We thought that this hotly-debated topic would benefit from a place on the web - a place to hear all sides of this important and quickly-expanding aspect of food provision.
NO COMMERCIAL POSTS
Under the Agri-Food Choice and Quality Act, the Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia (COABC) is charged with administering the BC Certified Organic Program. Part of this responsibility involves setting and enforcing standards for various organic food production systems.
Market research suggests that, similar to other agricultural products, there is growing consumer demand for organic aquaculture products. There are also a number of commercial finfish and shellfish farmers in British Columbia interested in providing product to these markets.
In May of 2003 the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (MAFF) initiated a project to facilitate aquaculture industry proponents and the COABC in developing organic production standards for finfish and shellfish. The learning curve has been steep and, from the outset, this has been a fairly charged process.
It's certainly no secret that aquaculture development is among the most contentious of issues in British Columbia. It has become somewhat of a media darling, with ample mud slinging between industry and environmental groups. For this reason, our efforts to develop an organic aquaculture sector are sure to draw much attention from groups of divergent philosophical persuasions and entrenched political positions. As somewhat of a fence-sitter, I’d like to share a few thoughts regarding what I’ve learned along the way.
Organic agriculture had its genesis as a revolt against the perceived problems associated with the industrial agriculture model. The pioneers of the organic movement believed there is a better way to do things, and had the vision and motivation to translate ideology into reality. From a fringe movement catering to a select few, organic production has since moved into the mainstream. Organic markets are currently growing at a rate of 20% per year.
In parallel, the aquaculture industry is also developing rapidly. Thirty percent of the seafood products currently consumed are produced through aquaculture. Within a decade, this number is projected to rise to 50%. It is imperative that this development be guided according to sustainability principles. Organic aquaculture may provide a realistic, market-driven approach to promoting environmentally and socially superior aquaculture practices. It is for precisely this reason that we can and should develop organic standards for aquaculture in British Columbia.
MAFF initiated this project to work with industry proponents and the COABC in developing organic aquaculture production standards. If, in the end, it is fairly demonstrated that aquaculture simply cannot meet the requirements of organic production principles, this would be a valid conclusion to the process. However, given the fact that organic certification agencies in countries around the world, including the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), have clearly grappled with the same issues and consistently come to the conclusion that aquaculture is, indeed, certifiable, I am hard-pressed to imagine what valid arguments could be put forth to support such a conclusion.
I am a traditional organic consumer myself, and have no interest in seeing the organic standard “watered down”. Previous to beginning this project, much of my ‘knowledge’ of the aquaculture industry came from e-NGOs and the media. Over the past months, however, in sifting through the massive amounts of relevant information and misinformation related to aquaculture I've come to realize that the truth is not quite as cut and dried as many would have us believe, but rather lies somewhere between the polarized extremes; that propaganda is a tool used equally on both sides of the fish-farming fence; and that a reasonable discussion can only proceed on the basis of facts.
I commend the COABC for providing a forum for this highly relevant and valuable debate. I encourage all interested parties to engage in constructive dialogue in order to forge aquaculture standards that will both promote the development of an organic aquaculture industry in BC and ensure that the integrity of organic principles are maintained.
I agree with Nathan's argument that organic aquaculture is certifiable and I beleive we now have the opporunty to set the highest standard in the world. This is because we have operating practitioners of organic aquaculture who have laboured to develop sound systems and have overcome many of the obstacles that had made certification difficult.
I'd like to see BC lead the way with high standards and a committment to find solutions to the remaining issues.
I too agree that organic aquaculture is certifiable. I also agree that it would be possible for BC to set the highest standards in the world, but there are few if any examples at present which would guide BC in the quality direction that it falsely presumes already exists.
My experience has however highlighted the fact that the organic sector had little or no experience of aquaculture, and the aquaculture sector has little or no experience of organic practices. This alone has been the downfall of organic aquaculture standards thus far and repeating what has gone before will not resolve this issue or improve organic standards for BC.
I am a little bemused by prevois remarks from Paddy about these unidentified obstacles that needed to be overcome, I would like them to be identified. I have no knowledge of any such obstacles at all. The organic fish pellet may have appeared to be an obstacle, but it was manufactured at least one year before organic standards were even introduced in 1986 here in the UK and these new pellets were being trialed well before fish farm certification took place.
As far as I am aware the sound systems to which you refer which are used in organic aquaculture systems, are the same tanks that are used for convention aquaculture. The systems that produce organic rather than none organic fish have indeed significantly not changed at all. They are still intensive, food is still artificially produced, and the environment is also still artificial and polluted. Organic fish rather more which is the biggest change.
These organic fish have no access to natural food which I feel is scandalous for an organic product, as the present design of the system does not allow for such luxuries. The aqualture sector has never had to provide natural food in the past why should it have to change to produce organic fish? It has not and it does not look as though it intendfends to in the future. If these are the best standards in the world for someone to aspire to, they do not go far enough. In almost ten years that organic aquaculture standards have been around no such changes have taken place, progress has not been made and conditions for the fish are no better than they were when it started although certain promises were made and then not kept.
I know of no other animal produced organically that does not have access to its own natural food resource.
I think that unless the diet of fish species being farmed organically cannot represent freedom to have access to a normal diet, little advancement will have been achieved. I can see that it may be hard to provide a total diet from a natural source but a percentage must be provided from within the environment in which these fish live.
It is extremely easy to do so for other omnivorous fish species like cyprinids(carp)for instance and others fish like Tilapia which eat vegetation, but carnivorous fish sp. like trout and salmon should not be farmed organically on 100% manufactured diet.
It is presumed almost without question that trout and salmon eat other fish as a staple part of their natural diet. This is a gross misconception. Small fish as a prey species does come on the dietary menu of these fish sp. but I suspect that at less than 10% of their natural diet.
Feeding these farmed fish 60-80% fish in the form of fish pellets as a diet is not at all normal for this particular fish species not something that would suit their natural metabolism.
Up to now present organic aquaculture standards have been extremely easy to achieve, this has in fact diluted organic standards as far as aquaculture is concerned. Standards for terrestrial organic production systems have been developed over the last 40 years using domesticated animal species. Fish especially salmonids sp. do not easily fit into this category and should not be treated as either domesticated or as a shoaling species and kept in intensive conditions.
I too would like BC to lead the way forward, but this will not happen by copying present organic aquaculture practitioners who have in fact failed to provide high standards, commitments or solutions to the problems that the aquaculture industry still faces after so long. It is this inability to solve these problems that is still causing concern. Stress is probably one of the most unresolved issues in aquaculture still present after 40 years and still a major problem for fish farmers and still causing density diseases. It is mostly induced stress caused by the conditions under which these fish are kept (densities far too high), the polluted environment in which they live, (Fish farms require effluent discharge licenses, compounded by the artificial diet that they are forced to eat, (manufactured fish pellets)