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International News, July 2003

National Geographic splash on salmon:

The July issue of National Geographic features an excellent article on the link between the rise of salmon farming and the decline of wild salmon. The web-site includes an excerpt from the article, a sight and sound presentation, a public forum on farmed salmon, and assignment notes from both the author and the photographer. In “Everybody loves Atlantic salmon: here’s the catch ...”, author Fen Montaigne writes: “Runaway domesticated salmon have begun interbreeding with wild salmon, a development that could lead to a new hybrid that is far less capable of making the heroic spawning and feeding journeys that are the hallmark of the Atlantic salmon. A genetically homogeneous salmon, descended from aquaculture fish, could be ill suited to life in many rivers and could also leave the species less able to cope with threats such as disease and climate change”. The article also quotes Donal O'Brien Jr, Chairman of the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) saying that: “Aquaculture is the single most serious threat to the survival of Atlantic salmon. Unless it is brought under control, it will one day bring about the extinction of the species” (). The author highlights North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) chairman Orri Vigfússon as the man who has “probably done more than any other individual to reduce the commercial netting that was decimating wild Atlantic salmon”. Read Orri Vigfússon’s ‘Guest Column’ in this month’s Salmon Farm Monitor.

Fish ‘rapid food alerts’:

Following a report in the Salmon Farm Monitor in April (‘Fish make up a quarter of all EC Food Alerts’), the European Commission have adopted a new policy of making public all ‘Rapid Food Alerts’. Fish feature prominently in the list published each week. For example, 50% of the Rapid Food Alerts reports relating to seafood for week 24 involved findings of cadmium in swordfish, from Indonesia, Chile and Singapore. Other cases include mercury in swordfish, cadmium in squid, nitrofurans in shrimp and listeria in smoked Norwegian salmon. Nor is the problem of seafood contamination confined to Europe. In June, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency also issued ‘Health Hazard Alerts’ for nitrofurans in jumbo prawns from Thailand and freshwater catfish fillets from Nova Scotia and for histamine in tuna (http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/corpaffr/recarapp/recaltoce.shtml). Sadly it seems we have polluted our marine environment to such an extent that we are now reaping the consequences via the biomagnification of contaminants up through the food chain.

Radioactive waste found in supermarket salmon:

Scottish salmon farmers have been dealt a body blow by a front page news story in the conservative Daily Telegraph (23rd June). The article by Charles Clover - “Radioactive waste found in supermarket salmon” – reveals exclusively that “Traces of radioactive waste from Sellafield have been found in packets of farmed smoked salmon sold in the six leading supermarkets, including Sainsbury's, Tesco and Marks & Spencer”. He continues: “The salmon farms on the west coast of Scotland feed their salmon on pellets made from fish caught off Chile or in the North Sea. The tests were commissioned by Greenpeace without any expectation of what they would produce. Dr David Santillo, a scientist working for Greenpeace research laboratories at Exeter University, said: “Tc-99 should not be there at all. It is inexplicable yet significant. Scottish salmon is marketed as something that comes from a pristine environment”. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Food Standards Agency are now conducting more testing of farmed salmon with Irish and Norwegian salmon farmers watching events unfold with baited bad breath. The tests by Southampton University showed Technetium in ‘Oak smoked Scottish salmon’, ‘fresh Scottish salmon steaks’, ‘Farmed Scottish salmon fillets’, ‘Scottish salmon fillets’ and ‘Scottish fillets – farm reared’. The Daily Telegraph article was picked up by BBC News and Reuters. A spokesperson for Sainsbury's said it would investigate when it saw the report, stressing: “Our customers' food safety is our first priority”. Tesco, Safeway and Waitrose were all unable to comment. Sainsbury’s comments would have more credence however if they labelled their smoked Scottish salmon properly – in June the Salmon Farm Protest Group caught Sainsbury’s selling illegally labelled John West smoked Scottish salmon.

New Zealand “goes wild over farmed salmon”:

An article – “Going wild over farmed salmon” – in the New Zealand Herald (22nd June) has fired the opening salvo in what looks set to be a fierce battle between environmentalists, Maoris, the Government and fish farmers over the future of aquaculture. New Zealand is looking enviously at its neighbour Australia whose aquaculture industry is predicted to treble by 2010. “With its clean waters and 17,000km coastline, New Zealand should be in the vanguard of this boom, say fish-farming proponents who aim to turn the boutique industry into a billion-dollar export earner”, writes Geoff Cumming. “While relative newcomers Australia and Chile are plunging into aquaculture, the New Zealand industry's progress is as tortured as those wild salmon which battle freshwater rapids to spawn after years at sea. A moratorium on marine- farming applications expires next March, but new laws to govern the industry have struck political and bureaucratic rocks. And as fish-farming proponents complain that New Zealand is missing the boat while the Government dithers, environmentalists are questioning whether it's an industry New Zealand should be encouraging at all”. As the debate simmers, round one looks to have been won by environmental campaigners. “We’ve won,” trumpet the ‘Protect Peach Cove’ group on their web-site. “Plans to established an experimental fin-fish farm in the pristine waters of Peach Cove have been halted”. With fish farmers and the Government intent on opening the floodgates to aquaculture it looks set to be a first of many skirmishes.

