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International News, March 2003

Fish farming “devastating stocks”

A new report by WWF – “Food for Thought: the Use of Marine Resources in Fish Feed” reveals that salmon, trout, tuna, sea bream and cod reared in farms consume about 70 percent of the global production of fish oil and 34 percent of the world’s fishmeal. About one-third of total annual fish catches are destined for fish feed, according to WWF. By 2010 the rapidly growing aquaculture industry could well be using all of the world’s fish oil and half of its fishmeal. Simon Cripps, director of the WWF's Endangered Seas Program was quoted by CNN as saying: “In its current state, aquaculture is contributing to an increased pressure on already depleted fish stocks” and said a decline of stocks used in fish feed could have “devastating effects throughout the marine feed chain from wild stocks of cod, haddock, and other commercial species right on up to dolphins, orcas and marine birds”.

Canadian documentary leaves fish farmers in a flap

CBC’s damning ‘Disclosure’ documentary – “Fish Farm Flap” - broadcast on 4th February in Canada is having Chernobyl-like consequences. One of the largest PR companies in the world is now trying to defuse the “ticking time-bomb”. Not only has the expose led to the resignation of one fisheries minister but also the new fisheries minister is under fire for his financial links to fish farmers. Nor did he exactly help his cause by committing a gaffe of GM salmon proportions in the Canadian Parliament: “Attempting to defend his government from those who claim it is in the pocket of the fish farming lobby - which raises Atlantic salmon in net pens in the ocean - Stan Hagen, the new fisheries minister, clarified everything in the legislature Wednesday. The most important salmon on the West Coast of Canada, on the coast of British Columbia, is the Atlantic salmon’, Hagen told the legislature before quickly correcting himself. ‘I mean it's the wild salmon. Pardon me. It’s the wild salmon . . . actually, I have a fair amount of experience in dealing with wild salmon’. Thanks, Stan, say no more” explains Jim Beattie in The Vancouver Sun (12th February). Further information on the campaign against salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelego can be viewed at Alexandra Morton’s excellent web-site.

Protests make waves Down Under

Stormy waters lie ahead for Australia’s expansion plans for aquaculture (the Government recently announced that it will treble by 2010 and aquaculture is already worth more than the wine industry). Opponents of kingfish farms have launched a petition in an attempt to get the Australian State Government to declare a moratorium on any new fish farm development. Trevor Watts said “We still believe there should be a moratorium on kingfish farming until a range of issues are resolved, particularly the fish escaping. We would also like to know the measurements of the chemicals and antibiotics that are used and is the industry taking note of overseas experience?”. “Save The Bay” protestors in Queensland, Australia, have set up a web-site to fight a snapper and yellowtail kingfish farm in Moreton Bay marine park. Over in New Zealand the “Protect Peach Cove” campaign has won a notable victory. Plans to establish a fin-fish farm in the pristine waters of Peach Cove, adjacent to Northland’s Bream Head Reserve have been halted.

No salmon farms, no sea lice

“Virtually no sea lice found in areas with no salmon farms” revealed the David Suzuki Foundation on 20th February as they unveiled a groundbreaking new report: “A Baseline Report of the Incidence of Sea Lice on Juvenile Salmonids on British Columbia’s North Coast”. The Foundation sponsored the study to determine the natural background levels of lice infestation before salmon farms intervened in the natural ecology. Researchers sampled 566 juvenile salmon from 26 distinct locations and found only six lice in total (an average of 0.01 lice per fish). As few as two lice can kill a juvenile salmon but at the height of a huge lice infestation in the Broughton Archipelego, the greatest concentration of salmon farms in British Columbia, as many as 23 lice were counted with an average of 11.21 lice per fish. This infestation rate is 1,120 times higher than that in non-salmon farming areas. The Foundation report explains that: “These results are extremely significant and indicate that juvenile salmonids adjacent to extensive salmon farm operations are exposed to much higher levels of sea lice infestations than is found in more pristine, natural habitat where salmon net-cage aquaculture is absent”. Both the governments of Canada and British Columbia were invited to participate in the study but declined. “This is research the government should be doing before any salmon farms are allowed in those waters” said Otto Langer, director of the Foundation’s marine conservation program.

