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International News, January 2004

Nutreco fraud charges

The world’s largest salmon farming company, Nutreco, and its subsidiary Marine Harvest are being sued for fraud. Lafjord USA has lodged a long list of charges inclucing “Complaint for breach of contract, fraud, misrepresentation and tortuous interference”, “Breach of honesty, good faith and fair dealing” and “Fraud, intentional and/or negligent misrepresentation”. According to the charges Marine Harvest were deliberately and systematically short-changing Lafjord and Costco. The ‘breach of honesty, good faith and fair dealing’ cause of action states that: “Marine Harvest took such actions with knowledge that the product delivered to Lafjord and ultimately to Costco would be short-weighted and out of specification. Marine Harvest further acknowledged to Lafjord that it was done intentionally as a result of financial and other pressures and for the purpose of financially benefiting Marine Harvest”.

Lafjord USA has respectfully requested: “Judgment against Marine Harvest for tortious acts in connection with its breaches of contract, including interference with contractual relations and/or business expectancies, breach of the duty of honesty, good faith and fair dealing, conversion, fraud and misrepresentation, in an amount to be proven at trial”. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman in Seattle, Washington. According to Intrafish – “Marine Harvest sued over Costco contract” (31st December) - the damages could be substantial: “While no monetary damages were specified in the filing, the sought damages must exceed $75,000 as part of the qualification for filing at a U.S. district court. However, based on the volume and value of the Costco contract over time - the contract is widely believed to be the largest smoked salmon contract in the world - damages sought will likely be substantially higher”.

It has been another bad year for Nutreco. Last month the Salmon Farm Monitor reported that Nutreco were shedding staff in Canada, Norway and Scotland, were investigated by the OECD and had been fined for the illegal use of malachite green in Chile . And in Scotland, a floating protest saw an armada of locals unite against Marine Harvest Scotland’s salmon farm in Little Loch Broom.

Marine Harvest farm rejected

Nutreco’s Irish subsidiary, Marine Harvest Ireland, has suffered another setback with its application Lough Swilly refused on the grounds that the proposed salmon farm would cause “deterioration in water quality”. The Irish Times (18th December) reported that: “The Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board (ALAB) has upheld an appeal against a decision to grant approval for a salmon-farming licence near one of Ireland’s most scenic Blue Flag beaches at Portsalon in Co Donegal. The board accepted the appellants’ contention that the proposed 90-acre operation would have a negative effect on the surrounding environment”. Commenting on the board decision, Mr Tony Morrison, the chairman of the Save the Swilly campaign (http://www.loughswilly.com) - which represents 35 groups - reiterated calls for a coastal zone management strategy. “We have consistently argued that there are many stakeholders in Lough Swilly, and that there are options for development that do not intrude on the rights of other users”. He stressed that he is not against fish farms but believes they should not be allowed on the migratory routes of salmonoid species. “Ten years ago we had to put up signs to stop anglers taking more than five fish a day from the Crana river. Today you would be lucky to get five a month,” he said.

According to Jan Feenstra, MD of Marine Harvest Ireland: “Our business is in harmony with the local marine environment and is not in conflict with other marine activities - many of our staff use the sea for all kinds of leisure activities as well as livelihoods. We would even go so far as to say that our fish farms are so dependent on high water quality that these farms are like the ‘canaries in the mine shaft’ when it comes to monitoring water quality”. If farmed salmon really are canaries then we must be in deep trouble – there are hundreds of thousands of ‘canaries’ lying dead at the bottom of their cages and dumped in mass graves across Ireland. Earlier this year The Irish Times reported that an Irish salmon farmer had been suspended from thethe Irish Quality Salmon scheme after allegations of illegal dumping of dead salmon in a bog. And in July over half a million farmed salmon died in their cages at another salmon farm in Inver Bay.

