Industrial agriculture is killing our fisheries

Nitrogen and phosphorus from industrial farming and chicken factories is washing into the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico and over-fertilizing algae. The enormous algae blooms take over fish habitats and consume all the oxygen, making hypoxic zones where no aquatic life can survive.

Your Chicken Nuggets Are Killing Your Crab Cakes

The primary source of the chemicals is industrial corn farms in the Midwest, and factory chicken farms in the Mid-Atlantic.

Industrial corn farms over-apply fertilizers to their fields. The crops cannot absorb the entire amount, and rains carry the residual chemical from the corn farms into the Mississippi, which deposits them in the Gulf of Mexico, where they feed the algae bloom.

The chicken factories on the Delmarva Peninsula produce a huge amount of nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich manure, too much of which is washed into the Chesapeake Bay.

I think the title of the linked article sums it up nicely. If you, like me, enjoy Maryland crab cakes or Louisiana shrimp gumbo, stop eating factory-farmed chicken and processed corn-containing products!


Cheers! (i.e., British kudos)

A couple shout-outs from HP’s recent trip to London…

Marks and Spencer’s Forever Fish campaign:

M&S has had a sustainable fishing policy for 12 years and 84% of the wild fish sold at M&S is now independently certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or undergoing MSC certification. But now M&S wants to take it further – and that is where Forever Fish comes in. Through partnerships with WWF and Marine Conservation Society, education programmes in primary schools and Fish of the Month promotions, the plan is to take the lead to make sure our sea life is protected for future generations to enjoy.

and Chop’d, which uses local ingredients where possible:

Wherever possible we work with the seasons. Every September we take the van down to Kent to pile it full of heirloom apples from Brogdale Farm, home of the National Fruit Collection. Every spring we gather bagfuls of wild garlic from the woods of West Sussex.

All our chicken comes from a single farm on the Essex/Suffolk border, is barn reared and meets farm-assured and ‘red tractor’ standards.

Factory Fish Farms


Big Time Factory Fish Farming Coming to U.S. Shores

The good news:

Trader Joe’s, pushed hard by Greenpeace and others, says that by the end of 2012 it will offer only sustainable fish in its 365 stores. Previously the company has eliminated heavily overfished Chilean Sea Bass, Orange Roughy, and Red Snapper from its refrigerators.

The bad news: The government is on the verge of expanding off-shore fish farming to support consumers’ increased demand, and reduce American reliance on imported fish. Greater numbers of fish farms means more pollution–the article says the pollution from fish waste, uneaten food, antibiotics, parasites, and other byproducts will be equal to sewage generated by 17 million people. If genetically-modified farmed fish escape and breed with wild fish, it can weaken the native stock. Carnivorous fish require smaller wild fish as food, so feeding greater numbers of farmed fish depletes the supply of wild feeder fish. Expanding farming into the oil-saturated Gulf of Mexico has unknown health repercussions for consumers. The negatives are numerous when fish farming is careless, and it’s important for the government to enforce sustainable practices… which can be said for all types of farming!

It’s hard to be a responsible fish consumer these days. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a helpful site — and smartphone apps! — to help shoppers choose sustainably-caught fish that are low in toxins. Here are what they consider the best choices, as of last fall:

  • Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia)
  • Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.)
  • Oysters (farmed)
  • Pacific Sardines (wild-caught)
  • Rainbow Trout (farmed)
  • Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska)
  • Arctic Char (farmed)
  • Barramundi (farmed, from the U.S.)
  • Dungeness Crab (wild-caught, from California, Oregon or Washington)
  • Longfin Squid (wild-caught, from the U.S. Atlantic)
  • Mussels (farmed)

Sustainable Sushi has another list to help sushi eaters navigate a menu.

So, please ask where your fish came from and how it was caught, and avoid the 4 fish on Sustainable Sushi’s “4 Fish We Just Shouldn’t Eat” list: Bluefin tuna, Orange roughy, Shark, and Chilean sea bass.

Sustainable lobster farming

Haute Pasture recently visited the North Shore of Massachusetts. As we strolled through Gloucester, stacks of lobster traps caught our attention and made us wonder: is lobster farming sustainable? Is it humane? And while we’re at it, is boiling a live lobster cruel?

Lobster traps in Gloucester, Mass.

First, the boiling: According to eHow, lobsters have small brains and no central nervous systems, so they don’t have time for their brains to register pain before the water kills them. WiseGeek disagrees, based on the visible distress shown by struggling lobsters as they die in the pot. They suggest freezing a lobster for 15 minutes, so slow its nervous system, chopping it in half to kill it quickly, and then boiling it. Other humane lobster-killing devices are hitting the market, such as the CrustaStun, in the UK, which electrocutes lobsters; and a giant pressure-cooker-type machine used by Shucks Maine Lobster.

Is the farming process humane? The trapping process is easy on the animals: metal boxes sit on the seafloor with bait inside. The lobsters crawl in, have a snack, and are free to crawl out again. Only if they happen to be in the trap when it’s pulled to the surface are they caught. Because lobsters are usually purchased by the customer alive, farmers and middlemen are incented to treat the creatures well once they are harvested. One might think keeping lobsters in tanks at stores and restaurants is cruel, but this article reports that studies at the Marine Biological Laboratory on Cape Cod suggest that the close quarters dull their sense of smell, which relaxes them, and the cold water in the tanks slows their metabolism, reducing their stress.

Is lobster farming sustainable? The answer seems to be yes. Massachusetts has a program called Massachusetts Lobster Fishing The Right Way, which educates the public on the use of sinking groundlines on lobster traps rather than surface lines, which can entangle whales. Massachusetts is the first state to require the use of sinking lines connecting lobster traps along the seafloor, and over 3,000 miles of floating rope has been removed from state waters by lobstermen. Other state regulations include trap vents to allow undersized lobsters to escape, minimum and maximum size requirements, and the required release of egg-bearing females.

Maine regulations are similar to Massachusetts’, with additional protections for breeding females. If a female with eggs is caught, her tail is notched before being returned to the water, marking her for life as an unharvestable breeder. If a female’s eggs are discovered after she is caught, the Lobster Seed Fund buys her from the fisherman to return her to the sea. The Fund is supported by lobster fishing license fees. Maine lobster fisheries are under consideration by the Marine Stewardship Council in London for sustainability certification.

Lobster fisheries are one of the only reliable sources of sustainably-farmed seafood today. If you purchase a Maine or Massachusetts lobster and kill it yourself in a humane way, you are making a responsible, and delicious, seafood choice.