Aquaculture Products: an economic pillar yet a slow killer

Statistics from the Ministry of Ocean Economy, Marine Resources, Fisheries and Shipping prove that aquaculture production in Mauritius is increasing annually.  However, many consumers are unaware about the health dangers that can be caused by the consumption of aquaculture products.

Source: FAO

According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric and Administration (NOAA) Fisheries of the U.S, aquaculture refers “to the breeding, rearing and harvesting of plants and animals in all types of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes and the ocean.” The aim of growing hatchery fish and shellfish in ponds, tanks, cages and raceways is to produce seafood. Two types of aquaculture have been identified:

(1) Marine aquaculture, which refers to the breeding of species that live in the ocean. (2)Freshwater aquaculture, which refers to the production of species which dwell in lakes, rivers and streams.

The British aquaculture author, C. F. Hickling explains that aquaculture began in the period 2000-1000 BC in China. Hence, aquaculture dates as far as 4000 years ago.  Till the end of 17th century, aquaculture production was confined only to China. In the first half of the 18th century, along with Chinese migration to French Indochinese countries, the practice of aquaculture started spreading out of China around the world. The sub-continent of India, Indonesia, Europe, North America and Africa started the aquaculture production.

Established in June 1982, the Albion Fisheries Research Centre published a document in 2010, which explains the goal of introducing aquaculture in Mauritius. The aim is to promote sustainable aquaculture development through the production and supply of fish seeds to farmers and for marine ranching. The above mentioned centre reports that the following species have been chosen for farming and for exportation: Freshwater Prawn, Berri Rouge, Gold Fish, Platy, Sailfin Molly, Cordonnier, Seabream and Oyster. 

Source: Board of Investment

Aquaculture boosting up the economic pillar

Employment

Aquaculture production in Mauritius has led to the creation of employment in the recent years.The figure below from the Albion Fisheries Research Centre shows the number of employed people in aquaculture production.

The Director of Jessan Seafood Ltd, Jessan Persand started the aquaculture of oyster since 2 years now. He explains that a number of scientific tests are carried out to improve the quality of the oysters in order to meet the expectations of both Mauritians and tourists. He also explains  why he started this business.

  Annual fish production in Mauritius

Every year the production of fish is going up. The figure from the ministry below shows the increase (in tonnes) in the number of production throughout the years and the number of production made from aquaculture.

Fish consumption in Mauritius

As observed above, there has been a rise in the aquaculture of fish throughout the years. Fish is one of the seafood consumed by most Mauritians. In 2013, the FAO carried a Fish Consumption survey in Mauritius. The outcome of the survey showed 23.1 kg/year of fresh and frozen fish are consumed per capita and 16.8 kg/year of other fishery products are consumed per capita. Therefore, excluding non-consumers and vegetarians, Mauritians consume some 40 kg of fish and fishery products annually. As shown in the diagram below, 88% of respondents preferred local fish rather than imported ones. The 12 % who preferred imported fish state that imported fish have better quality.

Statistics from the Fish Consumption survey in Mauritius

Are we aware which quality of fish we are consuming?

Whether it is imported or local fish, we have no idea about the way the fish has been produced or about the environment in which the fish is grown. Research has proved that farmed fish can cause harm to the health of consumers. As a result, consumers of farmed fish can be victims of chronic diseases.

According to the Center for Food Safety of US, aquaculture practices endanger human health. Antibiotics are used to control disease in the cage of the sea creatures. When consumers eat these products that have been treated with antibiotics they may be ingesting noxious level of antibiotics residues.  Moreover, fungicide is used to prevent the growth of fungus on fish eggs. Above all, it is estimated that 95 % of Atlantic salmon is farmed and they are dyed pink to make them more appetizing. Recent articles have proved that there is a possibility of retinal damage in children due to artificial food coloring. This Center also claims that farmed fish contain lower levels of protein and higher levels of fat. Thus, seafood does not always provide the health benefits consumers think it does. In their study ” Occurrence of veterinary antibiotics in animal wastewater and surface water around farms in Jiangsu Province, China”,  Wei et al. (2011) found that Tetracycline is one of the antibiotics used in China for aquaculture production. While in his study “Veterinary antibiotics in the aquatic and terrestrial environment” Kemper (2008) found that Quinolones are fully synthetic antibiotics used in fish farming. 

