Fish Farming:  CFFO...
Captive Fish Feeding Operation

Fish farming needs to take the nature of the fish into consideration.  Current research has uncovered some amazing things about our finny friends.  There is a lot more to fish than just a filet with fins.  Memory and intelligence resides in that small brain of theirs.  Remember we are talking fish here, not whales and dolphins which are mammals and have considerably larger brains.

An interesting article, Fishing Hurts, from our friends at PETA.org details several recent studies on fish intelligence.

For example, Dr. Sylvia Earle, one of the world's leading marine biologists, says, "fish are so good-natured, so curious....fish are sensitive, they have personalities, they hurt when they're wounded."

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Fish are Intelligent Creatures

The article also reports that, "fish can learn to avoid nets by watching other fish in their group and that they can recognize individual "shoal mates".  Some fish gather information by eavesdropping on others, and some—such as the South African fish that lay eggs on leaves so that they can carry them to a safe place—even use tools."

>The same PETA article mentions Fish and Fisheries, a quarterly publication of Wiley-Blackwell, which "has cited more than 500 research papers on fish intelligence, proving that fish are smart, that they can use tools, and that they have impressive long-term memories and sophisticated social structures.

The introductory chapter said that fish are 'steeped in social intelligence, pursuing Machiavellian strategies of manipulation, punishment and reconciliation … exhibiting stable cultural traditions and cooperating to inspect predators and catch food.'

Culum Brown, a University of Edinburgh biologist, found that "Fish are more intelligent than they appear...long-term memories help fish keep track of complex social relationships. Their spatial memory—"equal in all respects to any other vertebrate"—allows them to create cognitive maps that guide them through their watery homes, using cues such as polarized light, sounds, smells, and visual landmarks."

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Fish Communicate?

Fishes intelligence has also given them a remarkable level of communication skills.  They "talk" to each other through a variety of squeaks, squeals, and other low-frequency sounds and some fish court their mates by singing to them.

Once mated, fish have well defined home building traits.   Many fish species build nests where they raise their offspring while others collect little rocks off the seafloor to make hiding places where they can rest. 

Some fish tend well-kept gardens, encouraging the growth of tasty algae and weeding out the types they don't like.  You may have experience this yourself at the beach by noticing that fish like to be touched and often gently rub against one another or even a wading person, much like a cat weaving in and out of your legs.

Can Fish Feel Pain?  Yes!

Finally more pertinent to fishing and fish farming, fish feel pain. A good treatment on the physiology and emotional side of fish is available from PETA at Fish Feel Pain.

Specifically, Donald Broom, scientific adviser to the British government, explains, "The scientific literature is quite clear. Anatomically, physiologically and biologically, the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and mammals."  

Scientists have created a detailed map of pain receptors in fish's mouths and all over their bodies. A team of researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada recently surveyed the scientific literature on fish pain and intelligence and concluded that fish feel pain and that "the welfare of fish requires consideration."

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What about Emotions in Fish?

Scientists at Edinburgh University and the Roslin Institute in the United Kingdom report that in response to pain, fish also feel emotional stress and engage in "a ‘rocking’ motion strikingly similar to the kind of motion seen in stressed higher vertebrates like mammals."

The research team concluded that fish clearly experience pain in the same way as mammals, both physically and psychologically.

More on Intelligence and Memory in Fish

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Knowing that fish are creatures with intelligence and memories, having the capacity to learn, fish can also suffer from fear and anticipation of physical pain.

Researchers from universities across America have published research showing that some fish use sound to communicate distress when nets are dipped into their tanks or they are otherwise threatened.

In a separate study, researcher William Tavolga found that fish grunted when they received an electric shock. In addition, the fish began to grunt as soon as they saw the electrode, clearly in anticipation of the torment that Tavolga was inflicting on them. 

According to Dr. Michael Fox, D.V.M, Ph.D., "Even though fish don't scream audibly when they are in pain and anguish, their behavior should be evidence enough of their suffering when they are hooked or netted. They struggle, endeavoring to escape and, by so doing, demonstrate they have a will to survive."

If You Have to Eat Fish

If after reading this page and watching the embedded videos you still feel like you absolutely, positively have to eat fish, then this contributed infographic is for you. 

