6 min read
Jennifer Bushman, Sustainable Aquaculture Champion and Strategist

Today’s Farmed Fish [TFF]: How did you become interested and invested in the aquaculture industry and how did your career path lead you to where you are today?

Jennifer Bushman [JB]: In 2010 I took on a client who turned out to be a sustainable salmon company raising fish in open ocean net pens in the Southern Patagonia of Chile. They were able to utilize a special yeast in the diet to achieve the healthful Omega-3 levels that the salmon vitally need in their diet without depleting the oceans of marine ingredients. Along with lower pen densities and much more, they were able to show the world how salmon practices could be dramatically improved. This changed the entire industry and paved the way for better standards and innovations. That project became the first ever ocean-raised salmon to get a “Yellow” or “Good Buy Alternative” from Seafood Watch. I was able to work with some of the pioneers of the field. From that point on, I was “hooked”.

TFF: Do you think American consumers have an accurate understanding of aquaculture today?

JB: I think it is getting better but there are still a lot of misperceptions. We have a deeply rooted cultural narrative around wild fish in this country – a narrative that has not pivoted accordingly when it comes to the realities of the stress on fish stocks today. It is the last wild frontier but somehow, we have a sense of consumptive entitlement when it comes to the ocean.

TFF: A common concern we often hear is that the aquaculture industry will have negative effects on the commercial fishing industry and wild fish stocks. How do you see aquaculture working in collaboration with commercial fishermen?

JB: We have to work collaboratively. There are some areas where we should not be farming, for lots of reasons. This could be due to wild fisheries or the migratory patterns of marine mammals –  site placement is key. We cannot have an “us vs. them” mentality, which has been perpetuated by a lack of understanding. Much of the new technologies and advancements in aquaculture have to be shared with our fisher family. Coming to the table, learning, and listening to one another will help immensely.

TFF: What’s the main takeaway you’d like consumers to know about today’s farmed fish in the US? 

JB: Done well, aquaculture can be a force for ecological and social good. Modern advancements have resulted in incredible technologies, farm management and feed practices that now allow us to farm today’s fish sustainably. Global as well as national action is required to ensure that this sector of our food system can scale to meet growing global food security challenges and nutritional needs. Aquaculture could mean an increase of nutrition-packed, clean fish become available across the country at an affordable price.

TFF: What are some of the most noteworthy innovations the aquaculture industry has experience over the past couple decades and how has this improved the sustainability of today’s farmed fish?

JB: There are almost too many to mention. Feed is the one that is likely most important. Feed models that have varied ingredients and are still good for the fish but do not deplete the ocean of wild feeder fish stocks. The innovative feed by Biomar contains algae from Corbion and krill shells which deliver the same natural astaxanthin. There are no dyes or artificial ingredients.

Robotic technology like that of Aquaai, a 3-D printed fish robot that mimics the movements of the surrounding fish while connecting vital data like size, feeding patterns, and much more. This swimming drone is a huge advance. Considering that fish pens are 98% water and 2% fish, stationed sensors can sometimes go days before a fish swims in range, whereas this fish drone can join the school to observe behavior exactly where the fish are swimming.

Advancements in net technology have made nets safer. Instead of using copper-based antifoulants, nets are now coated with wax and pressure washed by a diver twice a year to keep them free of debris, which makes it harder for lice to attach. Skirts are placed around pens to prevent lice from drifting in at times when natural infestations are high. To ensure the salmon is healthy, 30 fish from every pen are tested weekly by gentle examination. If examiners count more than one adult female louse per five fish, they use a warm water bath, free of chemicals, to naturally remove the lice, as lice tend to jump off the salmon during abrupt temperature changes. Just like mosquitos at your campfire, sea lice are a natural and seasonal pest that impact both wild and farmed salmon. Kvaroy Arctic has proven you don’t need chemicals or pesticides to keep sea lice at bay. Instead, a natural combination of methods, starting with good farm management practices keep the environment healthy and in balance. Cleaner fish, which eat sea lice off of salmon, are placed in every pen to live alongside the salmon at Kvaroy Arctic. To keep the cleaner fish in the pen, Kvaroy uses a smaller gauge net than is required for salmon. In combination with excellent pen maintenance and structural integrity, Kvaroy hasn’t had a single salmon escape in over ten years.

Oraking and Kvaroy Arctic both use sustainable packaging as well as Skuna Bay. The goal is to eliminate all Styrofoam.

TFF: There's been a lot of changes internationally with aquaculture. Do you think any changes could give consumers the confidence in sustainable aquaculture to expand in the US?

