Is salmon farming part of our future?
Here's something that was e-mailed to me from a friend. It's interesting that there is a movement afoot to remove salmon farms, and part of the argument is related to the quality of fish.
I'm wondering if it's not time to come out in favor of salmon farming-- but get the necessary restrictions in place to reduce or eliminate effluent from the pens and reduce or eliminate strays from the pens. Just think of what might happen to the commercial fishery if healthy salmon (and other fish) were pen-raised and inexpensive.
It's something to think about, anyway.
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The Vancouver Sun (British Columbia)
May 19, 2004 Wednesday Final Edition
SECTION: BusinessBC; Don Whiteley; Pg. D4
LENGTH: 1031 words
HEADLINE: Wild Alaska salmon isn't as pure as advertised
SOURCE: Vancouver Sun
BYLINE: Don Whiteley
Commercial greed and gross mismanagement by government agencies have
combined to destroy or diminish wild fish stocks all over the globe,
including the West Coast salmon fishery.
With that in mind, one can only marvel at the success of the environment
movement, and others, for convincing people that it is more ecologically
responsible to kill and eat a wild Chinook salmon than a farmed Atlantic
salmon raised in a pen.
Carried to its logical, and absurd, conclusion, we should also demand an end
to all chicken farms and cattle ranches so we can go back to eating deer,
moose and wild pheasant -- all in the name of ecology, of course.
The latest knock against B.C.'s beleaguered salmon farmers came last week in
the annual marketing push for Alaska's fabled Copper River salmon. Alaska
Airlines signed a partnership agreement with Alaska's Nor-Quest Seafoods and
New England's Legal Seafoods to provide, initially, two to three tons of
fresh salmon a week. Legal has 30 family restaurants on the Eastern
seaboard, fish markets, a catering business, and sells fish on the Internet.
Tied to this is a big marketing splash with promotional blitzes in
Washington, Boston, New York -- the whole nine yards. In an interview with
the Alaska Journal of Commerce, Roger Berkowitz, president of Nor-Quest,
"We are going to try and wean people off the farmed and onto the wild. I am
a firm believer in wild product. Alaska wild salmon is the purest, most
healthy and most environmentally sustainable -- in short, the best there
Well, not quite. The purity of the wild Alaska salmon is based more on myth
than reality, as it is subject to the same environmental pressures, and
water-borne contaminants, as other wild salmon stocks up and down the West
And while Alaskans look down their noses at salmon farming (it's not
allowed), they encourage salmon ranching -- a variation on salmon farming
that sees fish raised in pens until they are big enough to fend for
themselves, and then let go into the wild.
The creme de la creme of Alaskan wild salmon is the Copper River run, and
every year its arrival on the market in May is greeted with the same
enthusiasm and hoopla applied to the arrival of Beaujolais wine from France.
But guess what -- it's laced with PCBs. I feel safe in using the word
"laced" because the same word was used over and over again in the media to
describe the 32 parts per billion of PCBs detected in B.C. farmed salmon in
a study released last January. But an independent study conducted in 1998 on
behalf of the Circumpolar Conservation Union showed Copper River salmon with
PCB levels exceeding 60 parts per billion -- nearly twice as "laced" as the
farmed salmon rate. Has it improved since 1998? Maybe. But maybe it got
That's not the only wild salmon run discovered to have higher levels of PCBs
than farmed salmon. Similar results came out of a study of Puget Sound
salmon, where wild Chinook salmon were found to have PCB levels equal to,
and sometimes higher than, farmed salmon.
All these salmon tested at PCB levels well below the 2,000 parts per billion
considered the maximum allowable before the fish is considered a health
problem -- but I wonder if these stats are spelled out in Alaska's marketing
blitz? And if PCBs are a good reason not to eat farmed salmon, then they are
twice as good a reason not to eat Copper River salmon.
Salmon farming vs. salmon ranching is another interesting issue that likely
doesn't make its way into the "wild is good, farmed is bad" marketing
campaign. In order to help maintain its commercial fishery, and enhance wild
fish stocks, Alaska decided to forego the salmon farming route and do salmon
Salmon ranching is a lot like salmon farming. Fish are raised in ocean-based
pens, fed a steady diet of processed food (purchased in B.C., interestingly
enough, and consumed at nearly six times the rate used in B.C. fish-farm
operations), fed some dyes important to their health and colour, also
antibiotics. When they're big enough, they let them go.
Alaska releases more than 1.5 million "ranched" fish into the waters every
year, and they happily swim away, competing for food with their natural-born
cousins, and eventually get caught (along with the wild fish) in the
commercial fishery. About 25 per cent of the catch comes from hatchery fish.
This program, along with other aspects of Alaska's fisheries management, has
been certified as okay by the international Marine Stewardship Council.
But the Alaska chapter of U.S. conservation organization Trout Unlimited in
2002 released a cutting critique of the MSC's glowing endorsement, saying
"an evaluation that finds no significant weaknesses in organizational
structure and performance invites a skeptical, even cynical, reception."
And about Alaskan salmon ranching, Trout Unlimited had some scathing remarks
on the practice's impact on diversity in wild fish stocks, particularly the
opportunity for genetic dilution as hatchery fish head for the spawning
"The fact that the [Alaska] Department of Fish and Game not only insists
that concerns about the impact of hatchery fish on wild populations are
paranoiac, but also has authorized increased hatchery production and is
financially subsidizing that production, belies the certification of
management for sustainability.
"From the perspective of conservation of wild salmon biodiversity, there is
no biological justification for releasing 1.6 billion hatchery juveniles
annually into Alaska waters."
In the debate between farmed and wild fish, none of this is considered when
a restaurateur has to decide which fish to put on his menu. The customer
asks one question: "Is it wild or is it farmed?" and makes a decision based
on emotion rather than fact. B.C. salmon farmers are losing market share as
a result of this.
All's fair in love and marketing. But the facts don't give Alaska an
advantage in this argument, and Alaska's holier-than-thou attitude to the
issue is quite annoying.
And to all those New Englanders happily chowing down on Alaska "wild" Copper
River salmon -- enjoy your PCBs.