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International News, August 2003

Contaminated Chilean salmon impounded in Europe:

Chilean salmon farmers were left feeling green behind the gills when four container loads of farmed salmon (180 tonnes), contaminated with the carcinogen malachite green, were impounded by health officials in the Netherlands and Spain. Chile exports ca. 1,200 containers to Europe a year, about four per day on average and this is a major international incident which threatens to blow Chilean exports out of the water. The Health and Consumer Protection Directorate of the European Commission immediately issued a “Rapid Food Alert” (Week 28) for malachite in Chilean salmon. This is not the first time a food alert has been issued for malachite green in Chilean farmed salmon – back in March the Irish Food Safety Authority passed on five food alerts from the UK concerning malachite in samples of Chilean salmon exported by Sociedad Jimenez Guitierrez and Salmones Multiexport Ltda. Accion Ecologica and Ecoceanos have now filed a complaint in the criminal courts in order to name and shame the offending companies. The Judge for the 16th District Criminal Courts in Santiago, Rose Maria Pinto, is now investigating the illegal use of malachite green in Chilean salmon farming. Those companies caught flouting the law could be in hot water - Article 291 of the Chilean Penal Code carries penalties of up to five years in prison. Luis Mariono Rendon of Accion Ecologica said: “Unscrupulous practices such as these much be eradicated from our country”. Juan Carl Cardenas of Ecoceanos said: “This is a serious problem that puts the health of their Chilean and European consumers at risk”. Parliamentary questions have now been tabled in the Scottish Parliament (19% of Scottish salmon tested in 2003 by the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate also tested positive for malachite green) and letters have been written to the US and Canadian authorities (45% of Chilean salmon is exported to North America). The Director of Chile’s National Fisheries Service has since said that inspections of salmon exports with be “more exhaustive”. According to Intrafish (24th July), “inspections will be stepped up in particular for the freshwater stage of the salmon-growing cycle – the period where malachite green is most likely to be used”.

Irish salmon farming dead in the water?:

Irish salmon farming is reeling from one crisis to the next. On 4th July, Ireland’s largest salmon farming company was placed into receivership by the Ulster Bank. The Irish Times announced that Murpet Fish Company Ltd and its subsidiaries Killary Salmon Company Ltd, Beara Atlantic Salmon Ltd, Hibernor Atlantic Salmon Ltd and Irish Wellboat Services Ltd were all bankrupt. Murpet Fish was set up in 1999 and with a capacity of 4,000 tonnes accounts for ca. 20% of the Irish farmed salmon production. Another body blow came later in July when Ireland’s largest ever fish kill, the second in less than a year, occurred in Inver Bay, Donegal. Worse still, the mass grave was featured on RTE’s evening news just as people were tucking into their fish supper. “How can we be sure that all seafood coming from the bay has not been contaminated? We have asked the Food Safety Authority to assure consumers there is no risk,” reasoned Jerome Keeney of the Lough Swilly Preservation Group. By 24th July over 340,000 salmon had been killed and 560 tonnes had been removed and disposed of at a rendering plant in Germany. There were so many dead salmon that divers worked for over 10 days to remove the rotting fish and pump mortalities into bins for removal. Save The Swilly puts the final figure at more than half a million representing 2,200 tonnes of dead salmon and called for a “Salmon Mortality Monitor” where all farmed salmon mortalities and escapes were made public. The group pointed to a similar disaster at Ocean Farm’s operation in Inver Bay in August 2002. Tony Morrison, chairman of Save The Swilly, said this latest incident “should be a wake-up call to those who persistently deny the risk that salmon farming poses to other users of coastal waters”. Ocean Farm, a founder member of Irish Quality Salmon, is one of three farms affected by the latest fish kill. According to an article - “Mystery ailment threatens to wipe out wild fish stocks” – in The Irish Independent (21st July), the Federation of Irish Salmon and Sea Trout Anglers (FISSTA) claim that “wild salmon and sea trout stocks running in Donegal Bay could be wiped out”. FISSTA chairman Noel Carr pointed out the deaths had occurred in an area where upwards of 50,000 mature farmed salmon have been decomposing on the seabed for more than 13 months. “It is not surprising that this present fish kill is in the same area as the last incident which has been allowed to go without any adequate state investigation or sanction,” he claimed. “It is vital that the true reason for this kill is established immediately so that the correct remedial action can be taken to save our already very scarce wild salmonid stock”. FISSTA is now calling for an independent inquiry into the latest incident in the bay, which has placed thousands of wild stocks in jeopardy.

