Aquaculture for all

Consumer Clout in Determining the Future of Farming Atlantic Salmon

Salmonids Sustainability

GLOBAL - The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) is appealing to consumers to consider environmental sustainability when deciding whether to buy farmed Atlantic salmon. A recent decision by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to allow grow-out, production and sale of open net pen farmed salmon infected by infectious salmon anemia (ISA) in Nova Scotia is causing controversy throughout Canada and into the United States.

It is also raising awareness among consumers of their importance in deciding which products end up on supermarket shelves. “Consumers who choose food grown in an environmentally-sustainable manner can make all the difference, and farmed Atlantic salmon is a good example,” said Sue Scott, VP of Communications, Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF).

Last spring, when ISA was discovered at an aquaculture site near Liverpool, NS, two cages of smaller farmed salmon were ordered immediately destroyed by CFIA. However, CFIA allowed the international salmon-farming company Cooke Aquaculture to leave in the ocean 240,000 salmon that were closer to market size to continue growing. This allowed an increased risk of transmitting ISA to nearby wild fish, such as Atlantic salmon, Atlantic herring, Atlantic cod and brown trout.

These farmed salmon were recently transported to the company’s plant in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick for processing for sale. This was the first known occasion since deadly ISA outbreaks began in the farming industry in 1996 that Canadian authorities have allowed salmon under ISA quarantine to be offered for sale to the public.

Previously, ISA-infected farmed salmon were quickly removed from the net pens and euthanized, and the company was often compensated for the fish. An estimated $100 million plus in compensation has been paid to growers since ISA outbreaks began about 17 years ago in eastern Canada and then Maine in 2001 and 2002.

The ISA-infected salmon are destined for markets in Canada and the United States. In the United States, they will travel to Boston and New York and be distributed from there. The CFIA says the farmed salmon are not a problem for people, and that international standards indicate that if they are processed, they are fine to cross borders and be consumed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appears to disagree. FDA spokesperson Morgan Liscinsky said salmon with the virus would not be allowed across the border because American law prohibits the importation of any diseased animal.

“In the midst of this controversy and uncertainty,” said Ms Scott, “consumers need an alternative to buying farmed salmon raised in open net pens in the ocean. These operations are not just breeding grounds for ISA but also can result in sea lice infestation, pollution of the sea bed and escapes of farmed salmon into the wild, resulting in harmful genetic interaction that weakens the ability of wild Atlantic salmon to survive in nature.”

ASF has been working with partners, including The Conservation Fund Freshwater Institute of West Virginia to develop land-based, closed-containment salmon aquaculture in recirculating freshwater operations. These operations are free from sea lice and disease and the salmon require no vaccination, antibiotics, pesticides or harsh chemical treatments. The wastes are captured, and there is no impact on wild fish and their environment. The operating cost developed was similar to that published for the net pen industry at approximately $3.90–$4.00 per kg of head-on gutted salmon.

There are now commercial land-based aquaculture facilities beginning to operate throughout the world and within 18 months, these products will be competing on supermarket shelves. At that point, it comes down to which slab of salmon goes in the cart. Consumers will be able to choose a salmon product that has had a lighter footprint on the environment, and can rest assured that it has not been infected with ISA.

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