|Farming the Seas: Press Release|
Will fish farming avert a global food crisis? Or speed its arrival?
FARMING THE SEAS
Explores What's At Stake for Us All
as the Aquaculture Industry Spreads Across the Globe
A Sequel to the Award-Winning Empty Oceans, Empty Nets
Human demand for seafood now far exceeds the ocean's ability to keep pace. And the crisis is deepening. In the past 50 years, ninety percent of the big fish in the world's oceans have disappeared, and experts argue that the only hope for restoring many fish populations is to stop fishing them completely.
What is to be done?
Aquaculture -- the raising of fish under controlled conditions - offers tremendous possibilities. But it also entails serious risks. Today, a third of the world's seafood is now produced by fish and shellfish farms, and aquaculture is seen as the wave of the future. Yet few consumers are aware how this rapidly growing industry may be affecting the global environment and their own health.
In what may be one of the most critical environmental and food safety stories of our time, FARMING THE SEAS journeys around the world to explore the promise and perils of aquaculture. The one-hour documentary, produced by California-based Habitat Media -- creators of the award-winning Empty Oceans, Empty Nets -- will premiere in a special release Tuesday, April 20, at 10 PM on KQED, prior to national broadcast in the fall on PBS.
An accomplished actor who has appeared in more than eighty films, Peter Coyote narrates.
International Perspective on a Global Issue
"Aquaculture in 30 years is trying to do what agriculture did in 6,000," says Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund in FARMING THE SEAS. "The learning curve is real steep."
Aquaculture was supposed to take the pressure off ocean fish stocks and help avert a global food shortage, but many experts now believe that some forms of "fish farming" are
actually creating more problems than they are solving. As the aquaculture industry spreads across the globe, a growing number of communities and fisheries experts are engaged in an intense debate over its environmental, socio-economic, health and food safety consequences.
From the indigenous tribes of British Columbia to the large-scale operations of multinational corporations, from the Mediterranean coast to Thai shrimp farms, FARMING THE SEAS travels around the world and speaks with fishermen, biologists, environmentalists and industry leaders to assemble a global perspective on the urgent and complex issues surrounding aquaculture. Along the way, the program reports on projects that are resulting in a net loss of marine resources and environmental degradation as well as others that are offering innovative solutions to a looming global crisis.
Salmon on the Line
In the stunning landscape of British Columbia, FARMING THE SEAS visits the front lines of one of the most heated controversies surrounding aquaculture -- salmon farming. Wild Pacific salmon, a sacred fish for the native peoples of the region, were once abundant. But the river dams and overfishing have brought them to the brink of extinction in many places. To meet the huge consumer demand for the popular fish, entrepreneurs have introduced salmon farming to the region -- raising fast-growing Atlantic salmon in floating net cages in coastal waters.
If these salmon escape from their cages, as they sometimes do, experts worry they could do irreversible damage to the indigenous Pacific salmon. "You can't just introduce a new player into a game without the other players moving over and it costing them in some way," says John Volpe of the University of Alberta.
Of equal concern is the increased potential for farmed salmon to amplify outbreaks of disease and sea lice that could spread to wild populations.
Some bright spots are indeed emerging. FARMING THE SEAS looks at how some farms in British Columbia are using various approaches, such as dry-land tanks and low-density farms, to combat these dangers.
But these measures cannot overcome a fundamental problem with the farming of a carnivorous fish like salmon. For every pound of farm-raised salmon at least three
pounds of wild fish must be caught as feed. In addition to being wasteful, the raising of carnivorous fish appears to increase their toxin levels, which could make the fish more harmful than healthful to humans who eat them.
China: A Different Approach
On the other side of the world, in the Zhejiang province of China, FARMING THE SEAS discovers a very distinct aquaculture model. There, freshwater aquaculture is closely linked with traditional agriculture practices, with crop byproducts feeding the fish and waste products from the ponds fertilizing the fields.
Of special interest is the Chinese use of carp polyculture, where four types of carp co-exist in the same pond, each feeding on a different plankton, vegetation or detritus in a completely vegetarian economy. "In terms of efficiency," says Lester Brown, founder of Worldwatch Institute, "this model's in a class by itself."
But great challenges now face the Chinese fish industry. With a rise in personal income, many Chinese consumers are demanding carnivorous species like shrimp, which could put pressure on the nation's traditionally sustainable approach to aquaculture.