Wild fisheries worth four times more than fish farming:

A new report – “Fishy Business: The Economics of Salmon Farming in B.C” – from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) says the economic importance of British Columbia’s wild fisheries far outweighs the income generated by salmon farming. The Vancouver Sun (17th July) pointed out that “Wild marine fisheries are four times more beneficial to B.C.'s economy than salmon farms, and create seven times more jobs”. In 2001, wild marine fisheries generated $396 million in provincial gross domestic product (GDP) versus $91 million by salmon aquaculture. The CPA report says that wild fisheries employed 13,844 people versus 1,936 by salmon farms; paid $280 million in wages and salaries versus $40 million by salmon farms; and generated $944 million in exports versus $273 million by salmon farms. It also states that while production of fish by B.C. salmon farms has trebled since the 1990s, the industry has added no new jobs in that time. “What's happening, especially on fish farms, is that labour productivity is going gangbusters. Farms are getting bigger, but fewer people are needed to manage them,” said the report's author, Dale Marshall. “Fish farm expansion is being dangled before coastal communities as a panacea for jobs and economic stability. But this is a false promise. The fact is, running a fish farm takes very few people. And the record in BC, and major fish farm jurisdictions like Norway and Scotland, is that over time, fish farm operations require fewer and fewer workers”. Marshall says his report highlights the need for an ecological assessment of the aquaculture industry before any expansion is permitted by the government. The report cites ecological risks including disease and parasite transfer to wild salmon and escaped farmed salmon competing with wild stocks. “We're basically playing Russian Roulette with our coastal-dependent economies - without knowing how many bullets are in the chamber,” says Marshall. “The scientific community has already shown that there are risks to other marine industries, such as wild salmon fisheries, tourism and sport fishing.” The full report is available to download via

Australian fish farms accused of spreading disease:

Australia’s plans to treble aquaculture production by 2010, suffered a setback in July when Sun Aqua’s proposals to raise up to three million kingfish and snapper in cages off Moreton Island in Queensland were rubbished. According an article – “Fish farms accused of spreading disease” – in the Courier Mail (15th July): “the findings, from a world-first study, were released as Premier Peter Beattie hinted that the Sun Aqua sea-cage farm might not proceed because it faced regulatory obstacles”. “This project will require a significant, a very significant, a very, very significant and if you have missed the point, a very, very, very significant hurdle….to be successful,” Mr Beattie said. Fish biologist Tim Dempster said his studies on a sea-cage kingfish farm at Port Stephens in New South Wales and on Mediterranean farms showed they attracted vast numbers of fish which fed off uneaten fish food and faeces. Mr Dempster, who works for the Queensland Seafood Industry Association but carried out the research while at the University of Sydney, said: “Certainly the number of wild fish immediately under sea cages can be hundreds to thousands of times above normal levels”. There are also reports that escapees from Kingfish farms are swimming up to 50km from their pens with locals reporting declines in wild fish stocks. Sun Aqua’s Environmental Impact Statement for Moreton Bay can be viewed by clicking on ‘EIS’ on their web-site – public comments must be submitted by 19th August. More facts about the proposed farm can be accessed via Queensland Conservation Council’s ‘Save The Bay’ web-site.

