Frequently Asked Questions
1. QUALITY OF FARMED FISH
Q: Are farmed fish a healthy choice?
A: Aquaculture fish are healthy, nutritious and, in many cases, the freshest seafood available to consumers at any given time.
The fact that they are harvested to order often makes them even fresher than wild fish. They are also safer in terms of origin, since they are grown in a controlled environment. They have some 170 calories per 100 g, 9% fat (compared to 2% for the corresponding wild species), while other fish such as salmon, herring, sardine, eel, tuna and mackerel contain up to 15% fat.
Fish are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, the so-called ‘good‘ fat, which have well established beneficial effects on human health, particularly on the cardiovascular system. In addition to essential amino and fatty acids, fish contain a variety of vitamins, including A and D, as well as those of the B-complex (B1, B2, B3 and B12). They are also a great source of trace elements and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, zinc and iodine.
To sum up, farmed fish are an excellent option for a healthy and balanced diet, as they are produced according to strict quality standards.
Q: Why choose farmed fish over wild fish?
A: Farmed fish have a high nutritional value and contain more Omega-3 fatty acids than wild fish.
Since they are harvested to order, the fish can be delivered to customers in less than 24 hours after leaving the water.
They are also of consistently high quality and freshness, while remaining competitively priced, all year round.
Harvesting to order guarantees freshness. As soon as an order is placed, the fish are immediately harvested and the packaging and delivery processes are set in motion. This entire procedure ensures that the fish reach the consumer in peak condition.
Q: Are adequate food safety controls in place?
A: The food safety controls for aquaculture fish are rigorous. Apart from the fish themselves, the controls extend to the waters in which the fish are farmed, their feed, and any surface with which they may come into contact. Independent certification bodies and official food safety checks by public authorities and universities also ensure that the relevant processes are certified. All the above serve to guarantee quality and safeguard the consumer.
2. FARMED VS. WILD FISH & BEST PRACTICES
Q: How do farmed fish compare to wild fish? How long does it take for fish to reach sale size after hatching and farming?
Α: The farming period from hatching to harvesting is approximately 2 years (22-26 months, depending on farm location and season of the year). From the moment it is harvested, the fish can be delivered to a retail outlet within hours.
Nutritional value and freshness
Many studies have demonstrated the high nutritional value of fats (fatty acids) in fish for our daily diet.
Compared to wild fish, farmed fish have a higher quantity of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Aquaculture fish are often the freshest fish that consumers can buy, precisely because they are harvested to order in specific quantities, immediately transferred to special tanks filled with ice and water, jumpstarting the packaging process (in hi-tech automated facilities under the strictest hygiene conditions), and their delivery to points of sale in refrigerator trucks.
Hygiene and Traceability
Aquaculture fish are also hygienically safe from the viewpoint of origin. This is because they are farmed in a controlled environment that has been certified for marine aquaculture, under the supervision of trained scientists (ichthyologists, veterinarians) and always in compliance with strict quality regulations.
The fish are harvested in nets and immediately immersed in tanks filled with ice slurry, which causes an immediate drop in their temperature and helps preserve their quality and freshness. Throughout this process, the so-called “cold chain” is maintained, which means the fish (a highly perishable foodstuff) are kept chilled at the appropriate temperature, ensuring that they reach consumers at the various points of sale (grocery stores, fish markets) in peak condition.
All the relevant information is provided on the packaging labels that identify the product along the distribution chain. This means consumers not only know where a fish was harvested and where it was packaged, but can also contact the producer to raise any other queries they may have.
What is traceability
In aquaculture, traceability is the ability to trace the origin of a product at any step of the supply chain through the provision of detailed information, including the breeding, hatching, and rearing of fish, their farming in the sea, their feed, their harvesting, packaging and delivery to the point of sale. Traceability requirements enable consumers to know the ‘life history’ of each product from source to sale, and be sure that it is a safe foodstuff with high nutritional value.
Q: How do the diets of conventionally and organically farmed common sea bass or sea bream differ?
Α: In the case of organically farmed fish, both the origin and the components of their feed are certified. That is, the plant components of the feed are certified as organic, while the other ingredients are certified as sustainably sourced, and the fish farming method applied is certified as compatible with good organic production practices.
