Buy one set one free

Farmed fish now equals wild sup­plies, says Tim Field, with one ini­tia­tive off Corn­wall show­ing how wild stock en­hance­ment can play a vi­tal role in sus­tain­able food pro­duc­tion

The Field - - FARMING - Fol­low Tim and Agri­col­ogy @agri­col­ogy

The Food and Drink Fed­er­a­tion has an­nounced that this year’s salmon ex­ports have grown by more than 50% in value to £186.7 mil­lion, top­ping the UK food ex­port list – the re­sult of a com­bi­na­tion of greater pro­mo­tion abroad and the weak­en­ing pound. This news will please Scot­land’s aqua­cul­ture in­dus­try, par­tic­u­larly off the back of plans an­nounced last year to dou­ble pro­duc­tion from £1.8 bil­lion to £3.6 bil­lion by 2030. While ex­cel­lent for the big busi­ness of salmon farm­ing, it will raise con­cerns among en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and fish­er­men. The con­flict with dis­ease, par­a­sites and the wider ecosys­tem makes salmon farm­ing a dirty word in some cir­cles. As with all farm­ing sys­tems, some are bet­ter than oth­ers – and it may come as no sur­prise that I would say the or­ganic la­bel would go some way to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the for­mer from the lat­ter – but given this is a rel­a­tively young (by farm­ing stan­dards) in­dus­try, there re­mains plenty of scope for the qual­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity of all salmon pro­duc­tion to im­prove.

Glob­ally, we now con­sume as much farmed as wild fish and in a bid to nour­ish the bil­lions while pro­tect­ing our wild stocks from over fish­ing, aqua­cul­ture in­evitably plays a role in sus­tain­able food pro­duc­tion. how­ever, there re­mains a need to think out­side the box so we can long en­joy the en­tire aquatic en­vi­ron­ment for its larder, amenity and ecosys­tem func­tion. It seems one such novel ap­proach to con­serv­ing and crop­ping our wild coast has been achieved by the clever and am­bi­tious fish­er­men and re­searchers around Pad­stow, led by the Na­tional Lob­ster hatch­ery. On this gem of a coast­line in North Corn­wall, the sum­mer brings vast crowds of vis­i­tors. But cen­tral to the re­gion’s char­ac­ter, and many vil­lages around the Bri­tish coast, is the role of the day-boat fish­er­men. To pre­serve the au­then­tic­ity of our coastal com­mu­ni­ties and en­sure plenty of de­li­cious, fresh, lo­cal seafood the day-boats must re­main vi­able and, thus, so must the stocks of tar­get species.

Lob­sters are a key­stone species in their en­vi­ron­ment and where they are over­fished the ecosys­tem fails with a neg­a­tive feed­back on their own and many other species. Decades of re­search to es­tab­lish sus­tain­able pop­u­la­tions has been crit­i­cal to de­ter­mine and en­force fish­ery reg­u­la­tion that in­cludes habi­tat pro­tec­tion, min­i­mum land­ing sizes, mark­ing and re­leas­ing berried hens (egg-car­ry­ing fe­males) and per­mit­ting. A com­bi­na­tion of this dili­gence and the highly se­lec­tive and low-im­pact fish­ing tech­niques now makes lob­ster an en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able source of food. If the wild stocks could be aug­mented and catches in­creased, the fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties that value them so highly will also be­come more vi­able.

The lob­ster is highly sus­cep­ti­ble to pre­da­tion as lar­vae. Be­ing slow to reach ma­tu­rity (it takes four to seven years) is a fur­ther vul­ner­a­bil­ity in their life strat­egy, al­though they can then go on to reach a cen­tury. For many rea­sons lob­ster aqua­cul­ture is not about to take off but the boffins at the Na­tional Lob­ster hatch­ery have de­vel­oped a novel form of sup­port via wild stock en­hance­ment.

Through en­gage­ment with the lo­cal fish­er­men, berried hens are brought ashore and kept in a “ma­ter­nity ward”. The eggs are hatched, reared and re­leased once past the most vul­ner­a­ble stages. The hen is also re­turned to sea. Meth­ods of ju­ve­nile re­lease are un­der con­stant de­vel­op­ment, most re­cently with col­umns of rear­ing cages fixed to the seabed (rather than closed-sys­tems in the hatch­ery) to ben­e­fit their de­vel­op­ment with nat­u­ral feed, en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions and ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion be­fore re­lease.

This could, of course, be a costly means of feed­ing the lo­cal pol­lock and cod. how­ever, ad­vances in ge­netic map­ping will, hope­fully, en­able the team to track the re­leased pop­u­la­tions through sam­pling landed lob­sters off the boats. Mean­while, the real proof will be full pots and happy fish­er­men. The tech­niques have re­ceived global at­ten­tion and from this small re­search es­tab­lish­ment, hatch­ery and mu­seum on the dock­side in Pad­stow, there are grand plans to fab­ri­cate an­other hatch­ery unit, in a ship­ping con­tainer, and roll out the ini­tia­tive else­where.

The lat­eral thought that has gone into the con­ser­va­tion and im­prove­ment of lob­ster fish­eries in North Corn­wall de­mands praise and lessons could be learnt else­where. While the in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion of food might force more an­i­mal units from a smaller space in a shorter time with less man­ual in­ter­ven­tion, the care­ful stock en­hance­ment and har­vest­ing of un­cropped en­vi­ron­ments through ex­ten­sive man­age­ment still has a vi­tal role, be it graz­ing live­stock, wild game or bounty from the sea. Noth­ing says it bet­ter than the phrase chim­ing around the lo­cal Cor­nish restau­rants in the hatch­ery’s fundrais­ing bid: buy one, set one free.

Day-boat fish­er­men must re­main vi­able and, thus, so must the stocks of tar­get species

Salmon aqua­cul­ture con­tin­ues to raise con­cerns from some en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and salmon fish­er­men

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