Escaped Atlantics found in the Pacific:

Escaped farmed Atlantic salmon have been found in a Pacific coast stream in the vicinity of a salmon hatchery. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) the Atlantic salmon - some as long as a foot - were spotted during a snorkeling survey of Scatter Creek. Scatter Creek, a tributary of the Chehalis River, is home to a healthy, naturally spawning coho salmon population. Atlantic salmon are not native to the Pacific coast and, like other non-native species, can compete with native fish for food and habitat. “We don’t know how long they've been in the creek, frankly,” said John Kerwin of the WDFW. Juvenile salmon sometimes escape hatcheries through holes in screens, as water used to keep the fish alive is discharged into nearby creeks and streams, Kerwin said. The Scatter Creek hatchery is operated by Cypress Island Inc, Washington’s largest commercial salmon farming operation. Although state officials don’t know for sure where the young fish came from, the hatchery is the logical place to look, Kerwin said. Atlantic presence began at the base of out-take of the hatchery. Atlantics were found in all types of habitat from riffles to pools and all substrate types from silt and vegetation to cobble. The hatchery produces up to 3 million juvenile Atlantic salmon a year for transfer to the company's eight net pen sites around Puget Sound. Cypress Island Inc is a subsidiary of the Norwegian multinational Pan Fish. Earlier this year native Indians blockaded a Pan Fish hatchery in Canada. The news will frighten fishermen in Scotland worried about Pan Fish’s expansion plans on the River Tweed – one of Scotland’s finest wild salmon rivers. Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Washington Trout said: “This puts at great risk Washington’s salmon, Washington’s native salmon. This one has just come home to roost.” This could be only the start of the problem, however. The survey was the first in a series funded through a grant from the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. Additional surveys for non-native species will be conducted in 13 other watersheds over the next two years.

Oil rigs for offshore aquaculture:

Reports of land-based salmon farms leaking like sieves hardly inspire confidence in offshore aquaculture. Ocean scientists from Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute are investigating the use of oil rigs off the Californian coast for fish farming. The Washington Fish Growers Association reported with interest in July (17th) that “proposed legislation would convert oil rigs to aquaculture sites”. The proposed "Rigs to Reefs Act of 2003" (HR 2644) would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to direct the Secretary of the Interior to create regulations to authorize use of decommissioned offshore oil and gas platforms for culture of marine organisms (a copy of the Bill can be found on-line). Moves by Australia, Japan and the US towards offshore aquaculture raise the prospect of a frontier economy. The US National Marine Fisheries, for example, is busy promoting the development of aquaculture in the Exclusive Economic Zone (3-200 miles offshore) and have already published an ‘Operational Framework for Offshore Aquaculture’. Experimental pens of halibut and haddock are already being grown in the EEZ off the coast of New Hampshire and white seabass off California. One farm 33 miles off the coast of Florida wants to farm cobia, mahi mahi, Florida pompano, greater amberjack and red snapper. Such developments have been criticised by the Institute for Fisheries Resources who are alarmed that the US is going ahead with offshore sea cage fish farming without public consultation and before any regulatory framework is in place. One vital issue that must be tackled relates to the growing threat of mercury pollution – Newsday reported in July (15th) that fish is already contaminated with mercury. Since oil rigs have been fingered as a source of mercury pollution in fish – are they really a safe haven for raising fish for human consumption?

The Maine problem:

Problems with salmon farming in Maine, USA, are in the spotlight again. In July, US officials ordered the slaughter of 28,000 salmon due to yet another outbreak of Infectious Salmon Anaemia. And in May, a federal judge in Portland banned the use of European salmon by two of Maine’s largest fish farmers. Now the Maine Aquaculture Task Force is conducting a review and is seeking public input via a series of public meetings beginning in August. The Task Force will review such issues as the role of municipalities in aquaculture leasing and the impact of aquaculture on Maine's wild fisheries, water quality, coastal resorts, tourism and coastal communities, and then issue a report to the Legislature in January 2004. The report will suggest changes to Maine’s aquaculture laws to be incorporated in a bill for consideration by the 2004 session of the legislature. According to Penobscot Bay Watch (24th July), “concerns have been raised that the list of guidance documents is too small, and includes some reports that are outdated or contain inaccuracies, and are thus not reflective of current conditions of aquaculture in Maine”. The Task Force Guidance documents can be read online and written comments can also be sent in on-line. For more information, check out Penobscot Bay Advocates’ webpage on the Maine Aquaculture Task Force.

