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International News, June 2003

North Atlantic countries flout international law on wild salmon

An explosive new report from the Atlantic Salmon Federation and WWF accuses seven North Atlantic countries (Canada, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Scotland, and the United States) of failing to protect wild Atlantic salmon from the impacts of salmon aquaculture. The report (which can be downloaded from WWF Scotland) – “Protecting Wild Salmon from the Impacts of Aquaculture” – exposes inadequacies in how the various countries have adhered to the Oslo Resolution signed in 1994, an agreement promising to reduce the harmful impacts of salmon farming on wild Atlantic salmon. The WWF/ASF initiative made a big splash in the UK where it was featured on BBC News and Salmon Farm Protest Group chairman Bruce Sandison appeared on Grampian TV. The study is a wake up call for delegates the June meeting of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) in Edinburgh, where representatives from Canada, the EU, Denmark (representing Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Ireland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, and the US will chart their progress on restoring wild salmon. This report raises serious question marks over NASCO’s ability to protect wild salmon and the functioning of NASCO’s ‘Salmon Farming Industry and NASCO Liaison Group’. It seems salmon farmers, aided and abetted by Government agencies allowing them free reign to flout international law, are treating NASCO ‘guidelines’ and ‘codes of practice’ with nothing less than contempt. Less talk and more action on protecting wild salmon ought really to be on NASCO’s agenda.

Supermarkets sued over salmon labelling

The three largest supermarkets in the U.S. - Safeway, Albertson’s and Kroger – are the subject of a nationwide class action saying they deceived consumers. The lawsuits charge that the chains, which account for over 6,000 stores in more than 30 states across the U.S., deceived consumers by failing to comply with federal law requiring disclosure of artificial coloring in farm-raised salmon. Filed by Smith & Lowney law firm on behalf of supermarket shoppers, the lawsuits seek unspecified damages and a court order requiring the chains to inform shoppers that the salmon are artificially. According to the suits' claims, lack of labeling also misleads the public into thinking they're buying wild salmon, avoiding the problems associated with farm-raised salmon including: contamination from antibiotics and exposure to pesticides and other chemicals; risks to wild salmon and other aquatic species from disease and parasites which escape from fish farm pens and the misrepresentation of health. The lawsuits were featured on TV and carried by newspapers across America including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Miami Herald. Faced with a flurry of bad press, the offending supermarkets caved in and introduced “colour-added” labels. Speaking on CNN, Paul Kampmeier, an attorney with Smith & Lowney, said this was a “wonderful victory for consumers” and that “the grocery stores are now doing what they should have done years ago”. The lawsuits, however, still stand and damages would be in excess of tens of millions of dollars.

Salmon farms sued over sea lice

Salmon farms in British Columbia, Canada, and the Canadian Government are also being sued - for their abject failure to protect wild salmon. The Sierra Legal Defence Fund filed the suit on behalf of the people of the Tsawataineuk, Kwicksutaineuk-ah-kwaw-ah-mish, and Namgis First Nations, and the Gwawaenuk Tribe against the two companies currently operating open net cage salmon aquaculture facilities in the Broughton area, Heritage Salmon Limited and Stolt Sea Farm, Inc. “There is a crisis in the Broughton Archipelago as a result of the provincial and federal governments' shameful attepts to promote fish farming,” said Bill Cranmer, Chief of the Namgis First Nation. “Our wild fish populations are in grave danger and the government continues to ignore First Nations people and our constitutionally protected rights. We have no alternative but to turn to the courts to protect the wild salmon and our way of life”. “The government beat about the bush while 98% of our wild pink Salmon run was massacred by sea lice,” said Hereditary Chief Charlie Williams, of the Gwawaenuk Tribe. “We are simply asking the court to protect our wild fish and prevent government and industry from letting it happen again”. The lawsuit asks for an injunction to prevent the stocking of open net cage salmon aquaculture facilities in the Broughton, to prevent the use of SLICE, a pesticide that has been scientifically shown to have impacts on crustaceans and has not been generally approved for use in Canada, and to require that infected sites remove infected fish from the marine environment.

