The Salmon Farm Monitor
International News, June 2004
Speaking for the Salmon
A web-site well worth checking out is Simon Fraser University’s “Speaking for the Salmon”. The “Speaking for the Salmon” series examines issues impacting the survival of wild salmon in British Columbia (and beyond). Projects in the series include workshops, think tanks, proceedings and video presentations. Online now are papers from last year’s World Salmon Summit including “Wild Atlantic salmon in Europe” (Kjetil Hindar), “Wild Atlantic salmon in North America” (Fred Whorisky” and “Net-pen salmon farming: failing on two fronts – an eco-footprint analysis” (Bill Rees). The web-site also includes details of a community workshop held in January this year to review sea lice studies in the Broughton Archipelego.
“Wild salmon’s most powerful champion”
Someone who does more than her fair share of speaking up for wild salmon in the Broughton Archipelego is Alexandra Morton (featured last year in our ‘Guest Column’). “To some people she's a heroine because she's blown the whistle on the dangers of salmon farming on the coast of British Columbia,” reports a TV documentary - “Alexandra’s Echo” - broadcast in Canada last month. “To others, she’s the crackpot who has misunderstood fish farms”. Whatever the side of the fish farming fence you sit on you cannot ignore her. “Alexandra is wild salmon's most powerful champion, a single woman and mother of two, in a little boat, on a wild coast, challenging the future of fish farming. The film follows Alexandra Morton through a season in her urgent campaign to prove the real and awful cost of fish farming. This woman, who is happiest alone in her boat listening to whales, has become a reluctant activist, drawing the world's attention to her home of Echo Bay, now one of the most concentrated areas of fish farms in the world”.
Alexandra’s “Bear Witness with Me” report (published regularly by Raincoast Research) is a must read and must make the Canadian Government question its blanket support for Atlantic salmon farming in the Pacific. “Over the past several years I have felt on occasion that events in the Broughton Archipelago must be witnessed widely - today is one of those times,” she writes in the May issue. “Since 2001 I have been studying an unprecedented appearance of sea lice on wild juvenile salmon in the heavily salmon farmed waters of the Broughton Archipelago. After identifying the epidemic in 2001, a cohort of authors and I looked at pink and chum fry coastwide and found sea lice only on young salmon near salmon farms. Last year 11 salmon farms were fallowed in the Broughton and sea lice numbers fell dramatically and significantly. This year the farm salmon are back in the pens and the lice are back with a vengeance. The relationship is undeniable…..This scenario has replayed world wide, wherever salmon farms enter wild salmon waters”.
Morton’s warnings from British Columbia must be heard the world over – be it in Chile, Norway, the Faroes, Ireland or Scotland. “Every morning I pick up the dying from a short stretch of Tribune. Listless, emaciated, so stunned they do not hear my boat or see my hand reaching for them, these fish will never go to sea. Entire schools are only a few days or hours behind these dying fish, allowing me to stop and stare at their ruined bodies. Some tilt and sink, wiggle briefly then sink again. As a young graduate student here tells me every evening, ‘It's carnage out there’…..A large public resource is being annihilated by sheer sloppiness”. She ends her lament for wild salmon with: “Please do what you can to stop this reckless, senseless carnage of a fish so abundant and generous it should be held sacred and passed to the next generation”.
Gloom amid boom in Chile
The depressing situation is certainly not restricted to Canadian salmon farming. An article – “Gloom amid boom in farmed salmon” – in the May issue of EcoAmericas tackles the growing problem of salmon farming in Chile. “In a purely economic sense, Chilean salmon farming in recent years has made astounding strides,” writes Santiago-based journalist James Langman. “All along, however, environmental questions have loomed. And over the past year they have cast a particularly menacing shadow….2003 certainly will be a year Chile’s salmon industry would prefer to forget”.
Alex Brown, director of the environment department of Chile’s Fishing Undersecretariat, claims that the government is clamping down, albeit slowly, on cowboy operators. “It’s a slow process….but the salmon companies are starting to comply,” says Brown. According to Doris Soto, a marine biologist at Austral University in Puerto Montt: “The government is trying to do its best but it’s not concerned enough with the impacts of salmon on the aquatic environment.” Juan Carl Cardenas, executive director of Ecoceanos is even less generous. “The industry has been continuing to engage in green washing, claiming advances,” he says. “In reality, they have a long way to go. The salmon farming industry for 20 years has been ruining the lakes, rivers and coastline. Chileans can’t afford to continue subsidizing salmon company profits with environmental pollution and cheap labour”.
