Wild fish victims of aquaculture

CAP and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) are concerned to learn that Malaysia had signed an agreement and institutional cooperation contract with Norway on Regulatory Framework for Aquaculture in Malaysia and to expand Malaysia’s aquaculture industry.

Unsustainable aquaculture can devastate marine life and the environment and impact on local people’s food and security.  The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO), 2010 report states that 85% of the world’s fish resources are fully exploited or overexploited. To meet the global demand, aquaculture is being promoted but large volumes of wild fish have to be caught to feed the aquaculture industry.

Most farm-raised carnivorous fish including shrimp are fed formulated feed pellets comprised of grain, fishmeal and fish oil. A proportion of our total fish catch is being diverted for aquaculture whereas food fish for direct human consumption is declining.

For instance, studies show that to create 1kg of high-protein fishmeal, it takes 4.5kg of smaller pelagic, open-ocean, by-catch or trash fish. The term trash fish is misleading as large parts of this catch consist of important food fish that are young (or juveniles) and too small to be sold. These fishes play an important role in marine ecosystems and of higher value when fully grown.

At the current growth rate of the industrial farming of carnivorous fish species, the UN FAO reports that fish populations targeted for fish oil could be depleted by 2015. Fishmeal resources could be depleted by 2030.  Consumers of farmed fish may not be aware that wild-caught fish are often involved in the aquaculture production and how it is damaging our fisheries resources.

A decline in small fishes caught for fish meal will cause an impact and imbalance as other marine carnivorous fish and predatory mammals lose an important source of nutrition. A report by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation highlights that other animals, such as seabirds and mammals along the coasts, may also be affected by a decline in forage fish, as their supply of food is also reduced.

The Malaysian government should consider the lifecycle and cumulative impacts of the aquaculture industry to the entire marine and coastal ecosystem. There are other problems created by industrial scale aquaculture including the destruction of coastal habitats for development of ponds, waste disposal, socio-economic impacts, the introduction and risk of diseases and the possible escape of exotic species that can threaten indigenous breeds.

We reiterate that the Malaysian government’s continued promotion of the aquaculture industry is not sustainable and would only deplete our natural fish stocks. Hence the government must review its aquaculture policy and halt threats facing the capture fisheries industry.

Fisheries resources are renewable and will be able to regenerate if proper measures are taken. Thus CAP and SAM urge the government to focus on the conservation and protection of natural resources to enhance and restore the country’s fishery resources.

Letter to the Editor, 29 August 2012