3. FISH FEED
Q: What are farmed fish fed?
A: Farmed fish are fed nutritionally balanced feed that replicates the dietary habits of wild fish. Fish feed gives farmed fish all the proteins and fats necessary for their growth. Fish meal and fish oils are the main sources of fatty acids and protein.
The feed production process includes the preliminary processing of raw materials (mainly fish meal and fish oils), the addition of cereal grains, vitamins and minerals (essential for growth), as well as starch to help bind the ingredients. These raw materials are never genetically modified.
The raw materials used in organic fish feed are also certified organic and are produced through sustainable practices.
Q: Are wild fish populations endangered by their use as feed in aquaculture?
A: In order to protect marine resources, the fish used in feed manufacture are supplied from regulated fishing and is subject to strict. Fish meal and fish oils are obtained from the thermal processing and milling of certain pelagic species which are caught mainly in the southern Pacific and north Atlantic oceans, in fishing grounds subject to an Approved Management Plan that guarantees the safety of endangered populations.
These fish form very large populations, multiply fast and in great numbers, grow rapidly and have a short life cycle. Due to their high percentage of bone, they have little commercial value and are not preferred for human consumption.
They are an excellent source of high-quality proteins and fish oils, not only for the needs of global aquaculture but also for animal husbandry in general (livestock, poultry).
Q: What quantity of wild fish is necessary for the production of farmed fish? What safeguards are in place to protect the environment and wild fish populations?
Α: The Fish In – Fish Out (FIFO) ratio, a measure of the efficiency with which wild feed fish are converted into farmed fish, does not exceed 1.2:1, which means that every 1.2 kg of wild fish used in feed produces 1 kg of cultured fish, due also to the utilization of fish processing by-products for human consumption.
Fish feed does not contain fish meal and/or fish oils from species classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, nor do they contain ingredients originating from other fish of the same genus.
The fish meal and fish oils used in aquaculture feed:
- Originate from fishing areas subject to an Approved IUCN – SSC Species Conservation Planning for the protection of wild populations from extinction.
- Are used in combination with meal from soybean, corn and wheat crops. The feed is further supplemented with minerals and vitamins to fully meet the nutritional needs of the fish.
- Do not contain genetically modified organisms.
Q: Does processing destroy the nutrients in fish feed raw materials? Do fish reared on formulated feed have the same nutritional value as wild fish?
Α: Modern technology and know-how in fish feed production and aquaculture ensure that the nutrients and other beneficial properties are preserved in farmed fish.
Precisely because the main ingredient of artificial fish feed is fish meal, which comes from wild fish with a corresponding profile of nutrients, proteins and mainly polyunsaturated fatty acids, these valuable properties that wild fish have as a foodstuff are retained and passed on to the farmed fish, thereby determining their composition.
Indeed, farmed fish sometimes have a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids than the corresponding (of the same species) wild fish. They also have a consistent quality all year round because they have daily access to a balanced diet in sufficient quantities.
Q: Are animal by-products used in fish feed?
Α: All animals need dietary protein, or rather they need a well-balanced source of essential amino acids that are present in dietary proteins.
The decline in wild fish stocks, their variable availability, and the generally high cost of quality fishmeal for many uses in aquaculture have increased interest in identifying and developing alternative sources of amino acids (proteins) in particular.
Advances in production and manufacturing technologies have improved the yield of animal by-products from which high-quality products are produced under strict supervision as food ingredients. These products contain significant levels of protein and oils and provide a ready source of nutritious, easily digestible animal proteins and fats.
The form and composition of by-products mean that they must be formulated and processed in such a way as to enable their effective use and incorporation into feed to meet the nutrient requirements of fish. In other words, the nutrients contained in the by-products are utilized, especially the proteins in the form of amino acids.
The availability of by-products for incorporation into feed for aquatic animals (fish, shrimp) gives producers greater flexibility in feed formulation and reduces dependence on fish meal.
For this reason, animal by-products are a potential option for use in the composition of fish feed.
4. GENERAL ISSUES OF FISH WELFARE
Q: Are producers interested in the way the fish are farmed and do they consider their welfare?
