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How Fish Farms Destroy the Ecosystem and Threaten Your Health

Fish used to be one of the healthiest foods on the planet, but pollution and farming perversions have made most fish a highly unhealthy food, and some types of farmed fish the most toxic food on the planet.

Fish farming, which began about 65 years ago, is considered by many to be one of the least sustainable approaches to farming. This is particularly true when it comes to carnivorous fish like salmon, which feed on other fish. To raise 1 pound of salmon, you need over 2 pounds of wild fish to produce its feed.

In addition to being an unsustainable practice, aquaculture also causes many environmental problems, and poses unique risks to your health. In fact, industrial fish farming raises many of the same concerns about chemicals and pollutants associated with feedlot cattle and factory chicken farms.

Feedlots of the Sea

Most wild-caught fish now suffer from some degree of contamination, due to widespread environmental pollution. Since most fish farms are placed in open waters or inland lakes, farmed fish are exposed to those same pollutants, but they're also fed a concoction of pesticides, antibiotics1 and other drugs.

Toxic copper sulfate is also frequently used to keep nets free of algae. All of these toxins build up in sea floor sediments and are dispersed through the environment, affecting other fish and wild sea creatures.

Despite its many drawbacks, aquaculture is booming. Between 2008 and 2013, the farmed fish industry in the U.S. grew at a pace of 5 percent per year. As noted in the featured video, better solutions are needed.

One novel invention is the aquapod — a large, predator-proof geodesic sphere that can withstand being placed further out in the ocean. By dispersing the waste byproducts in deeper waters, the environmental impact is lessened.

However, in my view this is far from an ideal solution, as drugs and toxins are still being dispersed into the wild, and while it may take longer to produce adverse effects, those effects are certainly not eliminated by this method.

It's similar to dumping toxic waste barrels into deep waters in the middle of the ocean. It may be out of sight and out of mind, but that doesn't mean it has no environmental ramifications in the long run!

Land-Based Fish Farms Also Wreak Ecological Havoc

Another solution has been to place fish farms on or close to land, but recent research2 shows that this isn't the answer either. As reported by CBC News:3

"The only peer-reviewed study examining the environmental impacts of Nova Scotia land-based fish farms has found some negative effects on downstream ecosystem.

A now-defunct unit of Environment Canada conducted research at five sites in 2011 which grow juvenile fish for transfer later to open ocean pens ...

Lead researcher Benoit Lalonde said they looked at the health of benthic invertebrates, 'the building blocks of what lives in the river or the stream' in areas where water that passed over hatcheries flowed ...

Researchers found significant changes in biodiversity ... [T]he only species that flourished were 'pollution tolerant species' ... 'What we lost there were all the sensitive species,' he said."

Humans living next to fish farms also suffer ill effects. In Vietnam, more than 100 families living near a canal that houses two fish farms report suffering from an array of diseases linked to water pollution.4

Prior to the installation of these fish farms, the water in the canal was clean and usable, but within a span of just two years, the farms have destroyed the water quality to the point that residents have to boil the water just to be able to bathe in it.

Half of All Farmed Fish Suffer Genetic Mutations and Deformities

Research also shows that farm-raised fish tend to develop all sorts of mutations, suggesting this method of farming is too far from nature's ideal. Some of the mutations have been linked to the pesticides used to combat sea lice and other pests, as these chemicals have been found to also affect the fishes' DNA.

According to Kurt Oddekalv, a respected Norwegian environmental activist, about 50 percent of farmed cod are deformed, and female cod that escape from farms are known to mate with wild cod, spreading the genetic mutations and deformities into the wild population.

Similarly, a recent study5 published in the journal Scientific Reports found that half of all farm-raised fish examined had deformed ear bones, which causes hearing impairment.

In larger, older fish, the odds of this deformity were even higher. Among farm-raised salmon weighing more than 9 pounds, all had this deformity in at least one ear. As reported by Newsweek:6

"The otoliths (ear bones) of these fish vibrate at a different frequency than the rest of the animal's body and are used to pick up and measure sound waves ...

In healthy fish, these bones are composed of aragonite, a crystalline form of calcium carbonate. But as Reimer and colleagues found, many of these otoliths were deformed and composed of a different material — vaterite.

Vaterite is also made up of calcium carbonate, but in an irregular and less dense crystal structure, thus changing the way that sound is absorbed and processed ... The presence of these vaterite deformities was 10 times higher in farmed fish than in wild animals ... "

What's Causing the Ear Bone Deformities?

The cause for these ear bone deformities is still unknown. Researchers suggest it may be triggered by some dietary factor, or may be related to their abnormally increased growth rate. Genetics is another possibility, and the researchers hope to investigate all of these hypotheses.

While hearing loss may seem like a deformity of no consequence in farmed fish, it can indeed have adverse consequences. Most farmed fish will never be released into the wild where they'd have to fend for themselves and find their own food.

But some, such as Pacific salmon, are raised in hatcheries only to be released into the wild in order to repopulate the species. As noted by Newsweek:7

"Allison Coffin Ph.D., a researcher at Washington State University who wasn't involved in the study, says the deformity could possibly affect the survival of fish released to the wild ...

Importantly, though, the study provides 'more evidence hatchery conditions are causing problems with the fish, and we need to figure out what we're doing,' she says."

Farmed Salmon Has Many Other Abnormal Features, Including Highest Toxic Load of Any Food Tested

Farmed salmon also suffer other disturbing mutations. The flesh of the farmed salmon is "brittle," and breaks apart when bent — a highly abnormal feature. The nutritional content is also wildly abnormal, which may have consequences for your health. Wild salmon contains about 5 to 7 percent fat whereas the farmed variety can contain anywhere from 14.5 to 34 percent.

Many toxins readily accumulate in fat, which means even when raised in similarly contaminated conditions, farmed salmon will contain far more toxins than wild.

This elevated toxicity is quite significant. According to toxicology researcher Jerome Ruzzin Ph.D., in Norway, farmed salmon is one of the most toxic foods in the world! Overall, tests show farmed salmon contain five times more toxins than any other food product tested.

Shockingly, research reveals that the most significant source of toxic exposure is not actually the pesticides or the antibiotics, but the dry pellet feed. Pollutants found in the fish feed include dioxins, PCBs, and a number of different drugs and chemicals. The source of these toxins originates in the fatty fish used for the feed — fish that cannot be sold for direct human consumption due to their elevated pollution levels. These pollutants then get incorporated into the feed pellets.

Another problem stems from the manufacturing process. The fatty fish are first cooked and separated into protein meal and oil. While the oil has high levels of dioxins and PCBs, the protein powder further adds to the toxicity of the end product. To the protein powder, an "antioxidant" called ethoxyquin is added.

This chemical was developed by Monsanto in the 1950s — as a pesticide — and it really does not belong in fish food. In fact, Europe has strict regulations on this pesticide in other foods, such as fruits and vegetables.

The chemical helps prevent oxidation, which is why fish pellet manufacturers secretly began using it as an "antioxidant," but the effects of this chemical on human health have never actually been established. However, the one and only study ever done on ethoxyquin and human health found it has the ability to cross the blood brain barrier, and may have carcinogenic effects.