Regular readers of the Salmon Farm Monitor will be familiar with the widely publicised problems of malachite green contamination and antibiotic contamination of Chilean farmed salmon. However, less well documented is the contamination of Chilean farmed salmon with cancer-causing chemicals such as PCBs and dioxins. In the furore surrounding the publication of the Science paper in January much of the press attention focussed on the contamination of Scottish, Faroese and Norwegian farmed salmon. In fact, Chilean farmed salmon was found to be the most contaminated of all farmed salmon with respect to 6 out of the 13 toxins tested. “Chilean farmed salmon, in comparison with farmed salmon in Europe and North America, was found to have elevated concentrations of six toxins – PCBs, dioxins, dieldrin, cis-nonachlor, total DDT and mirex,” reports Langman.
Fish transgenes can go wild
A New Scientist article – “Fish transgenes can go wild” (15th May) – reports on new research showing how GM fish can contaminate wild fish stocks. “Genetically modified salmon are able to spread their modified genes to wild fish, which could be bad news for biotech firms hoping to commercialise the technology. Fish engineered to grow quickly look and act differently to native fish. But now Cindy Bessey, a fish biologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and her colleagues have shown they can still interbreed. Of nine pairs of transgenic and normal coho salmon placed into stream-like aquaria, five spawned, Bessey reported last week at the World Fisheries Congress in Vancouver”. Dr Bessey’s work(supervised by Professor Robert Devlin at Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Vancouver) on transgenic salmon spawning is due to be published in the scientific press later this year.
The World Fisheries Congress meeting also debated the issue of fish farming. According to Broadcast News (4th May) “There are sharply different views on the effect of fish farms on wild salmon at the World Fisheries Congress in Vancouver. Dr. Daniel Pauly, the director of UBC's Fisheries Centre, says the B-C government and fish farms are to blame for an unfolding disaster on the coast. He says it's a pattern he's seen in other places around the globe where there has been an unwillingness to learn from previous experience. However, another member of the UBC Fisheries Centre denies that fish farming is to blame. Dr. Carl Walters says there's a catastrophic decline in a couple of salmon species on the coast, but there's no way fish farming is the cause”. Yeah right – and GE salmon escapes pose no risk at all!
DNA vaccines pave way for Dolly the salmon?
More genetic tinkering in the pipeline (or more pertinently in the syringe) are injectible DNA vaccines. According to Fish Farming International (May) “the best practical salmon aquaculture genetics programme in the world” has just been unveiled. The £230,000 research project, backed by the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council) in the UK, the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture Genetic Research Group, Landcatch Ltd and the Roslin Institute, is developing genetic tests to improve disease resistance in farmed salmon. “The three-year project is highly technical and at the cutting edge of genetic knowledge,” gushes Fish Farming International. “It is a tremendous boost,” says Professor Ron Roberts (technical director of Landcatch), “to have the Roslin Institute, a world class player by any standards – as their work with ‘Dolly the sheep’ showed – endorsing salmon genetics in this very significant way. Aquaculture can now join pork and poultry production as a genetics-led industry capable of utilising all of the advantages of breeding technology for improving the health and welfare of our stocks.”
Other companies around the world are also looking to cash in on the worldwide demand for vaccines, especially against Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis – a disease that has plagued the Norwegian, Chilean and Scottish salmon farming sector. According to a report – “IPN in Salmonids” - published last year by Norwegian and Scottish scientists the industrial development of DNA vaccines is gathering pace faster than a genetically engineered salmon. The Norwegian company Intervet Nobio, for example, “has developed a new series of injectible vaccines for salmon including purification and concentration of recombinant IPNV antigen produced in E.Coli”. Another Norwegian company, Alpharma, already have “a bivalent IPN vaccine formulation for the Chilean market currently under field evaluation”. And the Canadian company Microtek International “has announced the development of a recombinant IPNV vaccine based upon a new expression system in E.Coli which is being tested in experimental and field trials in Chile”. Makes you wonder if Dolly the salmon has already escaped doesn’t it?
Farmed salmon – finger lickin’ good?
