Fishing for the truth: Farmed Salmon's not all bad

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
11 September 2007, at 1:00am

CANADA - For once, low summer Fraser River sockeye runs are not being blamed on salmon farming. Which is surprising, considering that almost every other negative impact on British Columbia's wild fish stocks seem to be pinned on the salmon business.

It’s frustrating for aquaculturists, but it should be equally frustrating for the public too, because BC’s anti-aquaculture lobby is promoting business from outside the province at the expense of local enterprise.

Alaskan salmon is a firm favourite with lobbyists, and also for fish farming supporter Vivian Krause. The former corporate development manager for Nutreco North America, has been asking some pointed questions about the anti-fish farming campaign out west. But so far, she has not had many answers from leading zealots such as the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF).

Of course, many might question Ms Krause's impartiality - she was once in the employ of the former fish farming behemoth turned feed producer - bBut it's not Krause's impartiality that's under question. She has embarked on an inquiry into what she believes is a one-sided assault on BC's salmon farming industry.

The former Kitimat resident, and one time DSF supporter, is concerned that the battering BC's salmon industry is taking on the North American PR front is diverting business opportunities (and revenue) to Alaska. A diversion that may be more acceptable if the science stacked up.

Ms Krause's investigations are comprehensive, although she says that she is still waiting for DSF enlightenment on the subject.

Some of her most salient points are listed below.

  • First: a question of underwater impartiality. The DSF gets a lot of its funding from American foundations, some of whom also fund the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and other Alaska salmon promoters. The harder the PR caning BC farmed salmon gets, the more consumers opt for wild salmon, most of which now comes from Alaska. So if the funding organizations aren’t impartial, how impartial is the research they pay for?

  • Is it really wild, and is it really better for salmon biodiversity? A lot of the salmon considered wild and sourced from Alaska is “ranched” – hatchery fish that are released into the wild: more than six billion annually into the Pacific Ocean, 1.5 billion from Alaska.

    It may sound more or less wild, but comments from Jan Konigsberg, Trout Unlimited’s former salmonid biodiversity director, in a 2003 world salmon summit address, sees it differently:

Hatchery-dependent fisheries are neither wild nor self-sustaining. Therefore, encouraging consumers to avoid farmed salmon and opt for Alaska salmon supports Alaska’s salmon-ranching program, which poses a far greater threat to Alaska’s salmon biodiversity than does salmon farming.”

Ms Krause also maintains that the following claims: eating farmed salmon is a health hazard; farmed salmon contain high levels of such contaminants as PCBs; and sea lice kill up to 95 per cent of juvenile wild salmon, are not substantiated by sound science.

She concedes that salmon farming isn’t perfect, but it is improving, and it provides jobs and revenue opportunities for native and coastal communities that have been hit by recession.

Many environmentalists don't see the whole picture and are of the opinion that farmed salmon is bad, while wild salmon is good. However,in the real world of jobs, business and community survival, reality has far more permutations.

Salmon farming has great potential to contribute to BC’s food chain and economy. The DSF would be providing a more valuable service to British Columbians were it to be an impartial advocate of better food choices rather than a knee-jerk opponent of such emotionally charged businesses as fish farming.