Norwegian salmon “as ordinary as hamburger”

Norway is another country where salmon farming is dead on its feet. With 2003 seeing wave after wave of bankruptcies it is only the banks and the Norwegian state that is preventing the industry from going under. In another excellent expose of the salmon farming industry – “A tale of boom and bust: a dream to bootstrap Norwegian farms has morphed into a global business feeding a glutted market” - Michael Milstein writes in The Oregonian (21st December): “Odd Steinsbo, sipping his coffee in Norway, is sad to see where salmon farming has gone. Many independent Norwegian farmers who live alongside their farms, and tend their fish rain or shine, have avoided the disease outbreaks and overproduction that beset the biggest companies, he says. But those that remain are bit players in a corporate world that has made the salmon he turned into an elegant meal as ordinary - and nearly as cheap - as hamburger. “Salmon is not interesting anymore when you can get it at McDonald’s,” he says. “The point of fish farming was to build up new jobs in remote areas of Norway,” he says. “That is not interesting now. Now the idea is to earn quick money. Big money”.

And the big money looks to be on farming cod not salmon. According to Intrafish (29th December): “Nutreco has chosen to concentrate its investment in farming of marine species in Norway. Efforts will be focused on cod and halibut”. “By the end of 2007 our production will be up to 30,000 tonnes of farmed cod and 2,500 tonnes of farmed halibut,” said Magnus Skretting, Managing Director of Nutreco’s investment in cod and halibut. “The demand for cod is incredible, and it’s being sold even before it’s been released into sea cages,” he told Intrafish (http://www.intrafish.com).

Salmon Nation

Salmon Nation “is a place, it’s a movement, and it’s a way of life” proudly declares the North American group Ecotrust. “Salmon Nation is the place from Alaska to California where, for centuries, wild salmon have run free. But it’s about more than salmon. Salmon Nation is about each one of us making the choice to live, eat and act toward the common goal of a more healthy economy, ecology and community”. Last year, Ecotrust planted the seeds of this powerful movement by handing out T-shirts, stickers, lapel pins and employing a guerrilla marketing approach that got people talking. This year, Ecotrust overhauled their web-site (http://www.salmonnation.com), painted a wild salmon delivery truck and released the first issue of Section Z – an educational publication that dropped in 340,000 households in Portland and San Francisco – which publicised the hazards of farmed salmon and called on shoppers to ask “Is it wild?” before buying salmon. Readers can download Section Z’s – “The hidden costs of farmed salmon: what lurks behind that farmed salmon steak?” – for free via.

Selling off the sea

With thousands of salmon cages now littering our pristine coasts we have witnessed a theft of the seaside over the last few decades. Now we’re selling off the sea. As Michael Milstein writes in The Oregonian (23rd December): “Look out at the boundless ocean, and envision a new Iowa - homesteaded by fish farm colonies bigger than downtown Portland, with row upon row of undersea cages roiling with swimming livestock. It’s a dream of seafood visionaries, and the Bush administration is laying the foundation for it. Federal officials are drafting legislation to let fish farmers lay claim to parcels of sea, just as pioneers laid claim to acreage in the unsettled West. Expected to head to Congress next year, it would apply to federal waters from three to 200 miles offshore - an immense region outside state jurisdiction and bigger than the entire land area of the continental United States. The move underscores U.S. government aims to expand fish farming in the United States fivefold by 2025. At that rate, the value of farmed seafood would surpass that of the nation’s wild catch. Commercial fishing may become one of the last of the hunting and gathering traditions”.

The public backlash against selling off the family silver is gaining pace. “What we’re talking about here is nothing less than underwater real estate. Do we really want to hand over ownership of our underwater coast line to predominantly foreign corporations?” writes Paul Kershaw of Port Alberni in The Vancouver Sun (10th December). “Rather than face the concerns of the public in an open and honest way, the industry hides behind slick PR manoeuvres. The tired rhetoric of promised employment hasn’t materialized; in fact, there have been mass lay-offs because of disease die-offs. Is this who we want owning our ocean floor?”. In “We Sell Sea Shelves”, commercial fisherman, Jeremy Brown writes: “U.S. territorial waters are real estate, hold vast natural resources, are completely out of sight, and the public barely knows they exists. The public debate as to whether developing the continental shelf serves the public interest has yet to begin. That debate should begin before any commitments are made. Privatising the ocean commons could well become one of the great giveaways of the early 21st century”.

