SEAFOOD CONUMERS’ DILEMMA: THE CHOICE BETWEEN WILD OR FARMED By Izzat Feidi

1. INTRODUCTION

Throughout written human history, until a few decades ago, seafood consumers had a sweeping appetite for eating various varieties of fish species and other seafood delicacies. These seafood products were harvested from wild marine, brackish and fresh water resources with no questions asked as to their sources and availability of supplies, their safety and nutritious values, prices of the various species on sale. However, in the last two decades or so a trend started to appear that wild stocks from marine, brackish and fresh water resources due to various reasons were declining. With a growing world population and the fact that a rise in demand for consuming seafood a need to start finding alternative sources to boost the dwindling wild deliveries seafood  in order to meet the demand. Aquaculture, fish farming or fish rearing started to become an important alternative to expand from experimental and largely obscure activities in several parts of the world to become a major industry in many countries around the world.  Aquaculture presented to be a solution to the challenges of feeding a growing global population. Aquaculture is the tool to fill in the gap of seafood supply. Farming fish responsibly and sustainably proved to be the solution to providing future generations with access to healthy and environmentally friendly protein options. This article intends to respond to questions asked by seafood consumers’ as to which is better, cheaper, safer and more nutritious seafood species. In other words this article addresses consumer’s seafood dilemma: The choice between wild or farmed.

2. AVAILABILITY OF SEAFOOD

According to FAO latest published fisheries statistics beginning 1950 to the latest published data in 2018, wild seafood from marine, brackish and fresh water species and from aquaculture which mainly include major species from similar environments ranged from a total of 16.4 million tonnes of which 303 thousand tonnes of aquaculture in 1950 (1.8% of total) to 186.6 million tonnes of which 96.1million tonnes from aquaculture (51.5% of total). (See Table 1, and Figures 1). These statistics indicate the rapid speed in the increase from aquaculture production from 1.6% in 1950 of total global production to 51.5% production in 2018, more than half of wild seafood landings.   It is also reported that two thirds of the world’s fish stocks are either fished at their limits or overfished and large portion of the fish population is fully used, overused or in crises. Consequently, as wild stocks were on the decline, aquaculture grew more rapidly than all other animal food producing sectors. Aquaculture is practiced by some of the poorest farmers in developing countries as well as by multinational companies with substantial investments.

In the meantime, in the latest issue of FAO’s State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture published in 2020 it is pointed out that the world population is set to increase to 10 billion by 2050, providing future generations with safe and sustainable farmed seafood is one of the critical challenges researches face. It is felt that the best solution to the problem of declining fisheries is to rebuild overexploited stocks and ecosystems through relieving fishing pressure, improving gear selectivity, limiting effects of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, reducing indiscriminate fishing operations, and further other fishing exploitation patters to prevent stocks from declining, protect their habitat and make a wise and generous use of protected areas and no-fishing zones. The rapid expansion of aquaculture has contributed to increased food security across the globe, however, issues related to domestication of desired species and emergence of diseases, limit its further development.

3. GLOBAL SEAFOOD CONSUMPTION

In general, as a phenomena expansion in seafood consumption, wild or farmed, has been driven not only by increased production, but also by a combination of many other factors, including reduced wastage, better utilization, improved distribution channels and growing demand, linked with population growth, rising incomes and urbanization. A growing share of fish production is expected to be destined for human consumption. During the period 1986 to 1995 about 75 percent of all landings was for human consumption rising to 91 percent in 2018.The driving force behind this increase is a combination of rising incomes and urbanization, linked with the expansion of fish production and improved distribution channels as well as rising awareness of the nutritious values of seafood. In per capita terms, food fish consumption has grown from 9.0 kg/per annum in 1961 to 20.2 kg/per annum in 2015, at an average rate of about 1.5 percent per year. Preliminary estimates for 2016 and 2017 point to further growth to about 20.3kg/per annum and 20.5 kg/per annum respectively. The world appetite for fish and fish products shows no sign of slowing. This shows the growing role of fisheries and aquaculture in providing food, raising nutrition awareness and employment as well as investments in the various activities in service of the industry.