Α: Farmed fish are closely monitored by an adequate number of suitably trained staff with experience of the particular aquaculture system and the fish themselves, which enables them to:
(i) identify whether or not the fish are in good health;
(ii) understand the significance of behavioral changes; and
(iii) assess the suitability of the overall environment for the welfare of the fish, including health.
Measures to prevent stress in fish are further enhanced by applying appropriate zootechnical practices to avoid adverse welfare conditions, in compliance with the corresponding pillar of the private certification standard “Fish From Greece”.
Q: What are the good production practices that improve fish welfare and what steps are taken by producers to reduce/eliminate any stress, pain, or suffering and demonstrate a high level of care?
Α: The fish are handled only by competent, trained personnel working under the supervision of the producer.
The number of fish and production units (such as tanks, sea pens etc. located in the same area) is such that the producer is able to ensure the fish are properly cared for and their welfare is maintained, including their health.
Daily inspections are performed with a focus on factors that could be an indication of adverse conditions or negatively impact the well-being of the fish, such as signs of abnormal behavior, injuries, poor health or increased mortality and water quality (at least with regard to turbidity, oxygen and pH levels, temperature and salinity).
All legal requirements and good practices are observed. Written procedures are in place and staff are trained on an ongoing basis.
Lastly, these matters are subject to controls based on two pillars of the private certification standard “Fish From Greece”.
5. DRUG USE
Q: Are pharmaceuticals used in aquaculture? If so, which ones and how?
Α: Aquaculture takes preventive measures to protect fish from diseases, in order to ensure the excellent health of the fish in production units.
Above all, though, every effort is made to ensure good farming conditions by maintaining an excellent environment for fish growth with highly controlled facilities, thus removing any chance of contamination by potentially pathogenic microorganisms.
If, however, a disease does occur and it is necessary to administer pharmaceuticals, this takes place only on veterinary prescription and after all necessary tests have been conducted.
Q: What preventive measures are taken to minimize the need for pharmaceutical treatment?
Α: The main drugs used in aquaculture are aimed at prevention and protection from disease and are limited to vaccines and immunostimulants.
The use of vaccines decreases the incidence of disease, protects the welfare of farmed fish and eliminates the need for future use of antibiotics or other drugs. These types of substances present no health risk to consumers as they do not accumulate in the fish and are quickly metabolized.
Thanks to the widespread use of vaccines in aquaculture, diseases are very rare and there is generally no need to use other drugs.
Vaccines are biological preparations that are used to boost the body’s natural defense system against specific pathogenic microorganisms and build immunity. They are not chemicals, they are not medicines and they are not harmful to health. A vaccine contains a dead or inactivated form of a pathogen that is normally responsible for a certain disease, which triggers the body’s immune system to produce antibodies that protect against the disease.
Q: Are antibiotics used?
Α: If a disease occurs (usually in cases where fish have not been vaccinated), use is made only of antibiotics approved by the National Organization for Medicines, and even then only when prescribed by a veterinarian specializing in fish pathology, and only after the necessary tests have been conducted.
Q: Do pharmaceutical substances remain in fish flesh? Do they pose any health risk to the consumer?
Α: Not all pharmaceutical substances are absorbed.
However, as is the case with other species of animals intended for human consumption, the ’withdrawal period’ or waiting time after therapeutic treatment is strictly observed in order to ensure the complete absence of even traces of drugs from the flesh of the fish.
It should, of course, be stressed that there is a key difference between aquaculture and the farming of land animals for the production of food.
The main difference is that fish are raised in seawater, the parameters of which can be controlled, especially in the early stages of growth when fish are more prone to disease.
At this young age, the fish are raised in highly controlled conditions in land facilities, where the incoming water is fully treated (use of filters to maintain water quality, UV treatment) and any pathogens are removed. The fish are transferred to open-sea facilities only after reaching ages at which they have built sufficient immune resistance to pathogens and have additionally been vaccinated. This results in minimal incidence of disease and consequently a significant reduction in the chance of drugs being used.
In any case, the fish are harvested only after a waiting period of several weeks has passed since any treatment to ensure that no antibiotic residues are present in their flesh, and this is evidenced by regular testing for food safety reasons.