Dr. Ramdhany Anjiv, a medical doctor in Mauritius explains the side effects of Tetracycline and Quinolones on the health of human beings when these antibiotics are consumed regularly through animal products.

According to Food and Agriculture Organization, fish contains a rich source of vitamins and minerals, such as B12, vitamin D, Iodine and Zinc which are valuable for the healthy growth of children. At the same time, fish is also rich in omega-3 fatty acid, which is vital for brain and eyes development. The FAO also claims that eating one serving fish per week reduces the risk of health attacks and strokes. However, as mentioned below, do fish produced through aquaculture with a number of antibiotics provide the same nutritional value as wild fish? Jillian Fry, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future’s Public Health and Sustainable Aquaculture Project reveals that fish obtain their fatty acids by eating algae in the water. Bigger fish acquire more omega-3 when they eat small fish. However, fish in tanks are given soybeans, corns or wheat-based foods which interrupt the food chain of fish. In this way, there is nutritional deficit of fish and consumers do not obtain the same nutritional value from farmed fish than from wild fish. 

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization

A number of fish have a lack of Omega-3 as they are not able to feed on smaller fish. To counter this problem, fish are given Fishmeal and Fish oil to consume. Fishmeal is a common source of protein in aquaculture feeds. Fishmeal are made of animal byproducts such as poultry by product meal while, Fish oil is used as fat source. Shepherd and Jackson (2013) in their study “Global fishmeal and fish oil supply-inputs, outputs and markets” state that the important components of Fishmeal and Fish oil are wild-caught forage fish. That is smaller fish are caught to feed faming fish. In their journal “China’s aquaculture and the world’s wild fisheries” Cao et al (2015) reveals that the “use of forage fish and low-value “trash” fish to feed growing aquaculture industry raises concern of overfishing, disruption to aquatic food webs, food industry and a potential net loss of seafood available for human consumption.” The World Aquaculture Society (2009) confirms that “The proportion of fishmeal supplies used for fish production have increased from 10% in 1988 to more than 30% in the last years, which classifies aquaculture as a potential promoter of the collapse of fisheries stocks worldwide.”

Source: research.rabobank.com

In his study on “Aquafeeds and the environment”, J. Lopez Alvarado (1997) claims that fish farming produce an amount of wastes that are loaded to the environment. After consuming a number of antibiotics, the farming fishes excrete some of the nutrients through the grills and undoubtedly, the excretion will affect all the sea creatures near the farming nets. As a result, the wild creatures in the surrounding will be contaminated. The figure below shows how the solid wastes are released and cause negative impact on the environment as well as the health of human beings. The study explains “To produce 1 ton of fish, 1800 kg of feed are needed (for a FCR of 1.8). For a 47% protein diet with 1% phosphorus content, this means an input of 18 kg phosphorus and 135.4 kg nitrogen with the diets. Of this, 5 kg of phosphorus and 30 kg nitrogen will be retained by the fish for growth. The rest will be loaded to the. environment, resulting in a total release of 180 kg of solids, 13 kg phosphorus and 105.4 kg nitrogen.”

Source: Aquafeeds and the environment Report

 The above mentioned points show that the processes of aquaculture in other countries are untrustworthy and consumers must be cautious before consuming imported seafood. Aquaculture production is in infancy state in Mauritius and it is not necessary that the same process is used to grow up farmed fish across the island. An officer from the Aquaculture Division of the Albion Fisheries Research Centre explains that she cannot reveal which antibiotics are used in Mauritius as it is “highly confidential“.  However, as consumers are we not allowed to know what antibiotics  we are consuming through aquaculture products?

The officer also clarifies that the fish meal used in Mauritius are bought from two companies, namely, Livestock Feed Ltd and Meaders Feed Ltd.

On one side of the coin, fisheries production, which includes aquaculture production in Mauritius, brings financial revenue for the government and creates various jobs for people across the island.  On the other side of the coin, the method (usage of antibiotics) used to breed the farming fishes in Mauritius can probably be the same as other countries which is undoubtedly causing a detriment to the health of consumers. Therefore, for their own well-being, consumers must inquire where the seafood comes from.

Author: Chaitan Dabee

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