Over 160 NGOs, think tanks and scientists from 5 continents  call for the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to remove Carnivorous Fish Farms from their definition of  ‘Sustainable Aquaculture’, in light of overwhelming evidence of harm to Environment, Society and Economy

07 Jun 2024 | English

An open letter and petition call for proper definition and regulation

 

  • The EU has allocated €1.2 billion to aquaculture since 2014
  • It takes 2 kg of wild fish to produce 1 kg of farmed fish

EMBARGOED until 00:01 7 June [LONDON] On World Ocean Day , over 160 groups and experts from five continents have written to Dr. Manuel Barange, Head of Fisheries at the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation, FAO, requesting that carnivorous fish farming , such as salmon, sea bream and sea bass, be excluded from its definition of ‘sustainable aquaculture’. The letter is sent amidst growing evidence of widespread damage caused by this rapidly expanding industry, and questions over the FAO’s impartiality, due to claims of yielding to agri-business lobbies and downplaying environmental impacts.

Eva Douzinas , President of the US Rauch Foundation which co-organised April’s Seas of Change Summit on Industrial Fish Farming, comments: “We live on a beautiful, blue planet and we want to celebrate life on World Ocean Day. Instead, we are witnessing the destruction of sea meadows, ecosystems, local fisheries, and livelihoods from the world’s fastest growing food industry. There is a dire need to differentiate what is sustainable aquaculture, like seaweed or small scale bivalve farming , versus destructive. Fish farming of carnivorous species such as salmon, sea bream and sea bass (branzino) is proven to be wholly unsustainable. “It is an industry that depletes the world’s wild fish stocks and destroys marine ecosystems, not sustains them.”

 The urgent call to action expressed in the open letter unites global groups and scientists who have shared data on the destruction caused by carnivorous fish farms from Chile to Tasmania, USA, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Iceland, Norway and Scotland. A few countries, such as Argentina, have managed to ban carnivorous fish farms from their seas, having witnessed the devastating scale of ecological damage from salmon farms in neighbouring Chile. Similar moves are being made in the USA: On 19 March, experts gathered in Washington DC to meet policymakers and oppose legislation that would open US waters to industrial fish farms, arguing that the AQUAA Act and SEAfood Act , if passed, would endanger national waters and coastal communities.

Despite escalating concerns, the FAO is aiming for 75% growth in global ‘sustainable aquaculture’ by 2040 compared to 2020, yet the FAO regularly and publicly supports carnivorous fish farming, as they did at the Our Oceans Conference “Food Security Panel” on April 16, 2024. The EU has given €1.2 Bn to aquaculture since 2014, with inadequately defined criteria for sustainable aquaculture, allowing for the majority of the funds to go to growing destructive marine based open net carnivorous fish farms, such as those in Spain, Italy and Greece. The absence of a clear definition of sustainable aquaculture, with no oversight, allows for many of these farms to be located in marine protected areas, with satellite footage depicting them directly above high value endangered Poseidon meadows, something that is forbidden by law. Recent media articles point to a lack of impartiality or adherence to reliable evidence concerning FAO funding decisions on meat and dairy, but aquaculture funding has to date been less of a focus.

Catalina Cendoya, Director at Global Salmon Farming Resistance, based in Argentina, and co-organiser of the letter to the FAO, explains: “Industrial fish farms are highly polluting due to the vast quantities of faeces and waste generated which create dead zones around the nets. The layers of slime below the pens can be 2m deep. Regulation has not kept up with aquaculture’s gold rush on industrial fish farming. The FAO must stop labelling this destructive activity as ‘sustainable’.”

 

UNEQUIVOCAL PROOF: A MYRIAD of IMPACTS PEOPLE, ENVIRONMENT, SOCIETY

The global signatories of the letter are determined to press the FAO to explain how they can consider carnivorous fish farms as ‘sustainable’, when scientific evidence is unequivocal on the facts:

 

  1. Extensive and systematic use of antibiotics continues, despite growing antibiotic-resistance in the bacteria that cause human disease. It is estimated that by 2030, aquaculture will constitute 5.7% of all antimicrobial use, and have the highest use intensity per kilogram of biomass of all uses.

 

  1. Fish farming relies on extensive use of chemicals such as the uncontrolled use of formaldehyde (carcinogenic to humans) to control disease and parasites.

 

  1. Carnivorous fish farming consumes more wild fish than is produced. The ratio is widely cited as a minimum of 1.2 Kg of wild fish to 1 Kg of farmed carnivorous fish. This requires the unethical transfer of nutrients from the Global South where small fish are converted into fish feed for carnivorous fish eaten in industrialised nations.

 

  1. Harmful Algal Blooms and eutrophication starve marine life of oxygen thanks to excess nutrient compounds from fish faeces and waste food. Prof Christopher Gobler, Chair of Coastal Ecology & Conservation at Stoney Brook University USA, warns: “Many HABs contain toxic compounds which can impact all levels of marine food webs, including humans, where they can induce human death via neurotoxicity.” HABs are made worse by warming seas, which in turn contribute to mass fish die-offs.