Ireland flouting EU law

The Irish Government, like the Canadian Government, are in trouble for breaking the law and bending over backwards to accommodate aquacultural expansion. According to the European Commission, Ireland is flouting European law in at least half a dozen cases. Ireland has been served with a “Formal Notice of Complaint” by the European Commission over its failure to protect the Kenmare River and its failure to implement the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. Ireland also find themselves hauled before the European Court of Justice for their failure to tackle discharges of toxic chemicals and wastes discharges from salmon farms. And in a major embarrassment to the Irish head of the EC’s Health and Consumer Protection Directorate The Salmon Farm Monitor have learnt that Ireland has still to implement the Fish Labelling Regulations which were due to be in place on 1st January 2002. The Save the Swilly campaign have exposed a number of problems at Marine Harvest Ireland’s salmon farms in the area and have lodged a 10,000 signature petition with the European Commission. Another protest group – “Friends of Clew Bay” – have also been set up to oppose expansion plans in Clew Bay, Mayo - the subject of yet another EC complaint. The problem is so serious that MEP Patricia McKenna of the Green Party last year launched a petition and complaint to the EU condemning the Irish government “for promoting unabated and unchecked fish farming developments in designated areas”.

Pollution incidents up by 100%

Irish salmon farmers are not the only ones flouting the law. Figures obtained from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency under the Freedom of Environmental Information Regulations reveal that Scottish salmon farmers have racked up £17,500 worth of fines and over fifty pollution incidents since 1997. Revealing over 50 pollution incidents exclusively in The Sunday Herald award-winning Environment correspondent Rob Edwards wrote: “According to Sepa, one of the worst incidents, on the Morvern peninsula by the Sound of Mull in September, resulted in 'sewage fungus blanketing the River Rannoch'. At Loch Erisort on the Isle of Lewis in August there were 'decaying salmon' floating in the loch after a net allegedly burst. While on the River Ailort, west of Fort William, in December, there were 'prominent fungal growths' and 'scum deposits'. Incidents in previous years included 'grease heavily coating cages' in Loch Hourn, Knoydart; 'blood water leaking into the harbour' at Portree, Skye; and reports of sea lochs being 'turned red' near Tarbert, Harris. In November 2001, at Wharry Burn, Dunblane, there was a complaint about 'green foam' caused by the use of a cancer-causing chemical, malachite green, to clean fish cages”. The worst offenders in terms of prosecutions are Aquascot (owned by the Norwegian company Mainstream – formerly Cermaq), Shetland Intensive Smolts Ltd, Marine Harvest (owned by the Dutch multinational Nutreco), Corrie Mhor Salmon Ltd, Scottish Seafarms Ltd and Setter Ness Salmon who were ejected from the Shetland Seafood Quality Control scheme last year after being fined £6,000 for the illegal use of ivermectin.

Maine salmon farmers in the dock

The courthouse seems to have become the second home of salmon farmers in Maine, USA. Maine’s largest salmon farmer, Atlantic Salmon of Maine (a subsidiary of the Norwegian company Fjord Seafood), have been found in contempt of court and threatened with fines of $100,000 a day. The Fjord Seafood subsidiary was in violation of the Clean Water Act and of a court order banning the introduction of more fish into the company's sea cages. The ruling was handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Gene Carter in a Clean Water Act lawsuit brought against ASM by the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) and two Maine residents. According to the National Environmental Law Centre, “The contempt ruling is the latest setback for the salmon farm industry, which has come under increased scrutiny in Maine and worldwide for its adverse effects on the environment and for questionable growing practices”. Judge Carter’s 29-page opinion is available on-line. Maine Today reports that “Atlantic Salmon's action and the contempt order are a sign of the rising tension surrounding the future of salmon farming in Maine. The battle over some aquaculture practices - especially the farming of fish that have European genetic strains - is expected to culminate in the coming weeks as both the federal court and the Maine Board of Environmental Protection issue long-awaited rules to enforce the Clean Water Act”. For more information on salmon farming in Maine ...

Sneak copulations threaten wild salmon

New research published in the June issue of Ecology Letters shows that sneaky male farmed salmon are copulating so ferociously with wild female salmon that escapees threaten the native biodiversity and integrity of natural communities. In species of salmon it was believed that the threat from the spread of domesticated traits in the wild was reduced by poor reproductive success of males escaping from netpens. However, this new scientific research indicates that the male offspring of farm spawners mature precociously in freshwater darting in next to the female's ovipositor at spawning and fertilizing large numbers of eggs. Specifically, hybrid parr had 57% and wild parr 25% the success of farm parr. The full paper – ‘Alternative male life-history tactics as potential vehicles for speeding introgression of farm salmon traits into wild populations’ – can be accessed via the Blackwell-Synergy web-site. The research echoes findings published last year in New Scientist showing an “extinction vortex” and research from the Queens University Belfast highlighting the risks posed by escapees. Escapes from salmon farms now exceed over 2 million a year.

