PostHeaderIcon Do We Really Need Fish Fertilizers?

menhadenAfter a one year debate, members of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) agreed to decrease the annual harvest of Menhaden by 37% to allow the species to recover.

Most people think that fish fertilizers are prepared from the unwanted fish parts of the same fish that sit on our dinner plates. This is not the case. Large schools of a small oily fish known as Menhaden, are caught specifically to be used for bait, animal feed (aquatic and terrestrial), the health food market (omega 3 oils), and the fertilizer industry (emulsions, hydrolysate, and liquid solutions).

The amount of fish caught solely for these purposes is staggering. Approximately 450,000 metric tons (90 million pounds) or 4-5 billion fish are net caught annually in both the Gulf and along the Atlantic Coast. The new agreement cuts the Atlantic catch from 183,000 metric tons to 174,000 metric tons. Bait consumes approximately 20% of the catch while the other 80% is used for producing protein meals and oils.

The ASMFC estimates that the population of adult Menhaden fish is now at 8% of its historic “non-fished” population. While there will always be debate over what level of fishing is sustainable for any species and especially forage fish that reproduce rapidly there is no debate over the importance of this fish to food chains in coastal aquatic ecosystems. Menhaden are one of the oceans most important herbivores, capable of filtering almost 4 gallons of seawater per minute in their search for phytoplankton and algae. Menhaden are equally important as a primary food source for larger fish including striped bass and tuna and are frequently on the menu for many bird species, including osprey, pelicans, and eagles.

Many coastal ecosystems are in decline and continue to be damaged by fertilizer run-off that results in algae blooms, reduced oxygen levels, and ultimately aquatic dead zones. Menhaden are a valuable tool that can help these ecosystems recover by reducing and controlling algae growth. By allowing populations to increase, these ecosystems can recover quicker to the benefit of all parties.

Organic gardeners along with the agriculture community as a whole need to review the need and importance of utilizing fish fertilizers in their gardens and operations. There are no plant nutrients in fish fertilizers that can not be obtained elsewhere through the use of plant derived protein meals.

Interestingly, many fish fertilizer products are not truly organic as they have phosphoric acid and other synthetic nutrients added to them to improve shelf life and fertilizer value. Fragrances such as mint are also frequently added to mask fish odors.

We need to ask ourselves whether we really need this source of plant nutrients when so many other more easily utilized terrestrial options exist.

To learn more about Menhaden fish and their importance take a look at the book by H. Bruce Franklin titled, “The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America.”

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Our Objectives

Increase local production and use of organic fertilizers and soil amendments.

Decrease the amount of fertilizers that enter our lakes, streams and waterways.

Decrease the amount of organic waste that is landfilled and combusted.

Decrease the amount of fossil fuels used to generate and transport fertilizers and soil amendments.

Fast Facts Municipal Waste

Why care? The US Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) estimates that 243 million tons of municipal waste was generated in 2009. This included 34 million tons of food scraps, 34 million tons of yard trimmings, and 85 million tons of wood and paper.

In 2009, we recovered the following amounts of material through recycling and composting:
62% of paper and paperboard
14% of wood
60% of yard trimmings
2.5% of kitchen waste

Fast Facts Organic Waste

There are more than 450,000 animal feeding operations (AFOs) in the US. Each year they generate more than 250 million tons of organic waste which if not handled properly contaminates local surface and subsurface water systems. Every day one cow generates 120 pounds of wet manure - an amount equivalent to 20-40 people.

The typical grocery store, restaurant, coffee shop, and food service location throws out more than 100 lbs of food and organic waste every day. The majority of this organic material ends up in the landfill.

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