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.
CanWest Global Communications Corp.
All Rights Reserved
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.
Interesting. But wild salmon do not create PCB's, only man can do that. PCB's are 100% synthetic and all traces are a result of the short time in earth's history that we used them in industrial applications from transformers to lubricants.
So it's only right that we eat them; because only man is buried in leak-proof containers and that's the ONLY way to clean up the damn mess we made with them!
In fact I suggest we MUST eat all contaminated organisms and be buried in better leak-proof containers until such time that the seemingly unrecoverable damage we created with them is reduced to the point that wild salmon register a lower trace level than mass-produced clones.
TIC, sort of.
My problem with salmon farming is the disease
and sea lice explosion from keeping so many fish
in small confinement. That is not good for wild
fish. Not to mention the amount of non native
escapee's trying to spawn in B.C. and Puget Sound
One fact Mr. Whiteley conveniently overlooks in his elegent monologue is the effect of the fish farms enviromental impact on wild fish populations. Last year the incidence of sea lice on anadromous fish was way up. That is the number of actual parasites per fish.
I guess the fact that the polution and effluent from the farms provides a rich enviroment for these parasites to increase was of very little concern to him.
Perhaps in his next amazing expose he can tackle the subject of steelhead survival of the ocean phase of their lifecycle.
1.5 miilion ranched salmon!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Just to put that number in a proper perspective, consider that the guideline harvest for the State of Alaska this season is roughly 97 million salmon. Thats harvest and as anyone can tell you whos been there they are not shy about "over escapement".
My main concern as always with Farmed finfish be it Salmon Cod or others is simple. Where is the feed going to come from???
The world according to Keith
This may be an unpopular view, but for the most part, I'm for salmon farming, and I think that sports fishermen should be for it as well.
Here's why: Cheap, farmed salmon will cause commercial fishing to take a nose-dive. There will be fewer commercials on the water, and that leaves more fish for sports fishermen. I've already seen a lot of press where commercials are whingeing (love that British word) about low prices for their catch because of farmed salmon. While I don't want folks to lose their source of income, in the Northwest, taxpayers support a small minority who take the large majority of fish.
HOWEVER: I think there are some great gains that have to be made before we (or at least I) can sign off on pens. The effluent from the pens-- fish feces, uneaten food, and associated meds can't be flushed out to sea. Granted Victoria does that with its sewage, but that is done a long way offshore and not in a bay.
Another problem I have is with escapees. While I would be happy with more fish to catch regardless of the species, I don't want them breeding in our streams. Maybe sterilization of all farmed fish would be an answer.
The sea lice problem certainly should be addressed, but perhaps controlling the effluent would be enough.
Finally, the biggest problem I see is the forage that is necessary to feed the buggers to start with. I've read somewhere-- don't have a clue where-- that most of the food processed for farmed salmon is made from forage fish, apparently the same forage wild fish feed upon. To me, that has the seeds for catastrophe. An alternative food source must be found that would not require taking tons upon tons of herring, anchovies and sardines from the feeding grounds of native fish.
Are there other concerns I've missed?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking for argument, but I am curious to hear other viewpoints. To me, it seems if the objections can be addressed then this could be a slam dunk for sports fishermen. If it isn't, I'd like to know why.
Juro--On the PCB thing, Whitely was pointing out, rightly I think, that if the PCB content of farmed salmon is a negative point, then (nearly) twice that level makes wild salmon less healthy to eat. Yet a lot of the marketing spin on Alaskan salmon is that it's healthy as compared to farmed fish. There may be other considerations about health issues with eating farmed fish, but using PCB contamination as a scare tactic is way off base-- assuming 32 ppb is acceptable and Whiteley's reporting are accurate. Makes you wonder about some of the other claims, doesn't it? The scary thing to me is the widespread appearance of PCB contamination-- how can it get into salmon in Alaska?
Being in the water pollution field and working with salmon farms all I can say is that the article is misinformation.