 

  1. Growing plastic, microplastic and styrofoam pollution from fish farming and abandoned fish farms is commonplace, creating “Ghost Farms, which threaten marine life, boats and human health. There is no legal requirement for fish farms to clean up environmental damage deposits.

 

  1. Escapes into the wild of non-native, domesticated, selectively bred farmed fish, as occurred recently in Iceland, lead to hybridisation of farmed fish with wild populations, weakening the wild fish.

 

  1. Posidonia meadows, a crucial, slow-growing, marine habitat where fish breed, and a valuable carbon sink, are under threat. These meadows are 35% more efficient than rainforests at removing carbon from the atmosphere. The lack of regulatory oversight or independent environmental monitoring perpetuates the siting of fish farms close to such environmentally-sensitive areas.

‘FISHY EVIDENCE’: An INDUSTRY that ‘MARKS ITS OWN HOMEWORK’

In April, serious flaws and omissions were revealed in six environmental impact assessments (EIAs) conducted for the 28-times planned expansion of fish farms across Greece. Fay Orfanidou, Executive Director of Poros-based non-profit, Katheti, says, “Without tighter regulation via the EU, UN or nation states, such poor governance will continue, given a risk-reward ratio where fish farm companies can make vast profits in the absence of independent monitoring or enforcement.”

 LACK OF TRANSPARENCY and ACCOUNTABILITY for CONSUMERS

Andrianna Natsoulas, Campaign Director of Don’t Cage Our Oceans (USA) points out, “Consumers deserve to know the truth of where their seafood comes from and the impact it has on the marine environment and coastal communities. Rather than blue-washing destructive fish farming practices, governmental entities should support values-based seafood systems.

 

“FISH FARMS OUT” to STOP HARMING GLOBAL COMMUNITIES

As the world’s fastest-growing food sector, aquaculture is set to account for 60% of global fish consumption within the decade.” says Natasha Hurley, Director of Campaigns of Feedback. “The headlong rush to expand industrial fish farming, a sector which is dominated by large agribusiness corporations, is deeply troubling. Our research shows that their feed sourcing practices are negatively impacting food security and robbing communities in the Global South of key nutrients and sustainable livelihoods.

Nusa Urbancic, CEO of Changing Markets Foundation, adds, “How devastating this industry is for the livelihoods of people in the Global South and for the environment, as more and more fish are being caught to feed aquaculture”.

CALL TO ACTION: GLOBAL PETITION

Issuing a public call to action to help affected communities, Catalina Cendoya, GSFR Director, invited citizens and consumers everywhere to join in “Let’s make 2024 the year that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the European Union step in to ensure that future generations can enjoy the beauty and richness of our ocean! We urge people everywhere to get informed, sign the petition to keep ‘Fish Farms Out!’, and stop buying farmed fish.”

 REFERENCES – Due to the high number of references, all are listed in this Word document:

CAMPAIGN – #FishFarmsOut Website (Live 4.6.23) | Sign PETITION  |  Send Video PostcardIMAGES of Fish Farm damage

 

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  • The Global Salmon Farming Resistance, GSFR, was formed from the group that succeeded in banning open net salmon farms in Argentina in 2021.
  • Greek non-profit, Katheti, launched a campaign to #SavePoros from industrial fish farms on World Oceans Day 2023.
  • The Seas Of Change Summit in Poros, Greece (April 2024) was organised by the Rauch Foundation, which examines the sustainability of global food systems, The Global Salmon Farming Resistance and Katheti, under the auspices of the Municipality of Poros. The summit saw 80+ scientists, environmentalists and experts from 50 organisations in 14 countries meet on the touristic island of Poros, Greece. Poros is one of 25 Greek areas threatened with mass takeover by fish farm expansion, leading to great concern. Evidence will be presented to Greece’s Council of State on 9 October, when the municipality of Xiromero in Western Greece will have its last chance to undo a Presidential Decree to expand fish farms by 21 times in Echinades and Aetilokarnia. The case outcome will affect all of Greece, as the legal framework determining the establishment of the development zone (POAY) will be under question.

     

AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW

Eva Douzinas, President, Rauch Foundation (USA / GREECE)

Fay Orfanidou, Executive Director, Katheti (GREECE)

Catalina Cendoya, Director of the Global Salmon Farming Resistance, GSFR (ARGENTINA)

Andrianna Natsoulas, Campaign Director, Don’t Cage Our Oceans (USA)

Prof Christopher Gobler, Chair of Coastal Ecology & Conservation, Stony Brook University (USA)

Nusa Urbancic, CEO, Changing Markets Foundation (UK)

Natasha Hurley,  Campaign Director, Feedback Global (UK)

 

MEDIA ENQUIRIES

For Global and national media enquiries:

Hannah Kapff: [email protected] T +44(0)20 3397 9111 M +44(0)7747 794306

Maddy Lowe: [email protected] T +44(0)20 3397 9111 M+44(0)7498213866

 

Greece based editors: Nikos Kopsidas [email protected]  M: +30 697 447 7229 Brussels based editors: Joanna Sullivan [email protected]  M: +32 474 34 94 58

 

APPENDIX

 

     OPEN LETTER TO THE UNITED NATIONS F.A.O.