JB: There is no doubt. Hundreds of millions of dollars from the US has been used to advance aquaculture worldwide but only 8% of the fish that comes from the US is farmed. We are ranked 16th in the world in aquaculture production.  Things like wave technology to facilitate site placement, mariculture systems that allow fish to be farmed safely far off sea, and better feed formulas all create better efficiencies. We have learned so much since the early days of aquaculture, just like we have about farming on land, raising cows or pigs. We know now that you can raise a chicken well and you can raise a chicken badly. Aquaculture is no different.

TFF: What do you believe would help inform consumer perceptions of farmed fish?

JB: Just like responsible crop farmers identify as "soil farmers", responsible aquaculture farmers identify as "water farmers". We need to look to water farmers' story of Provenance. The story of the Farmer. Create a narrative that highlights the farmer and what they do. Show it in all forms of aquaculture; from my friend Sarah Redmond, farming seaweed in Maine to Wes Taylor and Taylor Shellfish farming for four generations in Washington. Do not just focus on the large commodity companies. Take them out of this for now. It is that connection to stories.  The water farmers of today are doing incredible work. They have developed systems that reduce carbon, preserve the rainforest, and bring jobs to economically disadvantaged communities. They are leading the way in developing solutions to one of the most critical problems of our time – how to feed a rapidly growing world while protecting the future of our oceans. Make no mistake, the stories we tell about what we eat are as essential to food as water and sunlight. Whether it’s a tale of happy cows, a Kentucky businessman with a recipe for fried chicken, or a sixth-generation farmer growing heirloom beans, we need stories to satisfy our appetite for belonging as much we need food itself to sustain our bodies.

TFF: What resources would you suggest for people to seek out for credible information?

JB: I have a section on my website at jenniferbushman.com. You can also go to Seafood Watch’s website and the Aquaculture Stewardship council. I also love my friends at the Global Aquaculture Alliance. Sign up for their newsletter and watch their film series with episodes here.

TFF: Can you describe the work you do with organizations you mentioned above, the James Beard Foundation’s Smart Catch program, and Surfrider? How does this help connect and educate American consumers about sustainably sourced farmed fish?

JB: I feel that working with those developing policy is vital to my work and my own continuing education.  I work with them by encouraging those in the industry I know to work with and engage with their programs. One client of mine became a Seafood Watch Business partner, followed the guidelines for the Surfrider restaurant program while simultaneously becoming the largest Smart Catch participant in the program. All of these organizations have a different audience and bringing a farm closer to and aligning with them is important in spreading our message.

TFF: What is your preferred type of farmed fish to eat and your favorite way to prepare seafood at home?

JB: Let’s start with how to prepare it. I am obsessed with my Donabe Smoker. It is so simple to take a fillet and get a light smoke on it. Serve it with simple grains and nice salad. It is my favorite way to eat!

My favorite farms are Riverence Steelhead Trout Based in Idaho. They focus on protecting wild salmon and trout through responsible aquaculture and stewardship of the environment.

Pacifico Aquaculture founded in 2010 through a partnership with industry leaders has implemented innovations in ocean farming to ensure the health of striped bass, the health of our oceans, and long-term availability for generations to come.

Kvaroy Arctic, which was founded in 1976 by Alf Olsen, a fish farming pioneer in northern Norway, and his son, Geir. They continue to build Kvarøy Arctic as it was envisioned by its founders: offering salmon of high quality without compromising the environment or the welfare of the fish. They are fully certified by Global Gap and ASC. They have launched on the IBM Food Trust Block chain have invested significantly in packaging advancements which will eliminate styrofoam by the end of the year. They are the first farm raised salmon to ever achieve the coveted Heart Check Seal from the American Heart Association

Taylor Shellfish, with every generation of the Taylor family having grown up with a passion for shellfish.

Hog Island Oysters and their thriving ‘family’ of 200 plus employees cultivate, shuck, and serve an exceptional oyster experience at Hog Island locations in Marshall, Napa, San Francisco, and Tony’s Seafood.

Superior Freshan industry-leading aquaponic farm specializing in organic leafy greens, Atlantic salmon, and Steelhead. Situated on a 720-acre native restoration property in Wisconsin.

Kauai Shrimp, a vertically integrated shrimp farming facility. They have forty one-acre ponds and eight half-acre ponds, with an annual harvest of one million pounds of some of the best shrimp you have ever tasted.

Glitne Halibut, the producer of the world’s finest and most sustainable Snow White Norwegian Halibut using only pure, ice-cold, and crystal clear water from the depths of the mystical Sognefjord.