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International News, April 2006

  • NEW ZEALAND: Massive escape of Marlborough Sounds farm salmon
  • CHILE: Salmon farm workers death toll rises to 15
  • CHILE: The Navy’s here!
  • CANADA: Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform condemns ‘spurious standards’
  • CANADA: Chemical linked to cancer allowed in fish for human consumption
  • NORWAY: Marine Harvest cod stocks hit by new disease
  • NORWAY: Eat Norwegian farmed salmon four times a week or more!
  • NORWAY: Norwegian farm salmon banned because of high levels of cadmium
  • NORWAY: Norway’s Prime Minister does a ‘Gummer’

NEW ZEALAND

Massive escape of Marlborough Sounds farm salmon

Pete Beech, an ecotour operator and member of the Guardians of the Sounds group, reports the escape of nearly 300,000 farmed salmon from cages owned and operated by Nelson-based New Zealand King Salmon company; a subsidiary of the Tiong Group, one of the largest private companies in Malaysia with substantial global investments in forestry, property and the media.

The company managed to loose, not just some cages, but a whole farm, about the size of a rugby field. According to NZ King Salmon ceo Paul Steere, a high tide and strong currents caused the farm to break loose from its moorings. As a result, the Tory Channel had to be closed to all shipping as a safety measure whilst four tugs struggled to get the escaped salmon farm under control. “That’s nature for you,” Mr Steere said.

Steve Beech and his colleagues in Guardians of the Sounds take a somewhat different view. They are concerned that the escapee fish will feed on juvenile wild blue cod stocks. In the past five years they estimate that 87% of blue cod stocks have been lost in the area through environmental degradation and over-fishing.

Mr Beech said, “We have told the industry that the only acceptable form of salmon farming in the area of the sounds would be land-based closed-containment systems, where they can filter their water and filter their waste.”

CHILE

Salmon farm workers death toll rises to 15

Another death in the Chilean Salmon Industry. On Tuesday the 21st of March, the diver Walter Rodrigo Balboa Seguel died whilst working in an industrial breeding cage of salmons, 38 metres deep, which belongs to the company Ventisqueros and is located in the town of Hornopiren, Chilean Patagonia.

Along with Balboa Seguel, the deaths of workers of the Chilean Salmon Industry have now risen to 15 in the last 13 months.

Faced with a new death of a salmon worker, Francisco Rain, president of the Federation of Salmon Workers (Fetrasal), told Ecoceanos News that “it is deplorable that there has been another death in the industry. The responsibility of the contractors should also be shared by the main company”.

The Navy’s here!

Chaiten, Chilean Patagonia, 29th March 2006 The local government of Palena in Chile’s X Region, has ordered the Navy to remove all salmon breeding cages placed illegally by the Pacific Star Salmon Company at Estero Palvitad near Chaiten. Officials, under the terms of the Regulation of Aquaculture Concessions, have an obligation to order the removal of illegal cages by force, if necessary. Regional governor Claudio Leiva said, “I have signed the decree, therefore, the Navy is making sure that these cages are promptly removed.”

This is the first time that a salmon company operating illegally has been forced to remove its cages because of pressure from fishermen and environmentalists and solicitors representing the views of the local community.

Orlando Martinez, a member of the Fisherman’s Union of Chaiten declared, “We demand the exit of all salmon farming companies that operate on natural shoals or banks. We demand that they stop contaminating the areas where we work. We are looking to export our products [wild fish and shellfish], but if our water is contaminated, what are we going to do?” he said.

CANADA

Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform condemns ‘spurious standards’

The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR) has been working in British Columbia (BC) to reform destructive practices of open net-cage salmon farming. Positive first steps have been made between CAAR and Marine Harvest, when both bodies agreed to take part in collaborative research toward moving the industry to implementing closed containment technology.

However, a recent announcement of “standards” agreed upon by Wegmans Food Market, Bon Appetit Management, and the US-based organization, Environmental Defense, greatly undermines the progress made. This agreement, negotiated and finalised independently of local ENGOs, First Nations and scientists provides the ‘green’ stamp of approval so desperately sought by the BC salmon farming industry by accepting current practices.

The “standards” are intended to direct retailers toward companies that implement a series of so-called “stringent” environmental production standards. The reality is that salmon farming companies will be allowed to continue current production practices and will not be required to make any significant changes.

Bill Wareham, of the David Suzuki Foundation, one of CAAR's member organisations said, "These unfortunately weak standards will only serve to fool the public into thinking open net-cage salmon farms are actually meeting strict sustainability standards when in fact they are not. More consultation and dialogue is required with local groups and scientists in order to establish a truly rigorous set of sustainability standards for farmed salmon.”

Trace levels of chemical linked to cancer allowed in fish for human consumption

As reported in the British Columbia paper ‘The Globe’ on 7th April, Health Canada the government’s the Food Inspection Agency, is to relax its rules and allow trace levels of malachite green (MG) in fish products for human consumption.

