Fish :: Fish feed scare highlights challenges of aquaculture boom

The recent discovery that feed used on some U.S. fish farms contained the toxin melamine highlights the challenges facing the booming aquaculture sector, which today supplies some 44% of all fish consumed worldwide, according to FAO.

Melamine is the same substance linked to the recent pet food recall in the United States and Canada.

The convoluted way in which it ended up being fed to fish destined for human consumption underscores the difficulties involved in ensuring product safety in today’s era of transnational fish production, processing and distribution networks: feed made with tainted wheat gluten produced in China was exported by a U.S. firm and sold to at least two Canadian suppliers, which in turn exported it to fish farms in the United States.

Canadian and U.S. health officials note that the contamination occurred in low levels and that fish which consume melamine excrete it swiftly and present no dangers to human consumption.

More recently, several U.S. states banned certain catfish imports from overseas after tests on frozen fillets showed that some contained blacklisted antibiotics. Giant retailer Walmart soon followed suit in all of its U.S. stores.

These incidents illustrate the importance of ensuring product safety in fish farming — the most rapidly growing food production sector for over a decade now — according to Lahsen Ababouch, a fish product safety expert with FAO.

“Today’s global chain of fish production and supply is extremely complicated,” says Ababouch. “With nearly half of all fish eaten today coming from farms, and some 12 million people dependent on fish farming for their daily income, ensuring that farmed fish products are safe to eat and of the highest possible quality is crucial.”