 

World Oceans Day 2024

Dr. Manuel Barange

Assistant Director General and

Director of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Division

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

CC

Peter Thompson, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Janet Coit, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries

Dear Dr. Barange

In honor of World Oceans Day and recognizing the urgent need to address the problems facing our oceans, we urge you to revise the FAO’s position on sustainable aquaculture to EXCLUDE carnivorous fish farming. The signers of this letter represent a wide range of international organizations and local communities that have studied or experienced firsthand the deleterious impacts of industrial-scale open net-pen fish farming. So, when the FAO’s goal calls for a 75% growth in global sustainable aquaculture by 2040 compared to 2020 levels1 , we are deeply concerned about how you plan to achieve it.

Aquaculture includes multiple types of production, some of which are sustainable, such as the farming of kelp and other aquatic plants, as well as the cultivation of a wide range of bivalve creatures such as mussels, clams and oysters in small scale operations. However, it also includes the farming of carnivorous fin fish2 (e.g. most commonly salmon, sea bream, and sea bass) which, when cultivated in marine-based net pens, is not sustainably farmed anywhere in the world.

Your own research acknowledges that, “Unfortunately, production and distribution of aquatic foods are not without problems. Strategies to deliver healthy, sustainable and equitable food systems do not adequately include the critical long-term impacts of overfishing, habitat degradation and unequal access to resources and markets3”.

 More and more evidence keeps coming to light on the unsustainability and environmentally damaging aspects of industrial fish farming. For example, studies have linked the following problems with fish farms:

  • increase in harmful algal blooms, exacerbating impacts from global warming4
  • negative impact on critical Posidonia meadows5
  • mass fish die-offs6
  • uncontrolled use of the carcinogen formaldehyde7
  • large amounts of microplastics and debris left behind in the waters by the fish farms8
  • high volumes of wild-caught fish used to feed farmed fish which are often taken from food-insecure low and middle income nations to develop farmed fish for consumption in industrialized nations9
  • prophylactic and overuse of antibiotics10

These negative impacts will only increase as ocean temperatures continue to rise. The bottom line is that in our current world there is NO farming of carnivorous fin fish which is environmentally sustainable. We need concrete, enforceable international standards for the remediation of damaged environments and the expansion of genuinely sustainable aquaculture options.

In April 2024, a Manifesto for a European Ocean Pact written by the European Ocean Pact Stakeholder Group, recommended that in order to pursue a strong and sustainable blue economy, the European Union should, “Promote a more sustainable consumption of seafood and aquatic food in the EU, notably through the development of least impact aquacultures (sustainable and herbivorous fish farming, multi- trophic aquaculture, shellfish farming and algaculture).” Notably absent from this list is the cultivation of carnivorous fish farming.

If the FAO’s aggressive goal of reaching a 75% growth in aquaculture includes expanding the farming of carnivorous fin fish, it would be catastrophic. In light of the above, we ask that the FAO stop supporting and promoting marine based open net carnivorous fish farming (ie. salmon, sea bream, and sea bass) which are destroying our local environments, depleting wild fish stocks and harming local economies. We ask the FAO to revise their position on sustainable aquaculture to EXCLUDE carnivorous fish farming.

 

Respectfully,

The Organizers of the Seas of Change Conference 2024 and over 160 organisations from five continents

including environmental organisations, fishing associations and scientists

1 https://www.fao.org/interactive/sdg2-roadmap/en/

2 Figure 55 on page 104 of the FAO’s 2022 report on Aquaculture and Fisheries graphically demonstrates the degree to which finfish farming dominates the market. See: https://openknowledge.fao.org/server/api/core/bitstreams/a2090042-8cda-4f35-9881-16f6302ce757/content

3https://openknowledge.fao.org/server/api/core/bitstreams/9df19f53-b931-4d04-acd3-58a71c6b1a5b/content/sofia/2022/transforming-aquatic-based-food. html#:~:text=Unfortunately%2C%20production%20and%20distribution%20of,access%20to%20resources%20and%20markets

4 https://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/13/8/396;

https://openknowledge.fao.org/server/api/core/bitstreams/9aeb8ade-a623-4954-8adf-204daae3b5de/content#:~:text=The%20results%20indicate%20that%20 climate,most%20dependent%20on%20the%20sector

5 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0025326X08003160

6 https://www.uvic.ca/socialsciences/info-for/faculty-staff/announcements/865-million-farmed-salmon-die-off-worldwide-2012-2022.php https://www.newscientist.com/article/2421227-salmon-farms-are-increasingly-being-hit-by-mass-die- offs/, https://time.com/6957610/farmed-salmon-dying/

7 https://theferret.scot/formaldehyde-used-200-times-fish-farm-industry/

8 https://www.ozon-ngo.gr/news_det.php?id=144

9 https://ig.ft.com/supermarket-salmon/; https://feedbackglobal.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/Feedback-BlueEmpire-Jan24.pdf

10 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78849-3

11 Sea: https://www.oceanoazulfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/04/222.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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