4. CHANGING TASTES BETWEEN WILD OVER FARMED SEAFOOD

Generally speaking consumers of seafood appears to have no strong preference for either farmed or wild fish. Consumers consider both wild and cultured to be acceptable as to the way it is produced.  Some consumers may find that seafood is better on the basis it was produced in a way which is safer for the environment compared to the other produced sources of protein. As times passes with both seafood sources are becoming more available on the market consumers started to consider both wild-capture and aquaculture to be acceptable ways of producing fish and other seafood products. Some questions may arise as to preferences by age groups. It is believed that the older generation have the strongest preference for wild fish and seafood while younger groups may have no specific preference when considering consuming seafood.

5. TIPS ON HOW TO SELECT SEAFOOD DISHES

As consumption of seafood has grown in recent years, it should be noted that in some supermarkets, or the neighborhood fish-shops it was found that mislabeling of seafood species is practiced to the unsuspecting customer. Seafood mislabeling by having labeled cheaper quality fish possibly due to less desirable, like mislabeling catfish or tilapia to be red snapper and grouper. This problem may happen with a few specific species rather than a general problem or possibly unintentional. However, if the substitutes are farmed species of the lower quality it could be intentional. 

There are certain seafood recipes that are immediately appealing, beloved by most and attainable by all. They tend to be easy, comforting, and delicious-looking.  Also there are recipes that may not immediately inspire because they may seem unfamiliar or needlessly complicated, recipes that may require a bit more convincing. Cooking a whole fish is something many people would probably not appreciate especially if there is no early history of eating seafood. Cooking a whole fish make it nearly impossible to overcook and dry out the fish. Anyway, in most fish markets and seafood shops there are staff who would clean the fish and have it ready for frying at home. However, out of experience, a fish cooked in its entirety is much more delicious than one that has been filleted first or cut into several pieces or cubes. In fish markets, whole fish may be scaled and gutted and made boneless and not needing more actions before home cooking. Also, in restaurants, some of whom would offer various forms of seafood dishes according to the demands of the customers. However, there is also the probability that some restaurants may offer certain high value species to customers, while the delivered seafood dish is of cheaper quality. The sauces and other ingredients added may cover-up if the dish was actually what was ordered.  In the meantime, there are international organizations such as the Marine Stewardship Council as well as the Aquaculture Stewardship Councils both of whom set standards to sustainable fishing as well as promote sustainable aquaculture. Friend of the Sea is another organization that certifies seafood products and services from wild or farmed fisheries and insure sustainability of the resources. Also in Saudi Arabia, a similar national organization, ASMAK, is established to insure quality of seafood produces on the market.   As far as prices of wild or farmed are concerned wild seafood according to the species offered can sometimes become more costly than farmed. There are commercial reasons for price differences. However, government agencies which inspects markets’ activities oversee pricing of commodities to insure no over pricing.   

6. NUTRITIOUN VALUES OF SEAFOOD

Eating fish is part of the cultural tradition of many people and in terms of health benefits, it has an excellent nutritional profile. It is a good source of protein, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and essential micronutrients. Reports on seafood nutritious values are numerous especially that the Omega 3 which is found in several species especially the oily ones like salmon, sardines, mackerels, tuna, shellfish, shrimps, herring, seaweed which is known as a group called polyunsaturated fatty acids, which is very important for the body and is able to lower its cholesterol level. Medical reports conclude that the benefits of omega 3 from seafood products are many. These reports conclude that omega 3 provide health benefits to fight depression and anxiety, fight heart disease, fight infections, improved mental disorders, improve sleep, benefit skin, prevent some types of cancer and other health benefits.

