Program Underway to Label Farmed Fish

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

There is yet another program afoot for sustainability labeling of seafood.  This one concentrates on farmed fish.  It’s a sustainability index that its creators hope will come into increasing use by marketers and consumers.  It’s called the GAPI, which stands for Global Aquaculture Performance Index.  There are sustainability scores for the aquaculture programs in most countries that raise fish in ocean pens.  It was created for the Lenfest Foundation by Doctor John Volpe for the University of Victoria, Canada.

The index looks at factors like the amount of energy used in production, the burden on the environment outside the pens, and the amount of drugs used on the fish.

Fish farming is growing fast, and has been vehemently opposed by Alaska fishermen, who saw farmed fish devastate the salmon market, forcing big price reductions and big changes in the marketing and handling of wild salmon.  But the new sustainability index shows that concerns about farmed salmon may be dwarfed by other sectors of the industry that are quickly expanding in many parts of the world.

The index is based on 2007, the most recent year for which data is available.  It rates how sustainable the fish farming program is for each species in each country, and also what the cumulative impact is.  Because the salmon program has been around for decades now, many of its problems have been solved, Volpe says, and salmon raising countries scaled up their programs some time ago

Doctor Volpe says some salmon farming is now scoring quite well, for example the Chinook salmon program in New Zealand.  And he says that Atlantic salmon production is already peaking out, while the farming of other species, in other countries, is expanding rapidly:

The GAPI scores for Asian countries reflect this.  China, Taiwan and even Japan score quite low. And fish farming in those countries is growing rapidly.

The program looked at 20 different species – only fish that are raised in saltwater.

Volpe said fish farms are now taking up tens of thousands of square kilometers of the oceans, and many of the programs are far more energy intensive than land agriculture.

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