French say “Non” to ‘fatty’ and ‘tasteless’ farmed salmon

The French consumer magazine Que Choisir have served up another pasting to Scottish and Norwegian farmed salmon (France is a big market for Scottish and Norwegian farmed salmon). Their May cover story – “Poisson – sauvage ou elevage?” – asked people to choose between wild or farmed salmon. Several articles inside detailed the cocktails of chemicals, colourings and contaminants found in farmed salmon leaving thousands of readers in no doubt that the only natural choice was wild salmon. A jury composed of chefs and culinary journalists chefs blind-tasted wild and farmed salmon ranking each fish on a scale going from ‘very unpleasant’ to ‘very pleasant’. In the taste tests, the wild salmon was awarded 13.5 (out of 20), the Norwegian farmed salmon scoring 10 and the Scottish ‘Label Rouge’ limping in behind with 8.5. The tasteless Scottish farmed salmon did top the charts in one aspect though – it was highest in terms of fat, with 17.43g of lipids/100g compared to 12.05g/100g for Norwegian salmon and 8.23g/100g for the wild salmon. As Que Choisir commented: “Fattier. Less tasty, less healthy and furthermore polluting the environment... farmed fish suffers from a genuine bad image”. The findings are a particular embarrassment for Scottish Quality Salmon who keep carping on about their “prestigious” ‘Label Rouge’ quality mark aimed specifically at the French market. With gourmet French chefs giving ‘Label Rouge’ fatty and tasteless farmed salmon wide berth it is red faces all round at Scottish Quality Salmon. Last year, SQS celebrated the 10th birthday of ‘Label Rouge’ farmed salmon. “The image of Label Rouge in France is about top of the range, superior quality,” said Hélène Forman, responsible for promoting Label Rouge Scottish salmon in France. “Products must demonstrate quality, especially regarding taste. This is what consumers look for”.

Heat turns up in Hawaii

Multinational companies are viewing Hawaii’s Class AA/A pristine coastal waters as prime real estate. According to West Hawaii Today, Ahi Nui (a company backed by Canadian investors) plans to catch bigeye and yellowfin tuna in the wild and raise them in the pens off North Kohala. The 216-acre proposal is attracting local opposition from Ka’makani ‘O Kohala Ohana (also known as Kako’o) – a group comprised of fishermen, divers, surfers, paddlers and others who use the coastal waters. In a letter to the Government, Kako’o President Mark Grandoni said that such open pen aquaculture has developed a “global track record for being environmentally unfriendly and polluting” and that “open pen fish farming (which is basically an agricultural feed lot) is in effect using the marine environment as an open sewer”. Kako’o have also submitted a petition and have managed to delay the development for 9-12 months whilst the company produce an Environmental Statement. “We have a stake in the area. We live there and we fish there. What if it gets polluted? We can't just pull up our stakes and fish somewhere else,” said Andy Ho, a member of the Kawaihae Fishing Association. “We'd like to see the Kawaihae area have something for our children and our children's children”. According to the Honolulu Star Tribune “The controversy is being watched closely by others involved in the fledgling open-ocean farming industry here. ‘We're on the frontier here’, said John Corbin, manager of the aquaculture development program in the state Department of Agriculture. Ahi Nui's project is one of four ventures that are seeking or have gotten leases and permits to use state ocean waters for aquaculture”.

Cancer-causing chemical found in Japanese fish

The Japanese Government have stepped up food safety testing of seafood after illegal and carcinogenic chemicals were found on fish farms and in fish. According to Kyodo News, shipments from blowfish farms were stopped after officials in Nagasaki prefecture uncovered that 60% of farmers have been using formalin – a carcinogenic and banned chemical. Nagasaki, Japan’s top producer of farm-raised blowfish, found that since 2001, 95 of 151 operators of blowfish farms in the prefecture have been using formalin. It urged farms to halt sales of the 1.66 million blowfish on which the chemical has been used, nearly half the total of 3.59 million cultivated in the prefecture. 'We apologize to consumers around the country,' Nagasaki Gov. Genjiro Kaneko said at an emergency news conference. The prefecture confirmed that 1.83 million blowfish on which formalin was used were sold from farms there last year. Formalin has been widely used on trout and salmon farms in Europe and North America. The problem is so serious in Japan that campaigners have set up a group to prevent the use of formalin. According to Motosuke Matsumoto, over 1,800 tonnes of antibiotics and antibacterial agents are produced every year for the Japanese aquaculture industry. The Japanese Government are now stepping up the testing of seafood products.