7. SEAFOOD AS AN INTERATIONAL CUISINE

Seafood consumption has become more open to international kitchens. In the past before the world has become “a small village” consumers used to eat the dishes of their country’s cuisine. Travel has become increasingly available, which has opened up to international food and tasted of new dishes and species. Japanese cuisine was among the kitchens that Arabs have known during the past twenty years, but after Japanese dishes became attractive to the eastern taste, there is still a large percentage in the early stages of acquaintance with Japanese cuisine, despite the spread of restaurants in abundance in the countries. There are a percentage of people who are afraid to try new flavors.  There are those who are afraid to eat uncooked food, and there are those who cannot tolerate the taste of raw fish. There are many reasons why some people avoid Japanese cuisine despite its international fame, and that it is one of the beneficial kitchens for health, which does not cause obesity if someone knows what to eat what and what to avoid. New eating habits also became normal practices in East Asian countries like eating with chopsticks from a bowl in hand. Eating sushi is best done with chopsticks. Some people would venture to try new eating methods.  Others would find it confusing to distinguish between sushi, nigiri, tempura and sashimi. However, for those who wish to venture in sushi bars, it is advisable to go to a well reputed for good fish quality as good quality fish is the key for a good sushi choices as the quality is important for the expected taste.  The most popular types of fish that are used in Japanese cuisine are salmon and tuna. Some restaurants use cheaper quality fish like mackerels.  However, new eating habits are not exclusive to Japanese cuisine, but most countries around the world have their domestic ways and habits to consume seafood.

8. FUTURE OF SEAFOOD

No doubt that seafood will continue to be a very valuable source of animal protein. Sources will continue to be from the wild and also from aquaculture to feed a growing global population and which will continue to be the main target of seafood. As FAO annual statistics show, production will continue to increase. However, growth from the wild will remain steady unless the problems experienced in the past which caused the declining trend are not avoided and that the sustainability and conservation of the resources continues to prevent any further declines. However, as for the future of expanding aquaculture production looks more promising to continue to expand at a faster rate than fishing in the wild. The aquaculture industry will increase production by culturing various commercially acceptable finfish species, crustaceans and bivalves but will also venture into more research and development of more species that would increase production world-wide and introduce more farmed production. The international organization of the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) is reputed in establishing certified standards for “Best Aquaculture Practices (BAS)”. In the meantime, aquaculture production is expanding using un-conventional methods like aquaponics (farming fish with agriculture products), farming in the arid deserts (already done in Egypt and Saudi Arabia), marine ranching, fish fattening specially high value tuna species (used in sushi dishes) as well as Atlantic Salmon (already exist in U.A.E.) and also sturgeon fish for its caviar.  Other innovations include the use of robots to run farms. Furthermore, the latest innovation in aquaculture production is the system of the potential of fish and shellfish production significantly enhanced through advances in genetics and biotechnology. The potential of fish and shellfish production (shrimps already grown in Saudi Arabia and Egypt) to feed a growing global population could be significantly enhanced through advances in genetics and biotechnology. Some aquaculture species can produce offspring, and large populations with improved genetics can be bred quickly for improved production performance. Species can enable careful selection of a farming population with desirable traits, and monitoring genomic variation will help maintain genetic diversity as farm populations develop. In the future, technologies such as genome editing could be used to introduce desirable traits, such as disease resistance, into farmed species, and surrogate breeding could be employed to support production of preferred species and also select only parts of a fish desired for consumption just like if this system is applied on breeding only chicken breasts or legs rather than the whole animal. With these and more innovations in aquaculture may soon overtake production of seafood from fishing in the wild.

Finally, it may be concluded that consuming seafood either wild or farmed has many advantages to consumer’s health wellbeing, to fishermen and fish farmers, traders, the environment and if fishing and fish farming are practiced in clean and unpolluted waters, safe marketing and delivery conditions and the production is sustainably carried out should lead to consumption that satisfies demand for seafood for present and future generations.  

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