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Farmed Salmon Exposed

Our oceans are in trouble. Uncontrolled fishing has brought many species to the brink of extinction, while pollution from farms, cities, and factories is making other commercially important seafood unsafe to eat. Because our wild fisheries have been mismanaged for decades, many thought that aquaculture (farming of marine species) would be a sustainable option taking the pressure off marine ecosystems while fulfilling the global appetite for seafood. While this may be true for some species, the weight of evidence indicates that carnivorous finfish aquaculture such as salmon farming does not alleviate the pressure to the marine environment. Instead it threatens ecosystem integrity and human health.

In a Nutshell - The Problems with Salmon Farms in BC

Environmental Problems

  • The fecal waste, excess feed and feed additives from millions of captive fish goes directly into the ocean. In addition, the toxic chemicals used on the net cages and other wastes are polluting the ocean.
  • Approximately three million farmed salmon escape from their pens each year. These farmed salmon then compete with wild salmon for food and habitat. Although farmed Atlantic salmon cannot interbreed with Pacific salmon, Atlantic salmon have been found to successfully breed in rivers in the Pacific region, further jeopardizing wild salmon populations — many that are already endangered. In the case of farmed salmon escapes in the Atlantic, escapees can interbreed with wild Atlantic salmon. This can lead to the genetic dilution of wild salmon, which have adapted over thousands of years to their unique habitat.
  • The crowded conditions of salmon farming pens provide ideal conditions for the outbreak of disease and parasites. In open net-cages there are no barriers to prevent the transfer of diseases and parasites between farmed and wild salmon; these pathogens are transferred to wild fish as they swim past the farmed salmon pens. Wild juvenile fish out-migrating to the open ocean are particularly vulnerable to infection due to their small size and the majority of them are forced to swim past fish farms located in sheltered areas near wild salmon rivers.
  • As they grow, carnivorous farmed salmon need increasing amounts of wild caught fish for food, thus competing directly with humans and fish species for this valuable, yet diminishing resource. Currently, on average, it takes 2.5 Kilograms of fish from the world's oceans to produce 1 kilogram of farmed salmon. However, in Chile, this ratio is reported to be as high as 8 to 1.

Human Health Concerns

Farmed salmon also raises human health concerns. A diet that includes some types of seafood can be very beneficial to health. Farmed salmon, however, offers fewer dietary advantages and several disadvantages. Recent research has shown that:

  • Farmed salmon contains such high concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other dangerous contaminants that scientists advise people to drastically restrict their monthly intake of farmed fish to as little as one serving every 5 months.
  • Wild salmon range in color from whitish pink to deep red because of the food they eat. Since farmed salmon do not benefit from a wild diet, artificial coloring is added to manufacture a more natural "salmon" color. Potential elevated levels of toxins such as PCBs and dioxins can be present in farmed salmon depending on feed source and the location of farms. The widespread use of, antibiotics and pesticides in salmon farming may lead to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and increased application of a wider variety of treatments.

Labor Issues

The global boom in demand for seafood, especially salmon, has induced companies, many from the European Union, to open salmon farming operations in parts of the world where labor costs are low and environmental regulations are few. Among Western nations, Chile has borne the brunt of exploitation by multinational farmed salmon companies. The phenomenal expansion of salmon farming in Chile, much of it spurred by Norwegian-based corporations, has had negative socio-economic impacts and flouted fair labor practices. In some cases, companies have failed to adequately protect workers' lives.

  • Many Chilean salmon farm workers receive average monthly wages of US$200, while their Norwegian counterparts earn 378 percent more.
  • Since the beginning of last year, 18 workers have died while working on Chile's 410 salmon farms and 64 processing plants.
  • More than half of Chilean salmon farm workers do not have life insurance, and three out of four do not have disability insurance.
  • Half of all Chilean salmon farm workers are not members of a trade union.

Salmon Farming Harms Other Marine Life

Waste, feed and fish feces can either build up directly under the farm pens, smothering life on the ocean bottom, or they can be carried away from the farm by tides and currents only to end up on distant beaches, contaminating clam beds and other sea life.

Open net cages lure natural fish predators such as seals and sea lions. Salmon farmers are permitted to shoot and kill persistent predators, but marine mammals can also become entangled and drown in the fish farm nets. During one incident in BC in the spring of 2007, 51 California sea lions were entangled and drowned in nets surrounding Creative Salmon's open net-cage salmon pens in a UN Biosphere reserve in Clayoquot Sound. Creative has acknowledged a total of 110 sea lions have drowned in Creative Salmon's nets so far this year. And company management revealed 46 sea lion died in their nets in 2006. Marine mammal death totals in BC are unknown as the farms are not obliged to report drowning deaths, only deliberate killings.

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