One buys vegetables, fruits, and meats that are certified organic, but what about fish? Minnesota Sea Grant and the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Social, Economic, and Ecological Sustainability (ISEES) are at the forefront of national and international efforts to develop standards for organic fish farming.
Roughly a third of fish in grocery stores is raised in aquaculture operations, but “right now you won’t see the USDA organic label on finfish or shellfish because there are no national standards in place,” said Deborah Brister, co-chair of the National Organic Aquaculture Workgroup. The group, formed to help the U.S. Department of Agriculture develop standards for organic aquaculture, held its inaugural meeting earlier this spring in tandem with the Aquaculture 2004 conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.
“With approximately 70 experts in the work group, we will, over the next year, build on previous work to provide the USDA National Organic Program with recommendations for feasible, science-based standards that set a high bar for organic aquaculture production,” said Brister, who is an organic inspector and the sustainable aquaculture program manager at ISEES.
Organic certification indicates that a food has been grown according to specific processes --- it does not make claims about nutritional value or safety. Organic food production does, however, restrict the introduction of harmful substances, antibiotics, and many conventionally used medications. And aquatic species that are certified organic must receive 100% organic feed.
“Organic aquaculture producers must take a proactive approach to health care using strategies such as stocking with lower densities instead of relying on drugs to maintain good health,” Brister explained, adding that “general living conditions must meet humane standards.”
To call attention to organic aquaculture and fish that are easiest to raise organically, Brister has helped organize International Organic Aquaculture Workshops and an Organic Seafood Tasting Tour that recently highlighted fish low on the food chain. These fish --- such as tambaqui, tilapia, catfish, and sunfish --- eat fruit, nuts, plants, and insects and do not rely on finite resources such as fishmeal and fish oil. Minnesota Sea Grant has provided funding for the workshops, tasting tour, and National Organic Aquaculture Work Group.