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While the concept of factory farming for animals like chickens, cows and pigs is a basically understood by the majority of meat-eaters, there is another group of animals who are subjected to similarly horrendous conditions that most people do not know about: fish.

Just like with other conventional farm animals, our appetite for fish has created the need for us to mass-produce seafood to meet demand. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, “On a per capita basis, Americans eat about 3.5 ounces per week.”

This number might seem relatively low, but when 3.5 ounces is multiplied by the 300 million people living in the U.S. that number adds up. Around 80 percent of the world’s fish stocks are fully to over exploited and if current trends continue, it has been estimated that stocks of every wild-caught seafood will collapse by 2048.

This high demand for fish is quickly wiping out the world’s fish stocks and as this happens, the need for aquaculture, or factory farms for fish, goes up. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the aquaculture industry is growing at a rate that is three times faster than land-based animal agriculture.

So, we know how pigs, cows and chickens are treated on factory farms, is life for fish any different?

Life on an Aquafarm

Around 40 percent of all fish consumed annually, are raised on aquafarms which can either be land-based or ocean-based. Land-based farms raise thousands of fish in ponds, pools or even concrete tanks, where ocean-based aquafarms house fish in isolated cages either off-shore or in the open water. 

Keeping fish out in the ocean might seem like a better option to raise these animals, but the size of the cages used to house fish have been likened to the battery cages used for egg-laying hens.

Land-based aquafarms do not get the added benefit that the open ocean offers in term of available sun-light, but rather all light is simulated by farmers. Light exposure speeds up the rate at which fish grow, so some fish are exposed to light 24-hours a day. While this might make fish grow faster, it also negatively impacts the fish’s immune system, making them more susceptible to disease.

In both cases, fish are overstocked and have little space to swim or display their natural behaviors, creating an extremely stressful environment. Lack of space also makes it difficult for smaller fish to avoid larger, more aggressive fish. The combination of stress and aggression leads to high rates of mortality, illness and injury. Around 40 percent of aquafarmed fish will die before the farmer is ready to slaughter them.

Disease and Water Pollution

While the above explanation of overcrowding may be reminiscent to conventional factory farms, the similarities to aquaculture and animal agriculture readily show themselves in an exploration of diseases and pollution evident on fish farms.

Daniel Pauly, professor of fisheries at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, likens aquafarms to, “floating pig farms.” And with good reason. Stocking thousands of fish in a small amount of space and feeding them protein pellets (ironically made from other fish) doused with antibiotics and chemicals, such as PCB, understandably makes for highly polluted water. If you’ve ever had a fish and seen what it looks like when you forget to clean their tanks for a few weeks … you can start to fathom the idea.

Fish take in water through their gills to breathe, so the quality of the water they live in is very important. The water that aquafarmed fish are raised in have high levels of ammonia, nitrate, nitrites and suspended solids. It is not uncommon that groups of fish will become infested with parasites which feed on the gills, organs and blood of fish. Bacterial infections also run rampant.

In a land-based aquafarm, this water pollution is isolated to the pool where fish are grown, however, in open ocean farms this pollution is dumped straight into the ocean. Waste falls directly through nets and covers the ocean floor. This waste breeds bacteria that consume oxygen, creating low-oxygen zones. Low oxygen levels not only triggers a stress response in the aquaculture fish, but it has serious ramifications for the surrounding ocean ecosystem. Ocean-grown fish are also fed pesticides in an attempt to limit the amount of algae that grows on nets, meaning toxic copper sulfate is released into the oceans. Add antibiotics into the mix and you get factory farmed fish superbugs.

Are you seeing the resemblance to a pig farm yet?

Brutal Ending

The process involved in slaughtering aquaculture fish closely parallels the slaughter of other farmed animals. The 60 percent of fish who do survive this brutal life, are starved for up to 10 days before they are killed in an effort to minimize waste contamination in the water that they are transported in on the way to the slaughterhouse.

According to PETA, “Large fish, such as salmon, are sometimes bashed on the head with a wooden bat called a “priest,” and many are seriously injured but still alive and suffering when they are cut open. Smaller fish, such as trout, are often killed by simply draining water away and leaving them to slowly suffocate or by packing them in ice while they are still completely conscious.”

While many people think fish are unable to understand suffering or feel pain, this is hardly the case.

A study done by associate professor Culum Brown of Macquarie University in Australia, found that fish have good memories, live in highly complex social communities where they learn from one another. Brown also found that fish exhibit signs of anxiety and can in fact feel pain.