Chicken tonight anyone? If the answer’s no you may be better off steering clear of Canadian farmed salmon. According to information obtained by the Raincoast Conservation Society from rendering plants in British Columbia and US court documents, chicken parts, including blood, carcasses, and feathers, are ingredients in farmed salmon feed. West Coast Reduction Ltd., which services BC’s slaughtering facilities, has informed Raincoast Conservation Society that farmed salmon feed companies purchase different combinations of rendered products including chicken remains and chicken blood meal. This substantiates that practices in BC parallel those outlined in US District Court of Maine documents from 2002. These documents revealed that a subsidiary of George Weston’s Heritage Salmon utilized feed containing chicken feathers, chicken blood, and chicken carcasses. Heritage was charged for polluting the marine environment and paid a $750,000 out of court settlement. Chicken parts are approved for use in fish feed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the CFIA confirmed that undersized chickens culled in connection with the avian-flu outbreaks are being processed for animal feed as well as food for human consumption.
“From PCB contamination, to sea lice outbreaks, to this current fish feed controversy, consumers are fed up with this industry’s lack of accountability to them and the environment,” said Theresa Rothenbush, Salmon Aquaculture Specialist for the Raincoast Conservation Society. “We are calling for mandatory labeling and full disclosure of the exact ingredients, including chemical and drug inputs, being used to produce farmed salmon. Government and industry continue to resist supporting the creation of federal labeling laws. The lack of such laws makes Canada inferior to many other jurisdictions. For example, since January 2002 European Union labeling laws have required retailers to clearly state whether or not the salmon they sell is wild or farmed, its country of origin, and the area of production. In addition some jurisdictions are required to label for additives to farmed fish”. The revelation that Canadian farmed salmon may be fed on chicken feathers, chicken blood, and chicken carcasses comes only a few months after The Salmon Farm Monitor revealed that New Zealand salmon farmers were using chicken feathers in their salmon feed. Paul Steere, Chief Executive of New Zealand King Salmon, claimed live on New Zealand Radio that salmon farmers in Chile, North America and even Europe were using Land Animal Protein (LAP). At the World Aquaculture Society 2004 annual conference in Hawaii earlier this year (March) the Poultry Protein and Fat Council were certainly keen to hawk their feathered fats to bird-brain fish farmers. Whatever next?
Pigging out on farmed salmon
Pigs in farmed fish feed – you’re pulling my chicken leg aren’t you? Many consumers will be aware that farmed salmon is so fatty that is it on a par with bacon (New Zealand King Salmon is up to 27% fat and Scottish farmed salmon can reach up to 18% fat). Most people are blissfully ignorant though of the use of pig fats and pig’s blood in farmed fish diets. Pork products (as well as fats, protein, feathers, bones etc from chickens, sheep, cattle and other LAP) all find their way into fish feeds all over the world.
Go on, pull the other one – you must be telling porkies! Afraid not. The headline - “Blood products are back on the menu” - in the May issue of Fish Farming International is enough to make your blood boil. “Since last September, the EU has allowed non-ruminant blood products and blood meal and bone phosphates to again be used in the manufacture of feeds for the aquaculture industry,” reports the industry’s trade paper. It is therefore perfectly legal to use pig’s blood and other products in farmed salmon diets.
Before the ban in the late 1990s (due to concerns over BSE) salmon farmers in Europe used chicken, pig and other LAP products in fish diets. Nutreco (owners of Marine Harvest and one of Europe’s largest pig and poultry farmers) claim they removed the offending material from European salmon feeds in 1997. If the European Animal Protein Association (EAPA) have their way Marine Harvest and other salmon farming company will be back using pig products sooner that you can say “It’s cheaper that fish feed and is not contaminated with PCBs and dioxins”. At Aquaculture International 2004 (held last month in Glasgow), EAPA were busy showing off their pig products. “Blood products can replace fishmeal and help to decrease the global pressure on marine raw materials,” claim EAPA. “Utilisation of these proteins in aqua feed will not only be beneficial for the aqua feed industry but will also strengthen the sustainability of the EU meat processing industry by re-introducing an added value for one of their by-products”.
Only a few exhibition stands along from EAPA, the fish feed manufacturer Skretting (a subsidiary of Nutreco) was watching with interest. In Australia, Skretting already use animal products in fish feed for farmed barramundi and have experimented on the use of blood, feathermeal and rendered animal products in Tasmanian farmed salmon. How long before the European salmon farming industry opens the door once again to pig’s blood, chicken fats and feather meal?