The Agency relaxed its zero-tolerance policy this month and said that it will now allow malachite green, a potential carcinogen, up to a level of 1 part per billion in domestic and imported seafood, including farmed and wild fish.

In 1992, Health Canada banned the use of MG in food-fish operations because of its potential carcinogenic properties. U.S. FDA testing on rodents exposed to MG found liver toxicity, anaemia and thyroid abnormalities.

Health Canada said it had conducted a scientific assessment on the risk to public health associated with trace levels of MG, and had concluded that "the probability of serious adverse health consequences associated with the daily consumption of fish containing trace amounts of malachite green . . . is remote."

The agency said the ruling is temporary, pending further research. However, the decision has given some breathing room to the West Coast [salmon] fishery, which had worried that a zero-tolerance policy would harm fish farming and commercial fishing.

Lynn Hunter, Pacific Northwest representative of the Pure Salmon Campaign, a partner of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. National Environmental Trust, said more research is needed into the impact of MG. "It's been banned [for aquaculture uses] since 1992. All we can do is hope that the major research project will look at this. We're using the ocean as a toilet."

NORWAY

Marine Harvest cod stocks hit by new disease

Francisella has visited Marine Harvest, the world’s largest producer of farmed cod. This previously unknown disease, for which no vaccine exists at the moment, attacks the spleen, kidneys and heart of the fish and kills them.

According to recent reports, in one farm 40% mortality was registered in adult cod over a five month period. The Norwegian Food Safety Authority urges fish farmers to be “extra vigilant with regards to this disease” and to report any “suspicions” to the fish health service.

Not to worry, though. As Marine Harvest communications officer Marit Husa explained, finding previously unknown diseases was not an unexpected event when developing new aquaculture products, such as cod. So that’s all right, isn’t it?

Eat Norwegian farmed salmon four times a week or more!

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority (NFSA) says that the Norway’s farmed salmon is a “safe and healthy” food and should be eaten “four times a week or more.” The Authority commented that it was “very familiar with levels of persistent organic pollutants found in the farmed salmon, and the levels are well below legal limits.”

But they are concerned about the “fear media articles may cause among consumers regarding fish as safe to eat,” and in particular by 2004 and 2005 reports from USA studies lead by Dr Carpenter and his team. They alleged that Norwegian farmed salmon, because of their level of contaminants, was only safe to eat four times a year.

The NFSA noted, “Both Norwegian and foreign food safety authorities (including the USA) have previously rejected these studies and the methods they used to assess health risks. In 2004, the NFSA asked the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety (NSCFS) to do an overall assessment of fish, to be completed in February/March 2006. The report is expected to confirm that Norwegian farmed salmon is safe to eat.

Norwegian farm salmon banned in Russia because of high levels of cadmium

As from 1st January 2006, Russia has banned the import of Norwegian fresh salmon because of allegedly high levels of lead and cadmium [see also News from Around the Fish Farms]. However, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (NFSA) claim that it has “always found very low levels of lead and cadmium, far below the legal limits” in their farm fish.

An April 2005 report to the NFSA from the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety said that nothing needed to be done about cadmium levels in Norwegian fish feed. However, in December 2005, Russian food safety officers found dangerously high levels (18 times above safety) of lead and cadmium in Norwegian fish imported into their country. Dr Claude Bethune of the Norwegian Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research, writing in Medical News Today on 26th December, said:

“The Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety collected 20 more salmon in the first week of December to test for cadmium and lead. But with no regard to the elimination rate of cadmium in fillet (half-life determined to be about 25 – 30 days) the ‘new’ samples did not show any contamination.

It is not clear how the import of contaminated fish that Russian scientists tested compares to that surveillanced by Norway. Out of the small fraction of farmed fish that Norway tests, 570,000 metric tons were produced in Norway last year.

The institute responsible for seafood surveillance, the Norwegian Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research, tested 60 farmed salmon in 2005. The leaders of the institute are also leaders of the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food safety and are, therefore, ‘in habil’ to both surveillance and advise the pubic on food safety.”

Norway’s Prime Minister does a ‘Gummer’

At the height of the British ‘mad cow disease’ crisis in 1990, when tens of thousands of animals were being slaughtered and public confidence in British beef hit an all-time low, John Selwyn Gummer, then the UK Agriculture Minister, in public, on national television, fed a hamburger to his four-year-old daughter.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, meeting Russian Premier Mikhail Fradkov in Oslo to discuss the Russian ban on Norwegian salmon (see above), defended Norway’s farmed salmon by telling his guest, “I myself eat fresh fish several times a week and give it to my children. If there were cadmium, heavy metals and poisons there would not be so much fish eaten in Norway,” he said.

Reuters AlertNet reported, “Norwegian salmon farmers consider their produce a healthier alternative to other foods after scares about bird flu or mad cow disease. But they have been hampered by allegations ranging from toxic contaminants to overuse of antibiotics.”