Botulism in Chilean farmed salmon:

Just as the scandal of Chilean farmed salmon contaminated with malachite green broke in Europe, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a “Recall” notice (13th July) on Chilean farmed salmon for botulism: “Pesquera Trans Antarctic Ltda. of Puerto Montt, Chile is recalling its Robinson Crusoe Canned Smoked Atlantic Salmon because it has the potential to be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium that can cause life-threatening illness or death. Botulism, a potentially fatal form of food poisoning, can cause the following symptoms: general weakness, dizziness, double-vision and trouble with speaking or swallowing. Difficulty in breathing, weakness of other muscles, abdominal distention and constipation may also be common symptoms. People experiencing these problems should seek immediate medical attention. The canned smoked Atlantic salmon was distributed in Miami, Florida and San Juan, Puerto Rico by local distributors through retail outlets”. A total of 170 cases of smoked Atlantic salmon were recalled. According to Ecoceanos News (15th July): “This episode raises questions about the current government health and safety controls and the production methods of this industry. It alters consumers and public opinion to the current health and environmental standards of the Chilean salmon industry”. The botulism bacterium is “the most poisonous substance known,” said Dr Stephan Arnon, director of the ‘Infant Botulism Prevention Program’ at the Department of Health in California .

“Chile is a ‘Wild West’ without a sheriff”:

Throughout July the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet published a series of damning articles on Norwegian companies operating in Chile. “A ticking environmental bomb” ran one headline. According to Dagbladet: “Each year Norwegian fish producers leave behind more waste in Chile than all of the inhabitants of the salmon capital Puerto Montt manage to do so themselves. The entire Chilean salmon production industry produces as much untreated organic waste as the population of Norway produces in the space of one year”. According to Professor Alejandro Buschmann of the University of Los Lagos: “Damages sustained by the environment are becoming increasingly serious. And we don’t know how much more Mother Nature can take of this”. Rodrigo Pizarro, head of Terram, said: “Norwegian companies reap the benefits of low taxes, low wages and a lack of environmental restrictions. They exploit our common resources – the fjords and the sea – for free…this will instigate an adverse reaction from the people of Chile and consumers in the USA and Europe”. According to Juan Carl Cardenas of Ecoceanos: “The multinational companies’ entry is viewed as occupation of a virgin country. Chile is a 'Wild West' without a sheriff”. A Spanish translation is available on-line. Intrafish (4th July) ran a story headlined “Cermaq caught with their pants down” and commented that: “The mood has been rather subdued with top management in Norwegian salmon companies in Chile lately, particularly at Norwegian State-owned Cermaq. The Dagbladet newspaper’s news feature has exposed reprehensible working conditions affecting Chilean workers - and a relationship towards the trade union movement that is unworthy of Norwegian companies”. Dagbladet’s expose of Norwegian companies operating in Chile comes after Norwatch’s coverage of Cermaq and Mainstream. The latest scandals in Chile represent major embarrassments for the “Salmon of the Americas” initiative launched recently to promote Chilean farmed salmon. The discovery of botulism and cancer-causing malachite green in Chilean farmed salmon will not help SOTA’s mission “to improve the health, awareness and dining enjoyment of consumers in North America”.

Salmon hot dogs:

If anyone had any doubt that farmed salmon had gone to the dogs they need look no further than the newly unveiled salmon hot dog. Fish Farming Today (17th July) reports that: “Norwegian sausage makers have come up with a healthy junk food alternative in the shape of a salmon sausage”. The creators, which include Elin Mittet Eriksen, Anders Johansen, Mika Falch-Hansen and Kristin Bjering Lømsland, all hope that the sausage will not disappear in the supermarket shelves and said their biggest goal is that petrol stations around Norway will serve the sausage as a healthy, but tasty option, to the other hotdogs on the menu. Salmon farmers with be keeping their fish fingers crossed that the salmon hot dog has better luck than McDonald’s ill-fated salmon burger. “McLak’s” were sold in Norway until a major food poisoning incident in 1997. McDonald’s were caught out when two members of the public and two of its own staff were hospitalised after eating ‘McLaks’. According to Reuters, McDonald’s were forced to withdraw its salmon burgers from all 36 branches in Norway after customers complained of “paralysis in the mouth, burning sensations, trembling, itching and rashes”. Any takers for farmed Chilean salmon hot dogs marinaded in malachite green and barbequed in botulism?