First off there are ways to stop the problems of effluent discharge and the sea lice problem by having the farms go inland and not in open ocean pens or open estuary pens. But to do so will take complex wastewater treatment plants just like we treat human waste. They cost many millions of dollars to design, build and operate. If the industry did this then the price of farmed raised anything would be higher than wild fish on the open market. The aqua culture industry does have an inferior product due to such items as food coloring, massive anti biotics which are fed way over the limits that we are allowed to feed cattle in feed yards. Also to rid these fish of sea lice thomaldihide baths are in order for every fish processed.
The claim that there would be less commercial fishing is not a true fact. Yes there would be less commercial salmon fishermen maybe but there are now more commercial fishermen world wide fishing for forage fish to feed not only fish farms but the industrial chicken and pig farms throughout the USA and elsewhere. One serious problem with this is there are no restrictions on commercial forage fish catch here in the USA or anywhere in the world. The United Nations would like to do something about this but most third world countries and the USA will not allow them to do so. The third world countries because they are doing most of the forage fishing the USA and Canada because the Aqua Culture industry is locked in in N. America. One must understand that much of the industry is multi national and that profit in the fish farm industry is not as important as the control of land and sea, it's called land holdings and political power for other more profitable ventures within the countries they are in. Just check out the fish farm industry in S. America and S.E. Asia and see what displacement of coastal villages and violence against those in those countries who dare protest the farms.
I wish fish farms would work but I can see no way that they can. Industrial fish farms will never feed the third world poor even at the price they sell at is way too high because of calories used to grow, process and get to market to calories benefited to human consumption. Fish farms are for the benefit of the the 1st world middle income peoples who have over the last twenty or so years demanded food that is non reginal and out of season. We must stop this life style if we are going to get our calorie out put to human consumption in calories back to a more healthy ratio. It is not just fish farms but all industrial food farming that is the worlds problems. We have been told for years that industrial farming would solve the problems of world hunger it has not.
An interesting topic -
after reading all that I can find on the subject I have formed an opinion that on the whole I would rather that the housewives of North American serve their families framed salmon rather than commerically caught salmon.
First regarding the PCBs found in farmed and wild salmon. While the commerical industry has made much of the fact the wild salmon have much lower PCB content that farmed fish. This is correct but ignores that not all salmon species are the same. For example the wild salmon that were found to have low PCB content were pinks and chums (other work indicates that sockeye have low levels as well) however as the article quote says wild chinook have levels which can at times exceed that of framed salmon. The reason of course is diet. The farmed fish and the wild chinook feed higher up on the food chain than pinks and chums. The bait fish (whether in the commerical fish food or those eaten by free swimmng salmon) concentrate the contaminates in their diet which in turn are concentrated as the salmon eat them. The pinks and chums feeding primarily at the same trophic level as the bait fish. Those chinook mostly likely to have contaminate levels are those with high fat content (springs, Copper river, etc -the PCB are concentrated in the animals fats) and the larger -older fish. The very large chinook have 4 to 6 years in which the PCB can build up.
The concern about the bait fish that farmed fish consume is another issue that is often raised. The real problem here is that we in the developed countries insist in consuming our protein in meats from animals in upper tropic levels (beef, chicken, salmon, etc). If we would confine our take of protein from soy and fish meal there would much more to go around. I don't expect that to happen any time soon. That said farmed fish will produce more pounds of protein for a given amount of feed than a wild fish. Unless we are willing to change our diets consuming farmed salmon is a more efficient human use of the forage resource.
While I share the concerns with diseases/sea lice and escapees from the net pen operations these impacts tend to be local. While we should continue to work to reduce those impacts I believe that even at current levels those envirnomental impacts are less than other sources protein - the beef and chicken industries and the impacts from commerical fishing. The impacts from say beef grazing and feed lots on the terrestial and aquatic envirnoments should be apparent to all. Commerical salmon impacts are widespread and include such things as by-catch issues in net fisheries, selection against larger, older and faster growing individuals in the population by net and hook and line fisheries.
In short as long as the human race continues to population the earth at current or large levels and we continue to insist on the luxury of taking our protein from high tropic levels we will be faced with the unpleasant task of choosing from poor choices. In this case for me at least the marketing of farmed salmon is a lesser evil than marketing commerically caught wild (free swimming) salmon.
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