No fish or seafood captured or harvested from the wild can be labelled as ‘organic’.
The reason is, if you can’t be sure of the history of a product how can you be sure it will meet the organic standards without extensive and expensive testing. Therefore only farmed fish can be given the organic label.
Although fish farming is relatively new in Western countries it has been in existence for thousands of years in the Far East. We in the West in our quest for ever bigger production levels have pumped chemicals into the water and into the feed in aquaculture systems in order to get the largest fish in the least time. Fortunately there are a growing number of organic farmers who are recognising the financial as well as ethical benefits of going organic.
Some of the industry issues encouraging organic fish farming are:
- Pollution levels in the oceans
- Over-fishing and depleted fish stocks
- Environmentally aware fishing techniques
- Pesticides treatments in conventional fish farms
- PCBs and other toxins found in conventional fish farms.
Several studies have found significantly higher levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in farmed salmon than in other animal proteins in the US (port, beef, chicken and wild salmon). PCBs have been found to be carcinogenic. The studies tested fish from five different countries.
The organic aquaculture industry is in its infancy in Australia with only a couple of farms with certification. These farms do not use any of the artificial pesticides, dyes, or antibiotics that are widely used in conventional fish farming. Aquaculture is a new organic sector and, arguably, the most challenging, with no organic fish farming tradition in Australia to follow.
From an animal welfare point of view, there is some controversy about allowing farmed fish to be labelled as ‘organic’. Organic principles demand that livestock (which includes fish) should be able to express its ‘natural’ behaviour pattern and be kept as close to natural stocking densities as possible. This creates challenges for fish farmers, especially for fish such as salmon.
The environmental effects of fish farming are often quite severe. Criticisms of the industry are for pollution from fish waste and uneaten food, escapees into waterways and oceans, and the ecological and environmental impacts of sourcing raw materials from the sea to produce fish.
One of the biggest challenges is the development of organic feed especially for carnivorous fish such as the salmon. Feed manufacturers need to find alternatives to fishmeal and oil, perhaps vegetable meal and oils, although these are not the natural feed of these fish. Another solution is to grow fish feed.
The nature of the growing environment presents another challenge. Farming in water increases the risk of spread of disease or contamination from pollution. Fish farms may need to use sealed systems where nutrient cycling can be achieved and contamination is minimal.
Molluscs / Shellfish
Molluscan shellfish farming is different to other fisheries operations in that molluscs tend to be stationary creatures. The farming practices are more like those of vegetable crop production practices than those of wild or aquaculture fisheries. Farmers plant or set oyster, clam, mussel, scallop or geoduck seed in a designated area, watch over their crops in the growing period and then harvest the crop.
It is difficult to develop organic shellfish standards. Some of the concerns are:
- Molluscs/shellfish live in an environment that cannot be completely controlled, including ‘grazing’ on naturally occurring microalgae.
- Organic livestock must be fed on at least 95 percent organic diet their entire life span.
- Molluscs/shellfish can pose health hazards because of contamination of naturally occurring pathogens in the water.
- Open water molluscan shellfish aquaculture is akin to ‘wild’ stock issues.