In the United States, the aquaculture sector operates within a stringent, comprehensive regulatory environment. Aquaculture projects in US and state waters must meet—and often exceed—federal, state, and local regulations that protect the environment, assure water quality, meet strict food safety standards, and protect public health. Despite meeting some of the most stringent standards in the world, myths surrounding aquaculture persist. Following are the top 10 myths and the facts surrounding them, according to the US government.
Myth #1: We don’t need aquaculture in this country.
Fact: Aquaculture today is essential for food security, not just in the United States but worldwide. In fact, developing domestic sources of farmed seafood helps guarantee a stable supply of nutritious protein for decades to come. Domestic aquaculture production creates jobs at home and supports vibrant coastal communities and working waterfronts. Currently, the United States imports between 60-90 percent of the seafood we consume, of which half comes from aquaculture. Read more here.
Myth #2: Aquaculture is responsible for depleting wild fish stocks.
Fact: Globally, aquaculture is becoming an increasingly efficient means of food production. With new developments in feed, the use of fishmeal and fish oil in aquaculture production is falling as research into alternative feed sources continues to yield results. All farm animals need to be fed, and farmed fish are many times more efficient at converting feed into meat than other farmed animals such as cows and pigs. Read more here.
Myth #3: It’s not safe to eat farmed fish.
Fact: Farmed seafood is not only very safe to consume, but because the fish feed can be formulated for nutrients and beneficial omega-3 content, it is highly nutritious—as numerous studies have shown. Because of this controlled diet, farmed fish have similar (if not higher) levels of heart-healthy long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients than wild fish. In addition, for farmed seafood, both the diet and growing environment are monitored throughout the animal’s life. Furthermore, aquaculture producers in this country not only follow the same stringent food safety guidelines as do other food producers, they comply with standards set by third-party certifiers such as GlobalGap, Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), or the Aquaculture Certification Council (ASC). Read more here.
Myth #4: Farmed fish are contaminated.
Fact: In contrast to several species of wild fish, farmed fish are not present on any “avoid” list due to methyl mercury or other contaminants. These contaminants enter and concentrate in organisms largely through what they eat.
The US Food and Drug Administration as well as and state Departments of Agriculture conduct inspections as well as collect and analyze feed and fish samples to ensure that feeds and the fish that consume them meet strict requirements. Formulated feed ingredients used in aquaculture are regularly monitored to avoid possible contamination. Read more here.
Myth #5: Farmed salmon is full of harmful “color-added” dyes.
Fact: You’ve seen it at the fish counter: farmed salmon labeled as having “color-added.” In reality, the pigment that turns all salmon pink, orange, or red has to do with the diet of the fish—and it isn’t harmful at all. In the wild, salmon eat krill and other tiny shellfish that contain natural pigments called carotenoids, which are powerful antioxidants and precursors of vitamin A. Carotenoids give salmon flesh its distinctive pigment (although the color varies by species). Farmed salmon are supplemented with carotenoids that are identical to the pigment that salmon consume in the wild. Both natural and synthetic carotenoids are processed and absorbed by wild and farmed fish in exactly the same manner. Read more here.
Myth #6: Farmed fish are full of harmful antibiotics.
Fact: The use of antimicrobials (antibiotics) in aquaculture for non-therapeutic purposes (such as stimulating growth) is prohibited by law in most countries. Most aquaculture production now emphasizes health strategies that incorporate vaccines, feed enhancements, and better husbandry practices to reduce or eliminate entirely the use of antibiotics. While good management practices and vaccines alone are usually enough to prevent or control disease, a farmer may, in consultation with a licensed veterinarian, use a limited number of aquatic animal drugs including antibiotics, in the case where they have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat specific conditions. Read more here.
Myth #7: Fish waste from marine net pens harms the ecosystem.
Fact: Nutrient discharge from fish farming operations is organic and comes from two sources – uneaten feed and fish waste. However, new technologies, including underwater cameras and sophisticated feed distribution systems, have drastically reduced the amount of feed left uneaten.
Globally, including the United States, net-pen aquaculture operators have made enormous progress in developing practices that work in harmony with the ecosystem. This comes from effective management plans, proper siting, and regulatory regimes that ensure minimum impacts on the marine ecosystem. Read more here.
Myth #8: Aquaculture can cause diseases in wild fish.
Fact: Pathogens and disease are a fact of life with all forms of animal production, but the mere presence of a pathogen does not necessarily result in a disease event. The animal host needs to be in a distressed/immunosuppressed condition for disease to take hold. In the wild, disease outbreaks are controlled/prevented by predators picking off sick individuals within the population, movement of the fish to better environmental conditions (better oxygen, optimum temperatures), and other ecological interactions.
On fish farms, disease is kept at bay by vaccination, good nutrition, using specific pathogen-free fingerlings, biosecurity, and husbandry practices that minimize stress. The use of therapeutants is a last resort. Pathogen transfer, particularly bacteria and virus, from cultured finfish to wild finfish that results in clinical disease and mortality is a rare event; however, there are examples of this phenomenon with parasites. Aquatic animal health practices include measures to reduce risks of disease in both cultured and wild fish. Read more here.
Myth #9: Farmed salmon carry sea lice.
Fact: The parasite of greatest concern to salmon farmers is known as “sea lice.” Historically, sea lice have been a problem for farmed salmon in the State of Maine – where they exist naturally in the wild. In contrast, sea lice are not a problem for Washington State, where the water is less saline. Maine has made great strides in minimizing the incidence of sea lice by adopting an integrated pest management strategy similar to that used by organic farmers. This strategy includes reducing stocking density, bay-wide coordination among farms, early and coordinated treatments, and letting sites lie fallow between harvests. Read more here.
Myth #10: Seafood that has been farmed doesn’t have the flavor that wild has.
Fact: Farmed seafood has been growing in popularity for several reasons, including availability, affordability, and flavor. In several recent “blind” taste tests of salmon, for example, the tasting panel placed farmed salmon in the top 3 spots. Read more here.