Why Soy Is Not a Sustainable Farm Fish Food Alternative


Fish farms are all too common. In fact, about half of the world’s seafood comes from farms. How to feed all those farmed fish is a big challenge. Soy is seen by some as a sustainable feed for factory farmed fish. The soy industry would gain over $200 million by promoting soy as food for farmed fish. The soy industry would make huge profits from the expansion of factory fish farming, according to a report by Food & Water Watch. Those large profits would come without a guarantee that soy-based feed is either a healthy option for fish or is environmentally responsible.

It takes one to two pounds of wild fish, processed into fishmeal or oil and put into commercial feed, to produce one pound of farmed fish. As farmed fishing increases, so does the demand for fishmeal and oil. From 1995 to 2010, the use of fishmeal by the farmed fishing industry increased by 75 percent, and the use of fish oil increased by 62 percent.

Some of the species of the small fish used to create fishmeal and oil are considered either fully exploited or overexploited. Exploiting those small fish species also threatens the populations of predatory finfish, marine birds and mammals that depend on them for survival.

Soy is not the answer for several reasons:

1. First, soy causes fish to produce excess waste which would lead to fish farming being even more damaging to the environment. In open ocean fish farming, uneaten feed flows directly from the cage into the environment.

2. Most soy grown in the U.S. (94 percent) is genetically modified (GMO). Expanding the already large soy industry in the U.S. alone would mean even more GMO soy being grown.

3. Expanding the soy industry means more environmental destruction. South America serves as an example where the expansion of soy production caused “massive deforestation and displaced indigenous communities,” as the report points out.

“Soy is being promoted as a better alternative to feed made from wild fish, but this model will not help the environment, and it will transfer massive industrial farming models into our oceans and further exacerbate the havoc wreaked by the soy industry on land—including massive amounts of dangerous herbicide use and massive deforestation,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch.

How consumers can oppose soy as fish feed

The report recommends several things consumers can do to stand against the promotion of soy as farmed fish feed:

  • Eat only wild seafood from well-managed fisheries or sustainable fish farms. See Food & Water Watch’s Smart Seafood guide
  • Oppose federal agencies’ efforts to allow commercial fish farming operations in federal waters

There’s one more thing you can do: oppose the expansion of fish farming. Last year, Rep. Don Young of Alaska introduced legislation (HR 574) to stop efforts by government agencies to expand farmed fishing into federal waters. Specifically, it would prohibit the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce from authorizing fish farms in federal waters without the Congress giving them the approval to do so. Please, sign the petition, No Fish Farms In Federal Waters, which asks Speaker of the House John Boehner to support HR 574.


Related Stories:

Lethal Virus Found in Farmed Salmon

The Bottom Line: Little Fish Do Matter

Overfishing: When We’ve Run Out of an Endless Resource


Photo: Flickr user, IvanWalsh


Terry V.
Terry V5 years ago



GinaMarie Cheeseman
Past Member 5 years ago

@Jeffrey B, First off, I'm not paid by interests counter to my professed opinion. I write for Care2, and reported on the Food & Water Watch report. Get the facts straight before you make such a rude accusation. Second, nothing I said is right wing, but everything you said is definitely what the right expresses. Third, I see nothing in your comment (as in citing studies, reports, etc.) that is not based on merely your opinion. Lastly, you are rude. Attack someone's opinions but not their character.

Prentise W.
pre,tpse w5 years ago

Lots of people here eat beef -- grass fed, free range, humanely handled and killed beef. Every being on the earth eats or lives off of something, including all plants and animals. Plants have feelings (remember "The Secret Life of Plants"?). Everything is part of the food chain. I have read often just the opposite of the health claims for soy mentioned by Jeffrey B., especially since because of cross-pollination, even organically grown soy can be GMO contaminated. Soy is extremely bad for my health.

It is ridiculous to say the article is not about GMOs; any discussion of soy would be remiss to not include it. Except for Jeffrey B.'s claims, I have read nothing positive about fish farming, which I understand to be as overcrowded and unhealthy as factory animal farming.

Yvette T.
Past Member 5 years ago

Farming fish and animals, harming, controlling, killing, eating them, feeding them GMO crops, is so destructive to them, to Air, Soil, Water, Oceans, Mother Earth, Forests, and goes against Creation of Life in all of the forms, which is an insult to the Universe. Why do people choose to eat any animals???? We have foods that are for our best health and spiritual growth via plant creations, and our intelligence artfully creates such wonderful things from them.

Past Member
Past Member 5 years ago


Juliet Defarge
judith sanders5 years ago

@Dana W - You raise an interesting question. Perhaps we could make all sorts of fish and bird feed by vacuuming the bugs out of our crops.

Warren B.
Warren Biggs5 years ago

In the end NOTHING is sustainable as long as our population continues to grow- not even living space. As for soy- soy farming now destroys more acres of Amazon rain forest than cattle farming. Palm oil production is destroying Indonesian rain forests. People can be as sanctimonious as they want about conservation and conscientious eating, but as long as the population grows these are merely sopgap measures that are stalling the inevitable. ALL resources are finite including land and the total biomass the planet can sustain- not just things like minerals and water.

Mark Stephen Caponigro
Mark Caponigro5 years ago

Whether by hook, by net, by club, or by dynamite, there is no humane way to kill a fish. And since there is no need for them in our diet -- that they are a "fine source" of protein, omega 3 or whatever is fish-industry propaganda; we can get those things from other sources -- , it is unethical for human beings to eat fish.

"Sustainable" is probably a lie, most of the time, whenever it is applied to some money-making venture. "Sustainable fishery" is almost certainly a lie, seeing how little we really know about marine ecosystems.

Nevertheless, if fish-farming is the way of the future, it is possible that food made from easy-to-raise insects (mealworms?, cockroaches?, crickets?) may be practical. Of course that would involve still more killing, which is much to be regretted. The degree of sentience of insects is probably not so high as that of vertebrates; but that does not mean that exploiting them would be ethically neutral.

Dana W.
Dana W5 years ago

Signed petition - also are soy and wild fish feed the only 2 choices to feed farmed fish?

Claire M.
Claire M5 years ago

Fish taste tend to change a lot because of their diet. I imagine that soy fed fish wont be the same as what we are used to.