by Martin Dunphy on June 7, 2012at  3:21 PM

Workers in one of Turkey’s unsustainable saltwater “farms” for Atlantic bluefin tuna get ready to haul out a just-killed fish for speedy processing and shipment to Japan.

The Vancouver Festival of Ocean Films has had screenings in a real movie house only once before this year’s two-day installment at the Vancity Theatre, so it isn’t as well known as some of the other film fests that seem to roll around every other week or so in this town.

That’s no reason to give it the cold shoulder, though. There are three group screenings this Friday and Saturday of at least three films each, and their (typically) hour-or-less run times make it an easy way to sit, be entertained, and to learn about vastly different aspects of our ocean environment, both local and far-off.

Surfing, kayaking, pipelines, and (in this case) Turkish fish farming are among the topics that can be absorbed in a single sitting.

Eclectic and educational. Now if only one could have a glass of wine while…

The best part of Fish Meat—a half-hour look at how Turkey, a surprisingly large player in the pan-European aquaculture scene, deals with sustainability issues with regard to fish farming—is seeing how common sense and careful planning can trump expediency and a single-minded dollar chase.

Producer-writer Ted Caplow and director Joe Cunningham (along with University of Massachusetts [Amherst] fish ecologist Andy Danylchuk) tripped around Turkey’s Aegean coast, the southern Taurus Mountains, and Burdur Province’s “lakes region” to examine the three main types of aquaculture that have been happening there since the late 1960s.

The point is made early in the program that half the seafood consumed in the world today comes from fish (and shellfish) farms, and much of that is not produced in sustainable ways (i.e., using several kilograms of fish feed—mostly produced from fish products—to produce one kilogram of marketable fish).

What they found might surprise you, especially the pristine, mountain-set rainbow-trout farm and the carp facility, to highlight two of the ingenious freshwater operations. Most disappointing is the unsustainable open-water bluefin-tuna venture, a farce of a “farm” that does nothing but cater to an obscenely overpaying Japanese market while drawing down on the future broodstock of a soon-to-be-extinct, magnificent blue-water predator.

There are plenty of parallels to be drawn with the B.C. aquaculture experience, especially with our open-net-pen backers’ strong resistance to any move onto dry land.

An interesting finding by the filmmakers in Turkey was that the country’s oldest fish farms are, by far, the most sustainable, with admirable feed-conversion ratios and “maximum output for minimum input”.

The overall message? Inform yourself as a consumer, make wise choices, and eat lower on the food chain.