Moratorium extended in NZ

Much to the chagrin of the industry, the New Zealand government have extended the two-year moratorium on fish farming. The moratorium, established in March 2002, was due to be lifted in March 2004 but it is now scheduled to be lifted until December 2004. The New Zealand fish farming industry is gearing up for massive expansion and aims to double its earnings by 2010 and reach $1 billion by 2020. The extension of the moratorium is a body blow.

The ninth month delay is particularly embarrassing for the New Zealand government who have patently failed to address the concerns of the native iwi who claim exclusive rights to access certain offshore areas and fish farmers who want to fence off the sea. This clash of cultures strikes at the very heart of a controversial and potential election issue over resource ownership and stewardship. According to Gloria Timoti of the Ngati Whatu: “Those who claim to have authority over our resources think little of using these great assets – our waterways – as a dumping place for all sorts of wastes. We pillage, we plunder and we pollute with little thought for tomorrow when we ought to be protecting and nurturing and unless we change our ways we are going to pay for our foolishness”.

Irish escapees found in England and Wales

A paper published in the journal Fisheries Management and Ecology (December 2003) presents damning new evidence of the scale of ecological damage caused by farmed salmon escapees. The paper – “The incidence of escapes Irish farmed salmon in English and Welsh rivers” – details how Irish farmed salmon escapees were caught in at least ten rivers as far away as the Border Esk on the Scottish border, the River Lune and Derwent in England and the River Conwy in Wales. Catches of escapee farmed salmon contributed to 30% of the ‘wild’ catch on the River Ellen and nearly 20% on the River Lune. The first farmed escapee arrived 16 days after the escape and the final recorded occurrence was after 73 days. Distances travelled from the farm in Glenarm ranged from 181 to 276 km with mean speed of farmed escapees calculated at 18.4km per day.

Another Irish study is now investigating the impact of farmed salmon escapees on wild salmon. “Ulster scientists are finalising a key research project on the threat posed to wild salmon by escaped farmed salmon,” reported The Belfast Telegraph (5th December). “Details of the north Antrim study emerged after the Government admitted a link between fish farm break-outs and significant genetic changes in wild salmon. Angling and environmental organisations have long feared that inter-breeding between the two types of salmon will eventually lead to the extinction of the natural population. The north Antrim project, based on the River Bush, ties in with research work in other parts of the British Isles and Scandinavia”. In a reply to a parliamentary question NIO Minister Angela Smith told MPs: “The surveys showed that the genetic status of the wild population was significantly changed, indicating that cross breeding with farmed salmon had taken place. Further scientific studies have commenced on the River Bush catchment on the potential consequences of genetic change in the wild population caused by interbreeding with farmed salmon in terms of long-term productivity”. UUP MP David Burnside said: “We are going to lose the wild salmon and they will never come back. We have the most polluted rivers in my experience. On top of this, we have the escapes of farmed salmon which are bred to put cheap food on supermarket shelves”.

GE ‘GloFish’ given green light

On the 5th January 2004 the Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to GE ‘GloFish’ to flood the U.S. market. “Bring a miracle of science to your aquarium, and own the hottest, most talked about, most beautiful new fish to come to North America in our lifetime!” proclaims the GloFish web-site. “GloFish fluorescent fish bring color and excitement to any aquarium – in your home, office, or classroom”. The GloFish come in different shades of red and green for ‘daytime’ and ‘nightime’ viewing and are now available at retail locations in the U.S. with a suggested retail price of approximately $5.00. The decision by the U.S. FDA to wash their hands of regulating GE GloFish has been condemned around the world.

Even in the United States, the state of California has refused to sanction the sale of Glofish. “California's Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday refused to allow the sale of the genetically altered GloFish in the state, with one commissioner saying that it seemed frivolous to tinker with an animal's genes to create a pet that glows red” reported The Los Angeles Times (5th December). “California adopted its regulations for fear that transgenic farmed fish, such as salmon, could get loose and devastate the state’s wild populations”. And in a new report – “Transgenic Fish Coming” – published by the Institute of Science in Society, Professor Joe Cummins argues that the: “FDA was presumptuous in washing its hands of the regulation of the transgenic zebra fish, which is likely to become a major pest of warm water areas. The release of glofish may signal relaxation of the regulation of transgenic fish now being promoted for commercial release”. Given the risk of escapees the U.S. have set a dangerous precedent indeed.

