factory farming: fish
The underwater version of factory farming is called aquaculture, and it refers to farms on which fish are confined to pens and harvested. Wild fish populations have become decimated as a result of new technology that allows us to catch increasingly unsustainable amounts of fish. Aquaculture sprang up as a means to produce large amounts of fish in a sustainable manner. Some farms rear their fish in controlled tanks constructed on land, and other farms keep their fish in enclosures set within coastal estuaries.
There are multiple factors that make aquaculture an inhumane and stressful environment for fish. Water quality is a huge problem when large amounts of fish are kept in a small space; the water is often so dirty that it’s difficult for the fish to breath and they can suffocate. Fish can also become so stressed from overcrowding that they actually cannibalize one another. Their diets are usually deficient and sometimes unnatural, with some fish bred to tolerate corn in their diets. This contributes to weakened immune systems, so fish must be given vaccines and antibiotics to help ward off diseases. Farmed salmon, in addition, are given salmon-colored dye in their feed – without it their flesh would be gray. Because the environment is so unnatural on fish farms, the farmers have to use an abundance of chemicals to keep the fish alive. Some are used to kill bacteria, while others are herbicides for the vegetation. Sea lice are prevalent in dirty farm water and are a major source of suffering. They create open lesions on fish and will eat down to their bones.
For those farms set in the coastal estuaries all of these chemicals, lice, fish excrement and diseases seep into the estuaries, polluting the natural habitats, causing algae blooms and unbalancing the local ecosystems. Millions of fish inevitably escape every year, and when those fish aren’t native to the area they’re in, they can wipe out or displace native species and spread disease.
The average death rate for farmed fish is 10-30%. Those that survive are eventually starved for about a week to minimize waste during transport to slaughter. They are then loaded onto oxygenated trucks, transported to kill plants where the water is drained and they suffocate to death. While many people view fish as mindless and unfeeling, hundreds of new studies have shown they are capable of much more than we knew. Studies prove fish have impressive long-term memories and problem solving skills, including the ability to remember a specific escape route from a net 11 months after learning it. They are capable of using tools, forming monogamous relationships, and of passing information along to one another. They can also recognize one another as individuals, including who is to be trusted or not! Surely the number and extent of these studies open up the possibility that the suffering of fish might be equal to that experienced by land animals.
Note - This video contains footage of salmon fish farms in British Columbia. It does not contain graphic images.