Other drugs (e.g. hormones and growth promoters)
Growth promoters and hormones are not used in aquaculture for fish intended for human consumption. In actual fact, there is no need to use such substances to stimulate weight gain, since the normal genetic potential of fish already ensures rapid growth, a short production cycle and much better feed efficiency levels than other farmed species.
The issue of formol
Formol is an old trade name for a formaldehyde-containing solution which is now more commonly referred to as formalin.
The aqueous solution was widely used in the past as an antiparasitic for all animal species and as a disinfectant.
Today, its administration as a veterinary medicine is permitted in processed form, if it is deemed necessary for the health of fish (external parasites) and only on veterinary prescription.
In such cases, a pharmaceutical formulation containing formaldehyde is used, licensed by the National Organization for Medicines.
It is permitted only for external use and is not absorbed by the fish. As such, producers are not legally required to conduct checks for residues in the flesh.
Formaldehyde itself is biodegradable, as too is the aforesaid formulation.
Although this formulation, which contains formaldehyde in processed form, is permitted for net disinfection, it is in no way allowed to be released into the environment as a biocide.
If used for veterinarian purposes, after use the water undergoes biological treatment and in 24 hours the formulation has evaporated.
Q: Does the marine environment affect the growth of farmed fish? Are studies conducted on the suitability of production unit sites?
Α: Fish farming is an activity that depends directly on the marine environment. It is therefore in its interest to protect farmed organisms from any undesirable conditions of the sea and particularly the area in which it operates. The quality of the water is critical for the success of the farming operation. Each area has its own environmental profile in terms of water quality parameters and each species of fish its own requirements. Before the installation of any production unit, the required environmental study must take into account the relevant water quality parameters.
Q: Does aquaculture impact the marine environment?
Α: The impact of fish farming on water quality is minimal and consists primarily in the accumulation of feed residues and feces on the seabed below the sea pens (farming cages).
A recent EU-funded study on the issue concluded that the impact is indeed confined to the immediate vicinity, i.e., directly underneath the farm site.
It has further been clarified that no heavy metals or other pollutants are used for the production of fish. In addition, the law does not allow cages to be placed above seagrass meadows, so nothing lies below the cages.
Q: Are studies conducted into the impact of aquaculture facilities on the environment?
A: The water column below and around floating facilities are checked daily using scientific methods, so that no irreversible harm is caused to the environment, which, if ruined, will cause severe damage not only to the sea organisms but also the fish in cages.
To prevent such an undesirable outcome, annual checks are scheduled and daily measurements are taken to ensure that the marine environment both under and around the cages is maintained in good condition.
Moreover, to validate these measurements, analyses are carried out at accredited external laboratories, while in addition, independent bodies are invited to inspect and certify compliance.
Q: Are there cases of environmental incidents? If so, how are they handled?
A: Whatever harms the environment in which a fish farm operates is recorded, measured and – based on an assessment over the course of the year – actions are taken to mitigate the impact the following year.
Studies have shown that the marine environment is fully restored in just a few months after removal of fish farming activity.
It should also be stressed that aquaculture units in Greece are located in areas with great depths and strong currents, which help keep the sea clean and marine life to flourish.
Q: Does aquaculture contribute to sustainable development? Is marine biodiversity adequately protected?
A: All activities that contribute to the viability of the marine environment and facilitate the continuation of fish farming are supportive of sustainable development.
Such activities include the prevention of any activities that could potentially harm the marine, terrestrial, atmospheric and social environment.
Measurements of greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide which are harmful to the environment are an important part of planning and actions to reduce them.
This planning also includes the removal of any pollutants originating from aquaculture activities, such as plastics, wood, machinery maintenance products, chemical/oil discharges and animal by-products, through recycling and sound ecological management.
Another key factor in planning is the stability of aquaculture facilities and gear, for which rigorous studies are conducted prior to their installation, while regular measurements are also performed to test their durability. These and other measures are taken preemptively to ensure that no fish escape from the cages and adversely impact natural marine biodiversity.