What You Can Do

Aquaculture is animal agriculture by a different name. In the same way that we have created a disconnect that allows us to exploit and abuse farm animals, the same has been done for fish. While aquaculture has been presented as a viable way to produce fish when the ocean’s natural stores are running it, it can hardly be regarded as the solution to our collapsing oceans. Not only does aquaculture also contribute to overfishing as carnivorous fish, such as tuna, require “feed fish” which are often caught from the ocean, but the pollution created by open ocean farms directly harms the ocean ecosystem.

You can help to end the cruelty to factory farmed fish as well as the residual environmental impacts of aquaculture by lowering your consumption of fish, or eliminating it all together. An individual who follows a plant-based diet can save 225 fish a year. When there are incredible plant-based alternatives to fish, making the compassionate choice has never been more delicious!

Image source: Bytemarks/Flickr

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0 comments on “Fish: The New Factory Farmed Animals”

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B Brown
3 Years Ago

Some major seafood companies that are ethical in their practice do not source fish from places that do not have regulatory and spot on investigators of their own on the ground fulltime. They do not rely on local regulatory companies and have higher than average quality assurance because they can afford to do so. They do not place natural species at risk and they are inspected to a high standard or they just do not ship.

What most people do not realize, is in North America, we have very little edible species left because the stocks have been depleted from poaching and over fishing. Three quarters of the seafood and fish on the market is from over seas, and is farmed. You get what you pay for, cheap, no name is just that. Alot goes into quality brand fish/seafood on the North American market.

P- Francesco Villella
3 Years Ago

Aquaponics are practiced in greenhouses in both developed and developing countries. I\'ve tried Tilapa bot am too far North. less then 2 mules upstream a trout farm has existed for over 50 years. NO SUCH CONDITIONS EXIST in the rural small farm markets raising fish. This is as much a lie as the ASPCA using FEMA ordered pet abandonment cases during manditory EVAC to further their charity scam.

3 Years Ago

This message brought to you by P.E.T.A.
Thank You

Bryan Thomas
12 Jan 2015

Yes. P.E.T.A. (People Eat Tasty Animals). Not everyone is a vegetarian. And guess what? Animals eat tasty animals too. You know what happens to baby fish that don\'t grow up to be mature fish...? They get eaten by other fish. Only about 10-20% of the 30,000,000 fish eggs spawned by a single fish actually mature--the rest are reabsorbed by mother nature via the food chain. Aquaculture is an excellent sustainable method to provide the general human population with food.

12 Jan 2015

Where to begin Bryan? People eating... hilarious! Justifying your choices by looking at what other animals do...mature! Ad hominum...all great ways to make your argument.

But back in the real world, the FAO predicts that aquaculture could become half of the world\'s fisheries within the next decade - and they will probably need to because we are destroying the oceans so fast. 90% of the growth will be in Asia, and the majority in China. Most of tehse operations will not be the clean utopias that you are presenting. The amount of wild caught fish, antibioticcs, and waste that goes into these operations has been well documented and will continue to be a problem.

bryan thomas
13 Jan 2015

Yes.. There was supposed to be a piece of humor in there-glad you got it. I was vegetarian once-long ago-I get it.

But seriously-Aquaculture is a firm opportunity to make a difference--Right here in the good ole USA. Check this link below. This guy is my hero. There are plenty of sustainable species of fish we can grow indoors and take the pressure off of our oceans. (Disclaimer-I\'m not in the aquaculture business-but I wish I was). If a few people in every community rose to these standards and quit buying fish/produce, etc from Cambodia/China or where ever it is raised....our food chain would be much much better. Most of these farms are private/small scale-but that is rapidly changing. http://www.growingpower.org/education/what-we-grow/aquaponics/

Bryan Thomas
3 Years Ago

Typical City Slicker Journalist that likes to paint with a broad paint brush. Indoor Fish Farming has changed quite a bit in the past 10 years. You need to do a little more research before you slam aquaculture. Indoor fish farming is a system of growing fish and producing a system that filters down through the food chain to produce vegetables on the other end. Quite a one sided view of indoor fish farming/aquaculture. In fact indoor farming is helping to save the oceans from over fishing. Many and most indoor farms are on the cutting edge of producing a product that do not have to be hunted. When was the last time you went out and hunted for a chicken sandwich? Get with the times and support true aquaculture--not the blasphemy you are trying to spread around today......

David Brown
12 Jan 2015

Typical industry huckster defending his own $ and ignoring scientific evidence and research to the contrary. You need to do a little more research.

12 Jan 2015

aquaculture is as bad a you say. No worse than pig, chicken or cow. The only solution is lower the human population to sustain the rest of the animal kingdom.... So Captain I nominate YOU.

Besides I believe in aquaponics. Which requires the farmer to balance the needs of the plants he is raising as well as the fish in symbiotic system

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