Homalco say no to salmon farming
In view of all the sea lice, escapes, contamination and waste problems (not the mention the chicken feathers) associated with Canadian salmon farming it is not surprising that farmed salmon is not the flavour of the month. Writing in The Tyee (4th May), Quentin Dodd reports on how another First Nation band – the Homalco – have given salmon farming the cold shoulder: “A B.C. First Nation that was looking to begin salmon farming has dramatically reversed course by closing ranks with an environmental organization it once opposed. The two groups signed an unusual cooperation agreement to help protect a lengthy stretch of the Canadian West Coast against the fish farming industry”. The Xwemalhkwu (Homalco) First Nation and the Georgia Strait Alliance (GSA) will now work together for the restoration and preservation of marine waters in Bute Inlet – the traditional home base of the Homalco - and its surrounding area.
“Wild salmon are integral to our culture and to the well being of Bute Inlet,” said Chief Darren Blaney of the Homalco. “Signing this protocol with the Georgia Strait Alliance is another step towards protecting and restoring this precious resource in our traditional territory. We want to continue to build bridges as we work towards economic development that does not put our marine environment, and the industries that depend upon it, at risk”. Last year the band decided to back out of a deal with Heritage Aquaculture to allow fish farms in traditional Homalco territory.
This latest alliance sends a clear signal to salmon farming companies wanting to encroach upon First Nation territory: hands off. Jim Manly, Board President of the Georgia Strait Alliance, told the Courier-Islander (1st May). “XwEmalhkwu (Homalco) and the Georgia Strait Alliance have recently collaborated with researchers studying the interactions of sea-lice between wild and farmed salmon. We hope to help address the lack of research on the impacts of net cage fish farming that exists in the lower Johnstone Strait and Bute Inlet area”.
Full steam ahead for wild Alaskan salmon
In the wake of Birds Eye’s decision to jump ship and use only wild Alaskan salmon, cruise ships in Alaska are being urged to boycott farmed salmon. More than 1,000 people, including politicians, commercial fishermen and representatives of industry organizations have signed a letter to the cruise lines urging them to serve wild salmon. The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council have also held a barbecue to celebrate one of Southeast Alaska's core industries. In a taste testing between wild and farmed fish it was no contest. “Bob Johnson of Denver took one bite of wild Alaska salmon and quickly offered his first impression to his wife, Joyce,” reports the Juneau Empire (13th May). “Honey, when you get on the boat, say, 'If this isn't wild salmon, stuff from the ocean here, don't bring it to me,'” he said. “If it's from some farm, tell them to keep it at the farm”.
Serving wild Alaska salmon on cruise ships will provide a valuable market to Southeast Alaska fishermen, said Russell Heath, executive director of the Sotheast Alaskan Conservation Council. “We're working with sectors of Southeast's economy that depend on the environment - clean water, clean air and a magnificent forest – for their livelihoods”. And that means no place at the Captain’s table for farmed salmon.
The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) is also taking the message to the skies. A new in-flight video appeared on United Airlines flights during the month of May, More than 1,400,000 travelers were encouraged to “Ask for Alaska” when it comes to seafood, “because it is healthy, pure, abundant and wild”. According to ASMI “Alaska Seafood is additive-free and provides healthful, natural vitamins, minerals, nutrients and heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats”.
Crazy about wild salmon
Consumers are migrating to wild salmon. “Crazy about Wild Salmon” reports The Oregonian (11th May). “Consumers want wild chinook and are willing to pay this year's higher prices,” writes Leslie Cole. “Some people get feverish when the first crocuses push through the ground. Others see magic in the first snowflake. In the Northwest, what gets a fish lover's heart pumping is the arrival of local wild salmon. And this year it's not just locals who are clamoring for wild-caught chinook from Northwest waters. News stories about farmed salmon have triggered interest in wild salmon, according to seafood distributors”.
“Anyone can serve farmed salmon - farmed salmon is the ubiquitous jug wine of California,” says Roger Berkowitz, president of Legal Sea Foods. “Wild salmon are the boutique varietals - the chardonnays, the fume blancs. A lot of people's palates were whet with generic salmon, and now they want something better. I'm in the fish business, and I've got to provide that to them,” he told the Associated Press (9th May). If you are crazy enough to choose cheap and nasty farmed salmon then the message is clear: wash it down with a cheap bottle of plonk – don’t ruin a good bottle of wine.