Americans love seafood—especially salmon. Fishermen and Indigenous peoples on this continent have long revered salmon as a cultural touchstone with phenomenal life histories and deep connections to the place. Plus, salmon tastes good. We love salmon so much that in 2021 Americans ate almost 3.5 pounds of it, on average, making it the most popular fish in the U.S. That should come as no surprise, given the growing number of experts touting its nutritional and heart-healthy benefits.

But our growing appetite for salmon can’t be sated by wild-caught fish alone. That’s why we’ve turned to fish farming, or aquaculture, to meet this demand. We look beyond our borders to satisfy this need. Most of the salmon we eat today is farm-raised in Chile or Norway, where conditions are more supportive of their growth. However, health and environmental concerns with salmon farming have continued to make headlines.

Fortunately, salmon are not the only fish in the sea.

Fish

Nenue (Ocean Era)

The Future of Fish

We see tremendous potential for open ocean fish farming to fill the growing demand for seafood that’s good for our health and for the planet’s well-being. Open ocean aquaculture in U.S. federal waters—between 3 and 200 nautical miles offshore—presents a unique opportunity to create a climate-resilient, equitable, and science-based food system from the outset. And we’re already farming some sustainable seafood, like mussels and clams, in nearshore waters.

Modern terrestrial agriculture relies on monocultures of a few species, which reduces resilience to environmental changes like climate change and creates environmental problems, such as depletion of critical nutrients. We should avoid replicating this system for ocean aquaculture. The new blue economy paradigm—a system in which ocean resources support jobs and livelihoods—must move away from monoculture and extractive practices and instead encourage farming a diversity of species sustainably.

Andrew Zimmern has seen a host of great examples of innovations in seafood while producing the PBS docuseries Hope in the Water, which premieres this week at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. The series follows Shailene Woodley, Martha Stewart, José Andrés, and Baratunde Thurston as they explore various innovative blue food solutions around the globe that are being implemented by fishers, aquaculturists, and other pioneers. These solutions move us toward a more diverse and sustainable food system.

We know Americans love salmon, but we think you’ll like some of the other options out there, too.

Fish

Aquaculture in Hawaii (Blue Ocean Mariculture)

The Ideal Farmed Fish

The ocean hosts an amazing diversity of fish, but you can’t farm just any fish. Certain characteristics make some species better for farming: a shorter lifecycle, efficiency at converting feed into fillets, resistance to parasites and diseases, and a non-aggressive demeanor. Of course, the fish must also be delicious.

Striped bass, yellowtail, groupers, and snappers are all amenable to farming, and each offers a unique flavor profile. Farming herbivorous fish like nenue (known in some regions as chubs) would dramatically reduce reliance on fishmeal and fish oil, which would also reduce production costs and environmental impacts.

Fish farming also improves the flavor profile by carefully controlling the fish’s diet. Fish that are not traditionally considered good to eat may become great, flavorful candidates with a diet change.

The ideal farmed fish should also complement wild catches rather than threaten the livelihoods of U.S. fishermen. Hawaiian Kanpachi is a stellar example. In the wild, kanpachi are susceptible to parasitic worms, making them unmarketable and, therefore, not a target species for fishermen. However, farm-raised kanpachi are not exposed to this parasite, and they provide a superb sashimi-quality product without competing in the marketplace with wild-caught fish.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Congress is considering the SEAfood Act, which we support as Coalition for Sustainable Aquaculture members. This bill would lay the scientific foundation for best practices and develop equitable workforce development programs for U.S. open ocean aquaculture. Thus, consumers can be confident that U.S. farm-raised seafood is safe, nutritious, and sustainable.

To truly fulfill this potential, we should consider fish suited to U.S. waters that provide a climate-resilient food source for a greater number of people with lower environmental impact. Farmed salmon has been the industry’s poster child, but we believe that there are plenty more fish in the sea. Let’s amplify a food system that supports us and the planet. Let’s grow it here and do it right.

Neil Anthony Sims, is the founder of Ocean Era (formerly Kampachi Farms),  a Hawaii-based mariculture company focused on discovering and commercializing ways that marine aquaculture can feed humanity and mitigate climate change.  Rod Fujita is the Environmental Defense Fund’s Lead Scientist.

Hope in the Water  debuts Wednesday, June 19 at 9 p.m.  on PBS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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