Red light for artificial colours

Salmon farmers are coming under increasing pressure to remove artificial colourings such as Astaxanthin and Canthaxanthin (E161g). Faced with lawsuits in the United States and drastic reductions in the levels of artificial colourings permitted in Europe (imposed on 1st December 2003), one U.S. company is now advertising “colour-free” farmed salmon. Brin Taylor of Polaris Enterprises Inc told Intrafish (8th December): “Our theme for the salmon program is that it is natural”. He said that the posters are currently being displayed at a number of supermarkets run by Quality Food Centers (QFC) – a division of Kroger Co. – as well as Smith Group grocery stores. The plan by Polaris is to distribute another 300 posters in the next two weeks and to provide brochures about the product as well, underscoring the fact that the salmon contains no antibiotics or synthetic colorants.

In April this year Kroger Co. announced that it would mark all its farmed salmon with “colour-added” signs after a class lawsuit accused supermarkets of failing to notify consumers that they were buying fish containing artificial colorants. Kroger Co. and two other supermarkets – Safeway and Albertson’s – are currently being sued in California for violation of consumer laws over the labelling of artificial colourings in farmed salmon. In Europe, however, supermarkets are not compelled by law to advertise the fact that farmed salmon contains artificial colourings. Earlier this year, after a complaint by the Salmon Farm Protest Group, Nolans Seafoods changed its packaging and removed the label: “No artificial colourings” from it’s Irish farmed salmon.

‘Organic’ and ‘free-range’ salmon???

Under new rules finalised in early 2004, so-called ‘organic’ salmon farmers will also be permitted to use fake colourings to dupe customers. The UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has given permission for the Organic Food Federation for fish farmers to use phaffia yeast to colour their salmon. Organic salmon farmers have complained that their paler pink salmon is off-putting to consumers. According to the Independent on Sunday (7th December): “Organic salmon is set to rise in price and become even more of a luxury because of a tightening of regulations amid fears that organic fish farms cause ecological damage”. The Soil Association is now in the process of reassessing its ‘Interim’ guidelines for licensing organic fish farms. “Hugh Raven, a Soil Association consultant, said fish farming contradicts a cornerstone of the organic philosophy which states that nutrients, such as animal dung, are never wasted. The droppings from farmed fish, however, are flushed into the sea and are blamed for causing poisonous algal blooms around the Scottish coast” (http://www.certifiedorganic.bc.ca/rcbtoa/services/organic-aquaculture-news-links.html).

Speaking exclusively to The Salmon Farm Monitor, the Soil Association’s Sarah Fairbrother concedes that they are “still in the research phase of the project” and “ways of improving environmental criteria are being explored and this includes closed-contained systems along with integrated aquaculture”. Moreover: “The development programme is also looking at organic standards for carp and mussels”. However, given the inherent contradictions in ‘organic salmon farming’ one might ask why on earth is the Soil Association certifying farmed salmon at all? Why not start by certifying environmentally benign shellfish and non-carnivorous fin-fish? Surely ‘organically farmed salmon’ is an oxymoron? Will “free-range” salmon be next on the menu?

If Norway has its way then, yes. Food Navigator (16th December) reports that: “The issue of food labelling, which has been a hot topic of late, has arrived in the ice cold waters of Norway. In the near future, salmon raised in certain conditions will be able to bear the label: ‘This is a free range salmon fillet’. Cramming a migratory species in cages at stocking densities equivalent to battery farmed chickens, permitting them to discharge untreated contaminated wastes, feeding them on a diet of wild fish which is both depleted and contaminated, allowing them to spread diseases and parasites to wild fish and then having the gall to call the end product ‘free-range’ or ‘organic’ salmon is a sham, scam and a consumer con.