ANALYSIS - As part of New York’s ongoing Nordic Food Festival, the Norwegian Seafood Council hosted a roundtable with journalists to help tackle some of the misconceptions surrounding farmed seafood. The panel of nutritionists, chefs and farmers assembled at Aquavit agreed on one thing; what is left out of the noise surrounding the debate about wild vs farmed, is that the risks of not eating seafood outweighs it all, reports Øistein Thorsen for TheFishSite.com
Chef and restaurateur Peter Hoffman pleaded with the audience to move beyond the simple and false dichotomy of wild caught seafood equals good, and farmed seafood equals bad. “It’s more complicated than that.” In his work with the Chef’s Collaborative he has been helping chefs look deeper into the issues and start examining how wild fish is caught, and what kind of farming practices are used.
“Why does seafood get all the negative environmental focus,” asked Dr Mozaffarian of Harvard University, “too much energy is spent on comparing wild to farmed fish.” The appropriate comparison, in terms of environmental and health impacts, are how seafood stacks up compared to other protein production systems. “With this focus in mind the answer to the question of wild vs. farmed salmon is probably to stop eating beef,” he joked.
According to the Norwegian Seafood Council salmon aquaculture is among the most resource-efficient methods of food production, as salmon are more than twice as efficient as pork and chicken, and 8-10 times as efficient as cattle, as converting feed to energy, and ultimately meat for human consumption.
Dr Mozaffarian also discussed the influence of people’s romantic view of fishing, as the last bastion of food from a wild source. The industry must get better at communicating a compelling story – from fjord to fork – that emphasis both the nutritional and environmental credentials of farmed fish.
Rick Moonen, chef, restaurateur and cookbook author, chimed in: “I am having a lot of success with introducing underutilized fish species in my restaurant, along side the household names.” He pointed to the global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050 as a reason why aquaculture also has to be part of the solution.
“My concern about aquaculture, after being very excited about it in the 1980s, is the density of fish and the stress this can cause. Luckily the farmed salmon industry is starting to listen to these concerns and take actions to address them.” Moonen sources farmed cobia and arctic char for his “seafood restaurant in the desert.”
Author and nutritionist Kate Geagan declared “health is not found in the nutritional supplement isle.” Fish is good for you, and the fear stories about what seafood to eat and what to avoid is taking the focus away from this core message. “Not eating seafood is the worst thing you can do from a health perspective,” she said.
She agreed with Dr Mozaffarian that the mercury scare is a proverbial red herring for anyone that is not pregnant or a nursing mother, and that the emphasis should instead be on how to make seafood a preferred food for the high chair. Furthermore, Ms Geagan passionately called for a shaking up of the fish counter to inspire Americans to eat more seafood. “We need diversity of nutrients and a resilient food system,” she said, “best practice aquaculture that treats its employees and its fish well, is part of this.”
Magnus Skretting of Marine Harvest’s Sterling White Halibut AS, the sole industry representative on the panel, said he was proud of being a farmer. “We should be proud of our controlled food production systems,” he argued, “we must increase aquaculture production to help feed the growing global population.”
“On a globe that is 70 per cent covered by water, we simply can’t continue to rely on the land for over 90 per cent of our protein production,” he concluded.