Other specific measures to safeguard the biodiversity of the sea include workplace rules, training programs and frequent measurements to prevent farmed fish escaping and protect phytoplankton as well as land or marine animals such as seabirds, especially those that are endangered. Any action or activity detrimental to wildlife is strictly prohibited.
The social environment
Fish produced by farming are usually a much cheaper source of protein than other animal species and contain many more essential nutrients for the human body. Produced locally, they improve food security in a particular area while also providing a source of employment and income for the local community, thereby having a positive impact on the social and human environment.
Farmed marine fish are among the most important Greek food and drink exports in terms of both quantities and prospects, as evidenced by their export growth in recent years, which in turn contributes to the creation of wealth in Greek society.
Another key aspect of this anthropocentric framework is the fact that the seafood produced globally through aquaculture accounts for 15-20% of the protein consumption of 2.9 billion people worldwide.
The carbon footprint (contribution to the greenhouse effect)
One environmental parameter that has become increasingly important in recent years is energy efficiency. In terms of carbon emissions, the production of proteins from aquaculture is much more efficient, i.e., less polluting, than many other forms of protein production. This is also connected with the feed-conversion ratio, which measures the number of kilograms of feed needed to increase an animal’s bodyweight by one kilogram. For beef cattle, this ratio is between 6:1 and 10:1, which means that up to 10 kilograms of feed is needed to produce 1 kilogram of beef. The value is lower for pigs (2.7: 1 – 5: 1) and chickens (1.7: 1 – 2: 1). For farmed fish, however, the ratio is often 1: 1 or even lower because more alternative and efficient solutions are available, such as utilization of fish by-products suitable for human consumption, fisheries by-catch and fish of low commercial value.
Reduced pressure on wild fisheries
Considering that approximately 3 billion people in the world rely on wild-caught and farmed seafood as a primary source of protein (World Health Organization), aquaculture reduces the consumption of wild fish and the overexploitation of this extremely vulnerable resource. Due to the growing global demand for seafood, overfishing has become a major environmental problem. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 70% of the world’s wild fish species are either fully exploited or depleted. This disrupts ecosystems by removing predators or prey from the oceans. It has been estimated that one-third of the fish we eat come from illegal fishing, which translates into huge lost profits for states, reckless destruction of fish stocks and enormous losses for legal fishermen. The proper management of the impacts of fish farming is an easier, measurable and more effective solution compared to controlling fisheries in the vast open ocean. Used as aquaculture feed, fish meal is made from catches of smaller fish that are normally discarded and not used for human consumption. In addition, when farming fish, aquaculture producers take care of the sea, clean up plastics and provide a good source of fishery/production data.
Genetically modified fish are not produced in Greek aquaculture.
Fish meal and fish oils are obtained from pelagic species caught in fishing grounds which are subject to an Approved Management Plan that protects endangered populations. Due to their high percentage of bone, these fish have little commercial value and are not preferred for human consumption. Caught in large quantities, they are an excellent source of high-quality proteins and fish oils, not only for the needs of global aquaculture but also for animal husbandry in general (livestock, poultry).
7. AREAS OF ORGANIZED AQUACULTURE DEVELOPMENT (AOAD)
Q: Are fish farms sited in coastal areas without proper planning? Do they affect other activities in the region?
Α: Greece has designated a number of Aquaculture Development Areas (ADA) as “coastal areas that meet certain criteria for the development of aquaculture.”
As a key tool for the implementation of the relevant operating framework, provision has been made for the establishment of Areas of Organized Aquaculture Development (AOAD) within these ADAs, i.e., specific coastal areas for the siting of aquaculture facilities.
The benefits of this approach include not only the rational management of water resources, through the application of environmentally friendly methods and techniques to ensure the sustainable development of aquaculture, but also support for actions and practices that improve the quality and hygiene of aquaculture products.
To facilitate achievement of the objectives set, there is close collaboration between the fish farms, government authorities, and local public and private stakeholders representing a broad range of activities, in order to address aquaculture issues, train employees in the industry, upgrade their role and productivity, with the ultimate goal of strengthening the local economy.
8. REGARDING THE “SEASPIRACY” DOCUMENTARY
Τhe Netflix documentary “Seaspiracy” has prompted a wave of reactions among the fisheries and aquaculture communities. With the collaboration of HAPO’s Technical Committee, we look into some of the main claims raised in the documentary and their relevance to Greek aquaculture.
