Fabien Cousteau: aquaculture is the solution

Is Cousteau using his famous name to shill for a destructive industry?

click to enlarge Fabien Cousteau
Fabien Cousteau

Fabien Cousteau often sailed with his grandfather Jacques Cousteau on the Calypso. Now, Fabien Cousteau works to save ocean life through the promotion of aquaculture, and is the keynote speaker this week at a symposium organized by the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia (Friday, 2pm at the Rebecca Cohn).

Is Cousteau using his famous name to shill for an industry that is often criticized as polluting and destructive of fisheries? Not at all. In fact, he criticizes what passes for typical aquaculture practices in Nova Scotia.

“So far as my knowledge, and from what I’ve seen,” he tells The Coast, “what works in the long-term, both in an environmental and economic level, as well as a popularity level, is very simple: It’s land-based, closed system, polyculture that is based around animals that are fast-growing and most likely vegetarian, and preferably an organic vegetarian diet, which means that they’re not ingesting the kind of pollutants we don’t want in our own bodies, and of course go to market locally as well.

“All those features are steps towards a more rounded and more sustainable system,” he continues. “The open pens in things like bays”---the normal practice in Nova Scotia---”especially with top predators that you feed wild-caught forage fish to get one pound of meat does not making any sense, both on a fish level and on an economic level.”

I asked Cousteau about the proposed seal slaughter, telling him that nearly every fisherman I’ve talked with is in favour of it.

“That’s an age-old story,” he says. “I’ve heard that all over the world in places where the fishery has collapsed because of over-fishing: they automatically start blaming the natural predators, which is simply not the case, time and time again. But that’s a hard argument to have with someone who is hell-bent on that idea.”

I go on to tell him the particulars of the Sable Island slaughter proposal, the tens of thousands of carcasses that would have to be cremated and so forth, and Cousteau laughs.

“That comes with global public repercussions,” he says. “It squanders opportunities for tourism and so forth, another means of income. It’s always easier to point fingers and blame the situation on something or someone or some animal that can’t defend itself in court. I would rather they start looking at solutions based on the real reasons those fisheries have collapsed. And cod won’t come back any time soon, unfortunately. All you have to do is look at the northeast United States, around Massachusetts where the cod used to be as thick as they were up there [in Canadian waters]. I’ve gone diving there, and if you find a cod it’s very surprising and usually it’s a very small animal. They just haven’t bounced back, even though they’ve been protected for the last 30 years. It takes one generation to wipe them out, and many, many generations for them to come back.”

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