While it mainly deals with mercury contamination in fish and guides the viewer on how to avoid those fish with the highest levels of heavy metal contamination, it also points out which fish species are endangered and those that are caught with environmentally destructive methods. 

The author of this site would:

  • discourage eating fish altogether
  • ban most of the commercial fishing techniques currently in use
  • put a global moratorium on commercial fishing of most species for severel years to allow the rebuilding of ocean fish stocks
  • levy a special fee on every commerical fishing boat for the remediation of bycatch, call it a bycatch penalty
However, we know that will never happen. Thus we have included this highly informative infographic to guide your fish consumption; so please take the time to watch Mercury Rising, contributed by Fix.com, a lifestyle blog devoted to bringing us expert content to make our lives easier.

So What Does All This Have to do with
Fish Farming?

Most fish farms take the form of large tanks on land or vast areas in the open sea or lagoon enclosed by a net in which fish are kept. 

Both are characterized by overcrowding, feeding with diets unnatural to the fish which usually consist of some form of corn, chicken or other animal waste, pollution, disease and stress to the fish. 

Nets and tanks are not the fish’s natural habitat and thus do not permit fish to engage in their natural activities.  Confined salmon farming has become a controversial topic on both coasts.

The book, Stain Upon the Sea, describes the problems and issues very well.  Click on the books image to review it or buy it.

The land based tanks or pond enclosures are by far the more destructive and inhumane of the two. 

CFFO's or captive fish farm operations produce a lot of fat corn-fed fish; the only problem is that you eat them at your own risk.  Like the animal factory's described in preceding pages, fish farms also crowd huge numbers of fish in a small area that produces a host of ill effects.

Numerous organizations have sprung up addressing the problems of the modern fish farm and most have excellent websites that anyone can access. 

Two of them are Sea Food Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and The Educational Defense Fund on the various aspects of fish farming.

The next few paragraphs and video document some of the horrors of the fish farm and the wrap up will be a video that will allow this page to end on an upbeat note.  If you feel like skipping the gruesome videos, at least watch the last one on the page from "TED Talks".

Speaking of horrors, Monster Cod and Salmon Lice, aka, Norwegian Fish Farm horrors.

There is no narrative in it, just a series of photographs showing gut wrenching fish deformities, sores, parasitic lice inflicted lesions and apparent tumors.

Jonathan Foer in his book "Eating Animals", Little, Brown and Co, 2009, has a section on fish farming, which he describes as nothing more than underwater factory farming.  From the Handbook of Salmon Farming, he details six common stresses on these products of a fish farm. 

The first is water quality meaning that typically the water is so fouled by fish excretions that it becomes very difficult for the fish to breathe.  Between excessive particulates in their water and low oxygen levels, their gills no longer do the job.

Second is extreme crowding.  Some fish actually do OK in crowded conditions but not salmon.  In some fish farms, according to Foer, the fish are so jammed in that they start to cannibalize each other. 

The third is very rough, invasive handling.  With such rough treatment, symptoms of stress start showing up within a day or so. 

Stress in fish is manifested much like us humans:  an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and respiration which, if chronic, results in an impaired immune system and disease or death. 

Unfortunately there are many causes of stress in a fish farm; notably overstocking, poor nutrition, lack of hiding places, disturbances in the tank or pens, harassment from other fish, high ammonia and nitrate levels in the water, low oxygen content, rough treatment in handling and medications. 

The fourth, fifth and six were mentioned above; disturbance by the farm workers, poor nutrition and the inability to form normal, stable hierarchies which results in higher levels of cannibalization. 

The handbook just chalks these up as normal, integral components of fish farming and death rates of up to 30% are typical of the industry.  As seen in the video above from Norway, sea lice are common in salmon farming.  The lice thrive in filthy water and create open sores, sometimes eating the fish down to their bones. 

As is typical in the land based animal factories; transport and slaughter are just as cruel in fish farms.  As Foer describes it, salmon are likely to be starved for seven to ten days to diminish their waste during transport to slaughter, then arriving at slaughter, their gills are sliced, and they are tossed into a tank of water to bleed to death and all this while conscious. 

Remember the paragraphs above about fish feeling pain and suffering.  No fish ever dies a good death.

Commercial Ocean Fishing
Is it Better Than Fish Farming?

