AMHERST, Mass. – The prestigious Blue Ocean Film Festival will screen the documentary film, “Fish Meat: Choose Your Farm Wisely,” by eco-filmmaker Ted Caplow and featuring University of Massachusetts Amherst fish ecologist Andy Danylchuk, on Sept. 26 in Monterey, Calif.
Festival organizers say it honors the world’s finest ocean films through best-in-class film competition, promotes dialogue between filmmakers and scientists to inspire great films, connects ocean filmmakers with the latest technology, financing and distribution resources and engages the public internationally by sharing the “world’s greatest collection of ocean films.”
Danylchuk says he and his partners are thrilled by the Blue Ocean festival’s decision to screen the 30-minute documentary, which illustrates, sometimes quite graphically, the pros and cons of modern aquaculture in the context of declining global wild fish stocks to help consumers think more holistically about where our seafood comes from.
“Being accepted into one of the premier ocean film festivals in the world is huge,” says the fish ecologist. “It means an audience of internationally known leaders in ocean ecology and conservation will see and hear our messages about the environmental sustainability of various aquaculture practices. We couldn’t be more excited.”
In “Fish Meat,” Danylchuk and his friend Ted Caplow, an environmental engineer and founder of the science documentary film company Fish Navy Films, tell the story of how they sailed to Turkey to explore modern fish farming on a local scale. They examine existing models of large- vs. small-scale aquaculture and go on a quest to ask, “What does sustainable aquaculture really look like?”
“Fish are an important protein source, and our government is encouraging everyone to eat more, but wild fish stocks can’t support our demand,” says Danylchuk. “We’ve underestimated our impact in salt- and freshwater systems not just from fishing but from industry and habitat degradation.”
“Our film gives consumers a place to start when deciding whether to eat wild or farmed fish,” he adds. “We hope viewers also become more aware that all fish are not created equal. Some of the species we like best, such as salmon and tuna, don’t do a very good job of converting the food they eat into fish meat for us. They require much more fish protein in their diet than they supply to us. This inefficiency means that these species, even when farmed, are contributing to the rapid depletion of the world’s wild fish stocks.”
“Fish Meat” doesn’t lead viewers to solutions, Danylchuk says, “but we do try to lead people to ask the right questions. We suggest that globalized fish farming may not be the best way to go, and we were most impressed by the smaller, more mature and more artisanal production methods that we encountered. The rule of thumb for buying and eating locally, within 100 miles of home, applies not only to fruits and vegetables but may also apply to seafood for all the same reasons: Lower transportation costs, more local jobs, less energy, industrial equipment and capital outlay needed, all for a safer, fresher product.”
The documentary’s voyage begins at a bluefin tuna “ranch.” Danylchuk and Caplow swim with the giant, fast-moving fish, some weighing as much as 1,300 lbs. (600 kg), before watching them get rounded up for harvest. These giant predators, in danger of extinction, are among the most coveted fish on the international market, they note.
The trip continues along Turkey’s sparkling southwest coast, where fish are raised in hatcheries before being grown to maturity in pens at sea. “Fish Meat” explores farming operations that range from the ocean to remote mountaintops, surveying techniques common throughout the world. Local fishermen describe the rapid depletion of wild fish stocks they have witnessed.
High in the mountains, Danylchuk and Caplow at last discover an innovative local trout farm, its terraced design efficiently sharing and recycling water from a mountain stream to reduce environmental damage. The scientists complete their journey at a carp farm where simple methods are used to raise a fish that is low on the food chain and delicious.
“We hope that by viewing the film, consumers will be able to make a more informed decision on what type of fish to buy,” Danylchuk says. “To the fish connoisseur, tilapia is not often the fish of choice. However, eating fish like tilapia makes sense because they are more efficient at converting their food into fish meat. Essentially, we should be eating lower on the food chain to help the environment.”
In addition to the international film festival, “Fish Meat” will be shown at the New England Aquarium in Boston on Oct. 11 and on the UMass Amherst campus in Holdsworth Hall on Friday, Nov. 2, during a department of environmental conservation seminar.
For a list of screenings nationwide, a sustainable seafood blog and an opportunity to obtain the film or arrange for local screenings, visit Fish Navy Films at: www.fishnavy.com