Australia makes waves:

The expansion of aquaculture in Australia is gathering momentum. In March the Salmon Farm Monitor reported that local groups were concerned at the Government’s plan to treble production by 2010. Now a new report from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) confirms environmentalists’ worst fears. Salmon farming production in Australia, for example, has leapt from 7,647 tonnes in 1995-1996 to 14,492 tonnes in 2001-2002 at a value of AU $111.5 million farm gate. Salmon farms are almost exclusively located in Tasmania and the industry desperately wants to expand further. ABARE notes that the D’Entrecasteaux Channel can support a 22% increase while the Huon River and Port Esperance can sustain a 39% increase. Nutreco (the world’s largest salmon farming company and owners of Marine Harvest) are also expanding into barramundi farming. Tuna farming is fast becoming a problem as well. Australia’s 15 bluefin tuna farmers produced 9,245 tonnes in 2001-2002 for a value of AU $260.5 million farm gate (a three-fold increase in five years). The report predicts that Australia is poised for yet more bluefin tuna expansion in 2003 with 12 additional farmers operating on 25 lease sites in 2003. The report – “Australian Aquaculture – industry profiles for selected species” – is available for free from the ABARE bookshop.

Ecological footprint of salmon farming:

According to The Vancouver Sun (11th June), “Rather than a sustainable replacement for wild salmon stocks, the aquaculture industry is ‘an ecological and economic failure’ that requires more energy than traditional fishing fleets and uses more ocean resources than it produces”. The report in question – “Net-Pen Salmon Farming: Failing on Two Fronts (An Eco-Footprint Analysis)” – was delivered by Professor William Rees (University of British Columbia) at the World Summit on Salmon in Vancouver. “We are moving toward increasing diminishing returns. Net pen salmon farms illustrate that fallacy of near-perfect substitution,” Rees said. “Because salmon feed is produced using fish and fish products imported from other parts of the world, the salmon farming industry actually reduces the total amount of food available for human consumption (particularly in the developing South)” Rees explained. “Farming salmon is an inherently unsustainable economic substitute for a service that nature once provided free. Most tellingly, the industry exacerbates North-South inequity and fails, even temporarily, in its promise to enhance global food supplies. Meanwhile, salmon farming extends the human ecological footprint and the inexorably increasing total human load on the ecosphere”. Rees’s findings echo a paper in Science which calculated that “The European salmon farming industry requires a marine support area for feed estimated at 40,000 to 50,000 times the surface area of cultivation and equivalent to about 90% of the primary production of the fishing area of the North Sea”. Salmon farming is becoming far too big for its boots.

What price farmed fish

Another report out in June – “What Price Farmed Fish: The Environmental and Social Costs of Farming Carnivorous Fish” – serves only to reinforce the view that sea cage fish farming is environmentally, economically and socially bankrupt. The farming of carnivores such as salmon, trout, cod, barramundi, kingfish, haddock, halibut and tuna is inherently unsustainable. The new report from Seaweb is written by Mike Weber and is available on-line.

‘Sustainable environmental aquaculture feeds’?:

Aquaculture’s insatiable appetite for wild fish, as revealed by the Salmon Farm Monitor in March, is already eating into the capture sector. Yet salmon farmers are still locked onto an elusive and increasingly desperate quest for “sustainable” and “environmentally-friendly” fish feed. The latest initiative doomed to failure is an EU-sponsored project - “Sustainable Environmental Aquaculture Feeds. The SEA Feeds web-site concedes that: “The reliance of aquaculture of capture fisheries for feed raw material has caused many to question the industries sustainability. Far from being the solution to diminishing wild stocks, aquaculture has been vilified as a contributing fact, through the growing demand for fishmeal and fish oil derived from reduction fisheries”. People are invited to take part in a discussion forum (http://seafeeds.net/phpBB2/index.php) and the web-site also includes access to documents on the subject including the 2000 Nature paper ‘The effect of aquaculture on world fish supplies’. Read the draft report on-line.

Salmon of the Americas:

Salmon farmers in Chile, Canada and the United States have launched (24th June) a new initiative – “Salmon of the Americas” - designed to counter the flurry of negative news reports provoked by the “Farmed and Dangerous” campaign and the class lawsuits on artificial colourings. According to their new web-site, “Salmon of the Americas is an organization of salmon-producing companies in Canada, Chile and the United States whose mission is to improve the health, awareness and dining enjoyment of consumers in North America by providing timely, complete, accurate and insightful information about salmon on behalf of the member companies”. SOTA’s operating funds amount to US$ 3 million for 2003 with the contribution calculated according to the number of salmon marketed in the USA. With Infectious Salmon Anaemia currently affecting farms both in the US (Maine) and Canada (New Brunswick) and ongoing reports about illegal chemical use in Chile, SOTA will have their work cut out restoring consumer confidence in factory farmed salmon.

Chile caught using 75 times more antibiotics than Norway:

Chilean salmon farmers are in urgent need of being bailed out by the ‘Salmon of the America’s’ PR makeover. In 2002 alone Chile exported 108,000 tonnes of fresh salmon to the United States with the US accounting for 45% of Chile’s salmon exports each year. Yet, Chilean salmon farmers have been embarrassed by a series of damning exposes. The latest report – “Antibiotics in Aquaculture: an Analysis of their Potential Impact on the Environment, Human Health and Animal Health in Chile” – was published in June by the Terram Foundation. Written by Felipe Cabello Cárdenas, a professor in microbiology and medicine from New York's Medical College, the report states that: “To produce a tonne of salmon in Chile, 75 times more antibiotics are used than in the Norwegian industry”. Cabello points out that: “The analysis indicates there is quite clear evidence, both epidemiological and experimental, that the use of antibiotics in the marine environment for aquaculture may produce a series of alterations in the marine ecology. Bacterial populations may be altered and antibiotic resistant strains could then infect human and animal populations, creating new problems since the antibiotics would then be rendered useless”. This report on excessive antibiotic use in Chile follows last year’s report on “Antibiotic Drug Use in U.S. Aquaculture”.