While we are at it, a look at commercial fishing may be in order here.  If we opt to eat fish at all, one of those choices facing us at the fish counter in the supermarket is whether to buy farm fish or wild fish.  Commercial fishing is sometimes referred to as fish farming but it is a misnomer.  commercial fishers just harvest, they don't breed, feed or replenish fish stocks in the oceans.

The two main methods of commercial fishing are long lines and trawlers that drag a funnel shaped net along the ocean bottom that scoops up everything in its path.  The common denominator of both is "bycatch". 

Bycatch is what they call all the other sea life that gets hauled in along with the targeted fish.  Bycatch sea life includes not only other fish, but also all kinds of bottom dwelling crustaceans, rare coral, plants that provide habitat and food for other sea life. 

Long lines can be seventy five miles long which put 27 million hooks into the water every day.  Some 4.5 million sea animals are killed as bycatch every year from long line fishing. 

The kill includes all types of sharks, sport fish such as marlin, endangered sea turtles, even sea birds like albatross and sea mammals like dolphins and whales.

By far the trawlers do more damage to the ocean environment than any other cause.  A trawl net being dragged across the ocean floor for miles on end is the same as clear cutting a virgin forest or the destruction of the rain forests.

Ghost Fishing

Another lesser known horror of commercial fishing is known as "Ghost Fishing".  This is what happens to fish when discarded and derelict fishing nets drift aimlessly with the current and entangle every living creature in their path. 

The result is countless agonizing deaths of precious marine life.

Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, and an associate of Dr. Joseph Mercola has blogged a very comprehensive article on the subject at Ghost Fishing. You can also visit http://www.ghostfishing.org/ to see what some dedicated divers are doing to rectify the situation.

More on Bycatch

From Foer's book, to appreciate the destruction of bycatch from shrimpers, consider that shrimp account for about 2% of global seafood by weight but shrimp trawling accounts for 33% of global bycatch.  Foer has a great idea. 

Shrimp and other seafood should be labeled with the amount of bycatch it created, for example a shrimp package label might say that "26 pounds of other sea animals were killed and tossed back into the ocean for every one pound of this shrimp."

Tuna is another common ocean fish caught by seine nets.  Along with the tuna, Foer lists about a hundred other fish that are destroyed as bycatch and discarded.  Think about that next time you choose to eat at the sushi bar or open that can of tuna.  In fact here's another short video from Greenpeace on what goes into that can of tuna.


This next video from Greenpeace about the potential disappearance of the Blue fin tuna should be a real wakeup call.  It's one more real example of how the great fish of the ocean may soon be a thing of the past. 

It seems that whether it's endangered whales, dolphins, tuna or any other sea creature, the Japanese are at the heart of it.  They are the market.  Maybe they will start eating each other when all the fish are gone.


Modern fishing techniques are literally destroying the world's ocean ecosystem and we will eventually pay the price.  Ocean life is rapidly being depleted, not only from the bycatch mentioned above but also the toxic pollution that is dumped into the oceans. 

There is no fish anywhere in the world that is not already contaminated by heavy metals, pharmaceuticals or chemicals.  The situation today is that any fish from any source simply should not be eaten.

Below is an interesting but frightening short video of a modern trawl net in action.  Watch what it does to the ocean floor.


Before moving on, here's one more video from Greenpeace that really bring home the destruction caused by trawlers.


How to Run a Fish Farm

There is a way to run a fish farm that not only improves the environment but allows the fish to live as fish were intended. 

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Dan Barber whom we met in the foie gras page has done a wonderful TED lecture embedded below.

Not only is it instructive but like all the Dan Barber lectures, it is entertaining, presented with humor and leaves the viewer feeling positive and hopeful.


After having viewed all the horrors of fish farms and CAFOs for beef, dairy, hogs, broilers and laying hens, the next logical step in our education is to take an in-depth look at what these operations do to the environment and surrounding communities and finally explore their effects on our personal health and the declining health of the nation.


Leave Fish Farming and return to Home Page
Go to the CAFO introduction page
See where chicken-in-a-bucket comes from
Read how Industrial Beef is raised
Factory Farming Milk; Remember When Milk was Milk?
The Industrial Hog Factory - Nothing Good About It