Most of us are aware of recent buzzwords sweeping the nation such as “fake news.” It is everywhere, and the term is thrown about almost daily. It lives in a lot of places, aside from politics. The problem of fake news is a difficult one. What’s unfortunate is when it is based in old information that just keeps getting perpetuated. Or, when a concept is continually evolving, but the narrative hasn’t caught up to the changes.
Let’s look at the rapidly evolving concept of sustainability. I say rapidly evolving because sustainability 10 years ago, is not what it is now. And it’s not what it will be 10 years from now.
The fishing industry has some great examples. Thirty years ago, sustainability was about managing the populations and supply of harvestable fish. Practices like gill-netting and bottom trawling became a concern because of the destructive impact on open ocean sea life. Dolphins and other non-harvest wildlife were getting scooped up in the nets, and that was tragic. Organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) started making recommendations on species of fish that were good for repopulation, and ones that were at risk. Restaurants began to change the way they purchased seafood in terms of which species to offer, and which harvesting practices they would support. All the while, many chefs and operators (including myself) would turn up our collective noses at the aquaculture (farm raised fish) industry, as poor quality, and a “factory” approach to seafood. Fast forward to now, with the changing definition of sustainability, and the aquaculture industry is much more attractive.
Why? Because aquaculture has a lot of the current answers to the changing face of sustainability.
Let’s face the truth, with single source harvesting, and reduced pressure on wild fish populations, there simply is no other fishing practice that can match the protection of species as aquaculture can. Additionally, more and more aquaculture efforts fit today’s sustainability definitions which now include environmental impact, public health, animal welfare, and sustainable communities.
Some excellent current examples:
Clear Springs Trout Company on the Snake River in Idaho. They are an employee-owned business that manufactures their own feed. They take great pains to recycle the byproduct of the farm water into highly desirable and rich fertilizer for nearby farms. They exceed the EPA requirements for land and watershed management, keeping their footprint on the land as minimal as possible.
The Creative Salmon Company out of Tofino, BC. The first salmon farming company in North America to achieve organic certification. They do this by raising only Pacific species of fish, using no GMOs and all organic feeds. Additionally, their fish have a low density environment to grow up in—roughly twice the space of other conventional salmon farms. The fish are not overcrowded in their pens. They also keep other indigenous fish involved in the process, allowing the natural feeder fish to swim with the salmon and prune the mites and parasites off as they would in the wild, keeping the fish as close to nature as possible. And Cannon Fish out of Kent, Washington, partners with the Aleuts, in the Aleutian archipelago. They sustain and support the local Native communities and their heritage that has made its living on the sea for hundreds of years.
The earliest known recordings of aquaculture are from 2000 BC in China. The Chinese wrote the first book on aquaculture in 500 BC , titled The Classic of Fish Culture. And the Egyptians were also farming fish around 500 BC. So, we’ve been working on this aquaculture thing for some time!
When it comes to sustainability, unfortunately, we learn from costly and painful mistakes. A great example of that is the Dustbowl of the 30s. As sharecroppers migrated from the fertile valleys and growing areas of Georgia and Virginia to make it on their own, they brought with them the only farming methods they knew. Those weren’t compatible with the Plains grasslands of Oklahoma and Kansas, so they used the deep plowing techniques which had served them well in the past, plowing at a depth of 10 inches or more. Unaware of the consequences, they unknowingly destroyed the grassland root system of the region. Add a prolonged drought, and the seasonal winds, and no root structure to secure it, more than 650 million tons of topsoil was blown away from 300,000 square miles of land. Those farmers were doing just what they thought were good growing practices at the time. Events that couldn’t be foreseen in that day and age taught us valuable lessons which we are now benefiting from here in the Palouse growing region as it’s the same root network in play. So, in this case, sustainability is using the right products with the right techniques in the right environment to produce a sustainable crop and vibrant economic resource.
As we grow and learn, the needs of our community are continually changing too. It takes some time for the market to find the right path to answer the call. In this case, it’s not about fake news as much as it is about our understanding that needs to catch up to these amazing innovations being made.
More and more forward thinking companies are doing it right, operating in harmony with the environment, animal welfare, public health, and community growth as vital elements to the new face of sustainability.
Food for thought.
Since we’re talking salmon, I’m thinking some brown sugar, pineapple, cilantro, and my BBQ. Who’s bringing the margaritas?
Chris Patterson is the director of business solutions at Food Services of America. He is a 30 year veteran of the hospitality and restaurant industry. He has conducted more than 800 trainings, seminars, and consulting sessions with Inland Northwest operators.
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