International Governance of Fisheries Ecosystems: Learning from the Past, Finding Solutions for the Future

Chapter 16: Farming the Genetically Modified Seas—The Perils and Promise of Transgenic Salmon

Rebecca M. Bratspies

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569995.ch16

Fisheries are in crisis. Most experts agree that capture fisheries around the world have reached or exceeded sustainable limits (Pauly and Maclean 2003). As a result, despite increased fishing effort and more effective equipment, total catch levels have remained stable or decreased every year since the mid-1990s (Vannuccini 2003). In 2002, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that 75% of the world’s fisheries were overfished, threatened or fully exploited (FAO 2002). By 2006, research suggested that overfishing might drive ocean ecosystems into collapse within the next few decades (Worm et al. 2006).

Aquaculture has been proposed as the solution to this Gordian knot—a means for increasing seafood production while conserving wild fish stocks. By replacing capture fisheries with fish farming, aquaculture would mirror the land-based, historical shift from animal capture regimes (hunting) to animal husbandry. Developing fish husbandry methods could, in theory, reduce fishing pressures on wild populations, thereby protecting endangered marine ecosystems. And aquaculture seems to offer a level of state control and commercial predictability that is simply not possible from unpredictable capture fisheries.

Some view aquaculture as the best hope for food security for a world population expected to reach nine billion people by 2050 (Tansey and Culver 2005; FAO/NACA 2001). Indeed aquaculture features prominently in plans to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of halving poverty by 2015 (Fish for All, no date). Among the most of the controversial advances associated with aquaculture is the potential for increased production offered by transgenic1 fish.