In developing nations like Thailand, shrimp farming is a boom industry. And according to some, it has been a blessing to the poor residents of these tropical nations. "The standard of living in these countries has been greatly improved by the fact that the technology of growing shrimp has developed-and markets in the United States and Europe and Japan have developed to consume them," says George Lockwood, former president of the World Aquaculture Society. "The reduction in poverty in these Asian countries is a miracle."
Others, like Anuradha Mittal, interim executive director of the Institute for Food Development, disagree. "Whether it is Thailand, whether it is India, whether it is Brazil, whether it is Bangladesh, our land is being converted into aquaculture farms," she says. "It is being destroyed really to feed the rich customers in Europe and the United States,
instead of focusing on feeding our own families and communities -- which used to be the purpose of agriculture."
In examining the effects of shrimp farming on Thailand, FARMING THE SEAS looks at the difference between the western coast of the country, where traditional fishing still takes place among the mangrove forests, and the eastern coast, which now has more than 30,000 shrimp farms. From the high use of unregulated antibiotics and the dumping of waste in the oceans to disenfranchisement of Thais and the destruction of the ecosystem, shrimp farming is shown to be the cause of a range of serious problems in Thailand.
There are, however, a few farmers in that country who are taking a lower-impact approach, and the hope is that, as their operations become certified, shrimp labeled as "environment-friendly" will become available to consumers.
FARMING THE SEAS also travels to the Spanish Mediterranean, where the prized and increasingly rare blue fin tuna is being farmed to meet the demand of sushi lovers around the world. But at what expense? Critics see a whole range of problems. Many believe that the farmed tuna are not being counted against international blue fin quotas, so the practice is not resulting in conservation of the wild stock. Others are concerned that the huge quantities of small fish used to feed the blue fin are unsustainable and that their depletion threatens the fragile balance of the Mediterranean ecosystem.
"We're reaching the limits of the amount of small fish that we can extract and feed to carnivorous fish like blue fin tuna," says Ransom Myers, professor of Ocean Studies at Dalhousie University.
"These species-the anchovy, sardines, mackerel-are the basis of the ecosystems of the Mediterranean," concurs Pablo Xandri of the World Wildlife Fund. "We are encroaching on the functioning of the wild ecosystems whose effect it is very difficult to predict."
As FARMING THE SEAS shows, some aquaculture industry leaders are looking to address such conflicts with coastal ecosystems by moving to offshore operations. But
critics believe that this just leaves the fundamental problem of raising carnivores in place. "Taking huge quantities of wildlife from the ocean to turn those creatures into fish meal," says undersea explorer, oceanographer and author Sylvia Earle, "We don't know what we're doing. We're monkey-ing around with our life support system."
Consumers Hold the Key
Finally, with its eye on consumers, FARMING THE SEAS looks at some farmed fish and shellfish that are proving healthy and environmentally friendly. Among these are tilapia, catfish, clams, oysters and mussels. This knowledge is critical, the documentary proposes. "Seafood lovers potentially have the biggest role to play because, ultimately, they are the reason that fish are delivered to the marketplace," says author Carl Safina, founder of The Blue Ocean Institute.
"The health of the ocean and the quality of our food is ultimately up to all of us," concludes narrator Peter Coyote. "It depends on the everyday actions of ordinary people who care about what kind of world our children will inherit."
FARMING THE SEAS is a production of Habitat Media, a non-profit organization specializing in producing compelling media that educates viewers about the vital need for a sustainable world. Steve Cowan, its founder and director, has written, directed and produced award-winning documentaries on marine conservation issues such as: Empty Oceans, Empty Nets; Ancient Sea Turtles, Stranded in a Modern World; Ancient Mariners; and co-produced The Sea Turtle Story. Over the past 11 years, the dedicated Habitat Media crew has produced landmark documentaries that have inspired viewers to be more responsible consumers and more active citizens.
Major funding for FARMING THE SEAS has been provided by the MacArthur Foundation, the Packard Foundation, the Keith Campbell Foundation, the Gaia Fund and the Curtis & Edith Munson Foundation as well as corporate sponsors such as West Marine Corporation and Bon Appetit Management Company. Funding support provided by the Environmental Media Fund.
Rose Lynn Marra
Kelly & Salerno Communications