Conventional fisheries are facing a supply crisis, with fewer and smaller fish being harvested compared to those caught several decades ago. As a result, an unprecedented aqua-cultural (farmed fish) revolution is taking place.
The US aquaculture industry alone produces over a billion dollars worth of seafood annually, and aquaculture in the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Sonora has doubled every few years over the past decade.
But fish farms are a major source of pollution in the form of bio-accumulated toxins in fish feed and elevated exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like compounds that poison our bodies and destroy the ecosystem.
When farmed fish or shrimp are jammed up in close quarters diseases spread.
In 2010, a deadly epidemic threatened farmed Atlantic salmon. Compounding the problem, infections can spread to wild fish coming in close proximity to marine pens.
And escaped fish from Norwegian salmon farms interbred with wild salmon, and changed the genetic composition of the country’s wild salmon stocks.
In 2011, Louisiana shrimpers had the worst season in over a half century. And it was bad not just in spots but all over southeastern Louisiana. Some fishermen said their catches were off by 80 percent or more.
Last year, Keath Ladner, a third generation seafood processor in Mississippi claimed the brown shrimp catch dropped by two-thirds, and Ladner claims the white shrimp have been wiped out.
“The shrimp are immune compromised,”Ladner said. No doubt due to the BP oils spill.
“We are finding shrimp with tumors on their heads, and are seeing this everyday.”Ladner has also seen crates of blue crabs, all of which were lacking at least one of their claws.
Now Mexican officials announced the country’s shrimp farms are in a state of emergency. Writing for Haper’s Magazine, Erik Vance notes that a combination of heavy-metal pollution and widespread disease in the hundreds of thousands of acres of shrimp farms lining the Sea of Cortez has decimated this summer’s crop.
Vance claims around 90 percent of Mexico’s shrimp farms are on the Sea of Cortez, and they have struggled for years with a series of diseases.
And “the problem isn’t limited to Mexico. China, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, all huge producers of shrimp for the United States have struggled with something called early mortality syndrome (EMS) in shrimp.”
Shrimp need a few months to be big enough to eat, and news reports suggested that shrimp in the Sea of Cortez’s ponds are dying before they are thirty days old.
Traditionally, the first solution is to desert the ponds as soon as diseases appear, then build a new one.
But Vance says Mexican farms rely on antibiotics, administered via fishmeal, and points out that disease adapts quickly to antibiotics, and it’s a constant struggle to keep producing drugs that can combat the diseases.
Vance suggests the U.S. government might wave tariffs for several large Asian shrimp providers who have been handicapped by early mortality syndrome.
“The reason is that we need these shrimp farms in order to meet America’s massive appetite for its favorite seafood. But as farms attempt to fulfill that demand, they will have to find better ways of warding off disease.”