable, low-impact, non-polluting, non-destructive, algae-based farming. What more can we ask for?

And cut thin, pounded well to tenderize it, then pan fried or sauteed briefly, abalone is no second-best substitute: this is fine food.

Four Fish

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Four Fish, by Paul Greenberg, published this past year, is an outstanding commentary on the problems faced by global fisheries and what we could do to solve some of them.

Paul Greenberg's Four Fish is the best of recent environmental books.

Greenberg is an excellent journalist and a very experienced fisherman. Although he features salmon, cod, sea bass and tunafish, he includes a diversity of other often, but not always, related fish, as he explores our attitudes to fishing out the remaining wild stocks, and the challenges of aquaculture alternatives.

He condemns efforts to farm carnivorous species, especially tuna, which will eat at least 20 times their weight before they are harvested, but also salmon, which still eat 3-6 times their weight before harvest: this is simply not a sustainable way to feed us.

Bluefin tuna, fattened in pens in the Mediterranean, harvested for shipment to Japan. (fao.org)

He encourages the farming of fish that eat at lower trophic levels, eating less than two times their harvest weight, and where possible eating plants, or plant meal, instead of fish meal. Fish such as the sea bass, barramundi; kahala (or Kona Kampachi) which could easily be used as an alternative in sushi which is currently killing all the remaining bluefin tuna; a fish call tra, catfish-like, popular in Asia; and of course tilapia.

Barramundi hatchery in Queensland, Australia (aaq.com.au).

This leads him to propose something very simple and potentially effective. Let’s market two kinds of fish. One consists of the wild stocks of fish we love to eat because of their extraordinary taste and texture. Their fisheries need to be reduced to long-term sustainable levels; the fishing should be local, artisanal, and not industrial; and the fish should be sold for their real cost to those who can afford to eat them: they should not be subsidized.

The other kind of fish are species selected for rapid growth, vegetarians if possible, that can be easily raised under non-polluting aquaculture conditions: responsible aquaculture. Barramundi and tilapia are excellent examples. They may lack some of the special features of wild fish species, but they taste fine, can be sold relatively cheaply, and provide us with needed protein source. If subsidies are necessary, they should get them.

Another easily farmed species: Tra fish harvest in the Mekong River (vietnamnews.biz)

Greenberg is also critical of our desire to be told which fish are the ones we ought to eat, and then thinking we have done our bit to protect other overfished wild stocks. As he points out, although the public education that is involved is important, there really isn’t any evidence that our eating preferences have had much impact on either wild stocks or farmed populations.

Instead, we need to make much larger changes. For example, the hunting of bluefin tuna needs to stop completely, now, or there just won’t be any left. We need to stop farming species that eat 5-20 times their weight before harvest. We need to find more successful ways to market much more appropriate but less well known farmed species. We need to reduce global industrial fishing, and to fish far more sustainably. We need to protect coastal and oceanic areas that are critical for the survival – and sustainable harvest – of the wild stocks.

These are practical, realistic proposals, and if they were implemented, fish could still have a future in the oceans of this planet. Some of them already occur in very limited ways. Four Fish is a thoughtful, interesting, well-researched, and very reasonable book. It is not strident or extreme, but it is very concerned for, as always, time is short.

It is more than worth just reading it yourself, if you haven’t already: it is worth trying to get our politicians to read it. An excellent Christmas present.

The G20 leaders meet next week. This is a picture of those who met in 2009. Some are still in power. They deserve a chance to read Four Fish (telegraph.co.uk)