Farmed and Dangerous
Can Hawai‘i mariculture avoid the pitfalls of fish farms elsewhere?
May 28, 2003 Honolulu Weekly
For years it’s been touted as an ultimate health food, a rich source of protein full of
omega-3 unsaturated fats and other beneficial nutrients. Across the country, and here in
Hawai‘i, you can find “fresh Atlantic” or “fresh Canadian” salmon in major food stores.
Most consumers would be surprised to know that those slabs of pinkish flesh in
Styrofoam packages come not from feisty wild fish, swimming free in cold northern
waters, but from densely packed feed lots — “floating pig farms,” as Daniel Pauly, a
fisheries expert at University of British Columbia, calls them.
Around the world, the impacts of offshore aquaculture (or mariculture) provoke
serious criticism and opposition. It’s been reported that the acres of open-ocean fish pens
proliferating around the world have spawned voluminous wastes that contaminate local
waters, drive whales and dolphins from their coastal habitats, and cause alarming declines
in wild fish populations from Norway to Chile to the Mediterranean Sea. By competing
with traditional fisheries, fish farms deprive fishers of livelihood. In exchange for
sacrificing the health of their local waters and marine life, communities may gain some
jobs, but the fish products often are exported to distant, high-value markets. Profits travel
far afield, too.
Despite claims that mariculture increases world fish supplies, raising carnivorous
species such as salmon and finfish requires as much as 5 pounds of wild-caught fish for
every 1 pound of farmed fish, according to a 2000 article in the prestigious science
journal Nature by Rosamond Naylor, of Stanford University, and other researchers. The
article documents the fact that catches of anchovies, sardines, herring and other small
pelagic fishes have tripled in the last decade to supply food for farmed fish. Of course,
this catch could itself feed people, or the bigger fish and mammals in the seas.
Lessons from BC
Now fish farming has come to Hawai‘i, with more of it planned. In 1999, the state
Legislature rolled out a royal welcome mat for “sustainable” open-ocean aquaculture by
amending the Ocean and Submerged Lands Leasing Act to allow private entities to obtain
leases on areas of the ocean. The legislation failed to define “sustainable” — how will
mariculture actually benefit the people of Hawai‘i or sustain our invaluable marine
resources? — nor did it address the need for operations standards or environmental
protection. And officials responsible for aquaculture under the Department of Agriculture
have yet to establish policies for site selection, environmental monitoring and
With one fish farm operating off O‘ahu and two proposed, the state seems about to