Life’s not easy for the gelatinous Blobfish. A new educational restaurant wants to change that.
There’s a certain appeal to fish farming, also known as aquaculture. Growing aquatic life in offshore pens, rivers, or big, terrestrial tanks seems not only audacious, but as convenient as, well, shooting fish in a barrel. Already, aquaculture accounts for nearly 50 percent of the worldwide fish supply, and it’s growing faster than any other type of food production. Farm-raised seafood will soon jump to 62 percent of global fish served on a plate or bought in a supermarket by 2030, a 500 percent growth rate over 20 years, according to the USDA. At a time when 85 percent of marine life is overexploited and overfished, aquaculture seems like a viable alternative.
Illustration by Tyler Hoehne
For years, wildlife organizations and international agencies have been warning that overfishing is rapidly depleting ocean fish stocks. Because the global fishing fleet is estimated to be three times larger than our oceans can sustain, the populations of big fish—tuna, swordfish, cod, marlin, and others—have declined by 90 percent since 1950. If this trend continues, populations of all food-specific species could theoretically collapse by 2048. And that’s where fish farming comes in. Though the downsides of traditionally farmed fish are numerous and well-documented—disease, environmental damage, nutritional degradation, habitat destruction, antibiotic use, and forage fish depletion among them—some innovative aquaculture models are now carving out new, non-destructive means of farming fish, and winning over longtime skeptics.
Earlier this year, biologist Peter Marko visited ten different supermarkets and bought 36 filets of certified sustainable Chilean sea bass. In a letter published last week in Current Biology, Marko explains how he extracted mitochondrial DNA samples from the fish and matched them against the distinct genetic fingerprints of the certified population. How did the genes in the retail samples stack up against the genetic material collected from a certified batch of fish in the sea? Thirteen percent of the sea bass appeared to be from another, uncertified stock, and another 8 percent were an entirely different species of fish altogether. If these eco-certified fish were Dior handbags, one in every 12 would probably be a knockoff.
Then, three NGOs pitched in. The North Sea Foundation and WWF-Netherlands produced a 'traffic light' card advising consumers which fish they could eat with a clear conscience, which they do best to avoid, and which they shouldn't touch on any account. Meanwhile, Greenpeace began a more aggressive, global campaign against 'bottom-trawling'—the practice where heavy nets are dragged across the sea floor, with potentially devastating effects to the marine ecosystem. It was "a happy coincidence," says Dr Nathalie Steins, who runs the Benelux office of the Marine Stewardship Council. "Dutch retailers are really anxious that Greenpeace might give them a bad reputation."
Photographer and fisherman Corey Arnold's latest book, Fish-Work, documents life on a crab-fishing boat in Alaska's Bering Sea. It's a captivating look into a world that doesn't often reach the dinner table—a place with staggering natural beauty, giant ocean swells, and half-crazy commercial fishermen pulling traps in one of the most fulfilling and deadliest jobs.
I spoke with Arnold from his home in Portland, Oregon.