1. The “sea lice” Salmon parasite
This specific parasite does not infest aquaculture fish farmed in the Mediterranean Sea, which includes aquaculture fish farmed in the Greek seas.
2. The astaxanthin pigment
The documentary presents the effect of pigments – particularly astaxanthin – found in salmon fillets. In Mediterranean / Greek aquaculture pigments are not used in fish farming. It’s worth mentioning that astaxanthin belongs in a pigment category named carotenoid, a building block in fish organisms, so it is natural that in a relevant analysis, a standard amount of said substance will be detected in fish.
3. The “wild fish” ratio in fishmeal and fish oils
Regarding the “wild fish” ratio in fishmeal and fish oils used in Greek fish feed, reality is far from the documentary findings. The wild fish ratio in fishmeal has steadily decreased over the years, and now consists of 2-4% of fishmeal. The equivalent amount in fish oils is even lower, between 0.18-0.36%. We highlight the fact that despite the low levels of wild fish in fish feed, a great effort is being made by the scientific community (and Greek aquaculture) to replace wild fish feed with other raw material, produced by seaweed or insect proteins.
4. The origin of proteins and fats (Omega-3 and Omega-6)
A great part of the documentary discusses the origins of proteins and fats. Here, we present the accurate information:
The genetically predefined dietary habits and needs of fish are divided into 3 main categories.
- Carnivores feed on worms, crustaceans, insects or other fish
- Herbivores feed on marine plants and algae
- Omnivores have a wider dietary range, feeding on both animal and plant matter
Carnivorous fish basically need proteins and fats, while herbivorous need carbohydrates. Omnivores need all of the above. Fish raised in the Mediterranean / Greek Sea are mainly carnivores and are occasionally fed with plants. A lot of research is being conducted to replace the largest possible amount of protein that originates from wild fish in their feed.
Let’s review in detail the necessary healthy nutrients for humans and fish.
The building blocks for proteins are amino acids. In humans, 8 out of 21 amino acids used to synthesize proteins cannot be produced from our organisms and are taken in through food, which is why they’re called essential or basic amino acids. If the protein in a certain food contains all essential amino acids, then that food is deemed of high nutritional value. High nutritional value food examples include animal byproducts, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk and cheese.
Similarly, proteins are necessary in fish diet, since these organisms are not able to produce all essential amino acids, so they receive them via their feed.
Of the 21 amino acids that comprise different proteins, 10 are essential for fish. Fish need proteins in their diets for two reasons:
- They contain all essential amino acids that fish cannot synthesize, or they do so at a much slower rate than their metabolism demands.
- They are a source of amino acids, or contain enough nitrogen to allow fish to synthesize them.
Fishmeal is an excellent source of protein, as it contains all essential amino acids in the amount that satisfies the dietary needs of fish. The presence of the required levels of essential amino acids in certain food (e.g. plant feed that replaces animal feed), does not mean that it makes them readily available to fish, as digesting that food may be difficult.
Fatty acids are the building blocks for fats. The essential fatty acids are something that humans and other living organisms must ingest through food, as they’re required for the proper maintenance of our bodies and we cannot synthesize them on our own.
Only two fatty acids are known to be essential for humans: a-linolenic acid (an Omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an Omega-6 fatty acid). These two cannot be synthesized by man, as humans do not have the necessary enzymes to produce them, nor may they be replaced by another Omega-3 fatty acid found in plants.
Fish make up the main source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 for humans, which in turn ingest those by eating phytoplankton and large seaweed. Similarly, fish cannot synthesize every fatty acid of the Omega-3 and -6 range, unless they take it in through food. Moreover, polyunsaturated fatty acids are digested more easily (they’re more volatile) than saturated ones (e.g., fishmeal that’s rich in PUFA is digested more easily than corn oil that’s rich in saturated fatty acids).
Thus, the scientific conclusion is that the exclusion of animal proteins from fish feed would incite atrophy and a higher death rate – a practice against recognized fish welfare principles. For the same reason, animal proteins are necessary for humans and especially critical age groups, such as growing children and the elderly.