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Monday, 30 June 2014

#EatMoreFish irony

SO a man walks up to a coastline, looks out at the sea cages of a pioneering aquaculture project, and gripes to his guide that it doesn’t seem natural. “And we were standing next to a field of wheat.” The irony was not lost on that guide, Peter Horvat of Australia’s Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, retelling the story with some relish. “I pointed out there was a time when land farming didn’t seem that natural, ­either,” he says.

Like it or view it like a Luddite, fish farming is here to stay. Aquaculture is the world’s fastest growing primary industry and there is now more seafood farmed than red meat: at the World Aquaculture conference held earlier this month in Adelaide, it was estimated that for the first time the value of Australian aquaculture has overtaken that of the wild-catch industry.

The four-day conference hosted 2000 delegates from 70 countries. On one level, it was a talkfest for a fledgling industry starting to move beyond dog-paddle; on another, it was a powerful argument for the importance — individual, local and global — of increasing our consumption of seafood. Wild-catch is great, of course: no fish farmer will deny that, though they might point out there ain’t enough to go round. But whether farmed or wild, here are nine reasons to eat more fish.

1. Get With the Strength:

Fish is the world’s most traded protein, and it’s twice the size of the coffee trade. It had an estimated export value of $US136 billion last year, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. And it will be even more important in future. As World Aquaculture Society president Graham Mair points out, by the end of this century we will need to produce the same amount of food as we produced in the past 10,000 years, so aquaculture will be pivotal to global food security.

2. Health:

Yes, of course you already knew fish is good for you. Just how good? Have a look at the accompanying graph, published earlier this month in a report by the High Level Panel of Experts to the UN Committee on World Food Security: the case for obtaining your essential omega-3 fatty acids from fish just keeps getting stronger (and, yes, the authors say it is indeed correct that the level of iron in beef is lower than in most fish, particularly small freshwater fish). At the same time, in light of increasing evidence of neurodevelopmental benefits from eating fish, the US Food and Drug Administration has revised its dietary recommendations to encourage pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and young children to eat more of it — two to three servings a week — from choices low in mercury.

3. We were meant to eat it:

Remember Sam Neill in those red meat ads? Well, sorry Sam, but it was the Neanderthals who ate lots of red meat. Modern humans became modern by eating lots of oysters, mussels and fish (paleo nuts, take note). As a Scientific American article, “When the Sea Saved Humanity”, reveals, when the number of breeding humans crashed to about 600 in five locations across Africa, it was seafood and root vegetables that helped us survive, not steak.

4. It tastes better:

Of course, we’d all like to eat wild fish that jumped into the boat on a longline shortly before hitting our plates. We’re dreaming, mostly. Fact is, thanks to advances in aquaculture combined with a more focused approach to eating quality, the best farmed fish in Australia is emulating those desirable wild-caught characteristics of flavour and texture. (See breakout.)

5. Dementia prevention:

In Don’t Miss the Bus, a new book drawing on the latest findings in neuroscience from the University of California, South Australian author Rex J. Lipman names a list of a dozen “Gold Medal” food groups vital to maintaining brain health and preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s. The only animal products on the list are fish — specifically salmon, trout and sardines — and dairy foods.

6. Weight loss:

Seafood can help tackle the global obesity crisis, says health writer Martin Bowerman, author of Lean Forever: The Scientific Secrets of Permanent Weight Loss. Speaking at World Aquaculture Adelaide, Bowerman said fish provided more protein for comparably lower calorie intake than other meats and this “calorie efficiency” was key to a high-protein weight-loss diet.

7. The Price of Fish:

Yes, I too have seen King George whiting at up to $84 a kilogram at my local market. But fish doesn’t have to be just a Good Friday luxury. Ask your fishmonger for these delicious, underrated, affordable species, among others: sardines, blue mussels, banana prawns, albacore tuna, pink snapper and eastern school whiting.

8. Sustainability:

While all farmed animals need to be fed, aquaculture represents the most efficient method by which to convert feed to edible protein. And some species, such as the molluscs, oysters and mussels, do not need to be fed at all.

9. It will help you live longer:

In a recent report prepared for Canada’s aquaculture industry, How Higher Seafood Consumption Can Save Lives, the authors quote a study from Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Washington that found older adults with high blood levels of fish-derived fatty acids lived, on average, 2.2 years longer than those with lower levels. “Increasing levels of fish consumption (to the recommended levels) could save about 7000 lives (in Canada) a year,” the report concluded.

See the full story here.