Sourcing sustainable fish

Viv primarily eats fish and has a low grain diet due to her breed predispositions. If you're interested please read my first post on the subject Siberian Husky Nutrition.

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Dilemma! Fish stocks have plummeted and continue to do so, fish farming tends to exacerbate the issues and we are facing global catastrophic trophic cascades, extinctions of the most commonly eaten fish (a major crisis for the balance of ocean life) and yet we still keep exploiting the seas! For what reason is it totally normal to bring destruction on ocean habitats and species through over exploitation and trawling? Is it because we are not there, it's spatially separate and hard to visualise as we go about our normal daily lives? Is it simply because fishes aren't considered to be cute, sentient or intelligent? I feel the research on the latter two will shake our understanding to pieces and hopefully cause people to be thoughtful. It seems to me to be total insanity to see rows upon rows of species facing extinction lined up in tins on supermarket shelves. And in dog and cat food too. Would we sit back complacently if it were orangutans and tigers in tins? How about some of the UK's endangered wildlife such red squirrels or hedgehogs? To me the sea-life facing catastrophe matters as much as wild and domestic land animals. 

I am uncomfortable feeding my dogs tuna, cod, salmon or trout. I won't buy any of these species for mine or my daughter's consumption but have purchased them for my animals when I've been in a tight spot, such as when Viv would not eat dog food and when I was broke and a high quality food was heavily discounted. I'm not perfect and at times found it hard to live congruent with my principles. If you want to know more about the horrendous damage fishing and fish farming causes look at the Marine Conservation Society. You'll also find advice there of which species are good to eat. 

I'm lucky enough to have studied some marine and freshwater biology at degree level, gaining appreciation for the disastrous and irreparable damage being caused by non-traditional fishing methods. I also studied the challenges of welfare and ecology in fish farming practices. I've gained experience of teaching my goldfish and in the process undergone hours of close observation. As a result, I'm sure fish are sentient problem-solvers with social communication systems. Perhaps the public don't consider this to be true of cod, tuna, etc. because we only see these species dead, not associating the food in our kitchen with a living creature. 

So, looking at dog food ingredients for Viv, it appears that the most commonly used fish is salmon in dog foods. I was astonished to find "white fish" as an ingredient on many lists. How many species might that include?! It was also difficult to discover how or where the fish were sourced. Greenpeace advise line-caught mackerel, line-caught bass and purse-seined herring from Cornish coast as sustainable practice. I couldn't find these in dog foods. So as commercial feeds were disappointing me I set about finding those fishes from online retailers in order to prepare homemade dog food. In the end I located an online supplier and purchased 15kg of raw frozen mackerel, heads and whole gutted fish. From my research herring would have been the most cost effective species to feed but at the time the stocks hadn't landed in Cornwall. Did you know that fish species migrate? In the future I might try to source herring again, but not all herring (or mackerel) are fished sustainably.

Frozen gutted mackerel and mackerel heads arrive

Frozen gutted mackerel and mackerel heads arrive

There's quite a lot of flesh on the heads

There's quite a lot of flesh on the heads

Using raw feeding calculators available online, I believed that I could feed Viv 480g of fish per day (240g/meal) with additional fruits, vegetables and herbs to fulfil her nutritional needs. Read about the vegetable and fruit mix I prepared here. Weighing the first batch of mackerel heads this turned out to be about 4 heads per meal. Unfortunately she lost weight so I increased the portions. She was already a bean-pole when I got her and there's no way I wanted her to get any skinnier. She's also started running with me and swimming each week so extra calories will be required. I discovered that although the fish heads were meaty, I wanted more muscle meat in her portions so I searched for ethically sourced and affordable white fish fillet at the supermarket. In the meantime I added the odd egg to her meal.

How did I serve the meals? I varied the presentation. Sometimes I fed her two or three thawed raw mackerels in the garden. Sometimes I poached the heads and served them over a bed of veg/fruit mix with the cooking water poured over the top. This is her favourite way. I don't cook the heads but feel more comfortable from a hygiene perspective by heating their surface with boiling water. The hygiene of the heads matters more to me than the whole fish as they've been tampered with more so I guess a greater risk of bacteria. She enjoys the heads to the extreme when they are warm and the fishy water turns the fruit/veg mix into a soup.

Viv loves hot mackerel stew- they're raw under the skin surface

Viv loves hot mackerel stew- they're raw under the skin surface

Hot mackerel (raw inside) on a different homemade vegetable and fruit mix

Hot mackerel (raw inside) on a different homemade vegetable and fruit mix

I haven't solely fed Viv fish, or homemade food, nor do I intend to. During this time she's had about half her meals homemade and the other half as commercial dry kibble. This is because I use kibble to teach her and at the moment I'm teaching her every day and lots. I've used Canagan Country Game and Fish4Dogs Herring and Sweet Potato as the mainstays. I am also interested in sourcing deer and rabbit for her as I believe these proteins will be suitable and provide variety. Sometimes she has had an upset stomach when she has had lamb or chicken, whichever way I've prepared it so we avoid these foods. 

I hope I've inspired you to learn more about your dog's nutritional needs and enjoyments and that if you're interested in doing it yourself you keep researching, follow your vet's advice, and get it right. Homemade dog food carries the risk of poisoning and deficiencies which ultimately could kill your dog. For now Viv loves her diet and and this method enables me to live closer to my ethical principles. Stay tuned for my future post on the fruit and vegetable mix I've made for my dogs. 

Happy eating!

With love from Lucy x