Irish salmon farming crisis goes global

Salmon farmers in Ireland are reeling from an article - “Lessons not learned in Ireland: Sea trout once supported a thriving business - until sea lice wiped them out”- in The Vancouver Sun (22nd February). “The awful thing is about lessons not learned. What we're hearing from Canada is that the sea lice are a factor where salmon farms are located on the salmon migration routes. It's all deja vu. It's the most frustrating thing to hear what's happened here has now happened in B.C” said Greg Forde of Ireland’s Western Regional Fisheries Board. Seamus Hartigan, manager of the Galway salmon fishery, echoes Forde's sense of history repeating itself: “It happened in Norway for years and we didn't pay any attention. It's happened in Ireland and you are not paying attention. Do you want to learn by other people's mistakes or do you want to learn by your own mistakes? Norway had some of the best rivers in the world for the production of massive salmon -- they are just gone. Why couldn't we learn from that? Why can't you learn from us? Is the B.C. government willing to make a place in the scheme of things for indigenous species?”. Crying into his pint Peter Mantle, who owns a once-great wild sea trout fishery, lamented: “Almost overnight we became a fishing lodge with no fish - a pub with no beer”. Read more on the Irish campaign to stop salmon farming ...

Fish farm free fjords

Friends of the Earth Norway are calling on the Norwegian Parliament to introduce “fish farm free fjords”. “Norwegian rivers are the most important spawning grounds for Atlantic salmon. About 50% of Norway’s 500 known stocks of salmon are extinct, threatened or vulnerable. We have to save not only Norway’s but also the rest of Europe’s salmon stocks. Previously the Atlantic salmon could be found all the way from Portugal to Russia. Gradually this area has been reduced to the extent that today Atlantic salmon in noticeable numbers are only found in the British Isles, Ireland and Iceland in addition to Norway. Norwegian rivers are the most important spawning grounds for Atlantic salmon, and Norway therefore has an international responsibility for the Atlantic salmon” says FoE Norway. Norwegian salmon farmers are making a strong case for “fish farm free fjords” by allowing thousands of farmed fish to escape. Last month it was revealed that over 600,000 salmon and trout had escaped from Norwegian farms during 2002 but already this year over 200,000 salmon have escaped.

“Listeria still a problem for Norwegian smoked salmon to US”

The news for the Norwegian industry just keeps getting worse. According to Intrafish (10th February): “Norwegian smoked salmon cargos were stopped en route to the US because of lethal listeria monocytogenes bacteria four times last year”. In an investigation of smoked salmon producers, carried out by Norway’s Directorate of Fisheries last year, it emerged that 3.7 per cent of samples were infected with Listeria monocytogenes (with over 400,000 tonnes of salmon farmed in Norway each year that represents almost 15,000 tonnes of contaminated salmon). Listeria can be fatal for children, the elderly, the pregnant and the sick with ca. 500 related deaths reported annually in the US. Norway is not the only country with a listeria problem. Over the last few years, the US Food and Drug Administration have issued safety alerts recalling Scottish, Danish and Irish salmon. Mmm – lovely farmed salmon marinaded in Malachite green, dripping in dioxins and served with lashings of listeria ...

“Farmed salmon is safe salmon”?!

The Norwegians are not the only industry fighting a losing PR battle trying to sell farmed salmon as ‘safe’. Faced with a barrage of negative press coverage in the wake of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform’s ‘Farmed and Dangerous’ campaign, the B.C. Salmon Farmers’ Association have been forced to defend their fatty, contaminated and artificially coloured product. Read “Farmed salmon is safe salmon” and compare with “Good fish, bad fish?”. The international consequences are considerable. An editorial – “Salmon industry turmoil in BC is major threat” - in Seafood News (7th February) stated that: “For the larger seafood industry, this is not something that should be looked on as just a problem in radical British Columbia. The war can spill over into the wider market, and create a huge public controversy over farmed salmon at the time when salmon is the first farmed seafood product to make the leap into a mass market commodity ... These grievances cannot be ignored, because they will lead to a war in the industry that will ultimately disrupt markets, and diminish the value of seafood for all of us”.

Canadian salmon farmers send in the PR war machine

Following the storm of negative publicity caused by the CBC documentary, the B.C. Salmon Farmers’ Association have hired one of North America’s largest PR firms. According to Raincoast Conservation Society, Hill and Knowlton is “a multinational PR firm that specializes in representing totalitarian governments and corporate polluters”. Hill and Knowlton’s horrific experiences with Three Mile Island, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Tiananmen Square, East Timor and the Gulf War (see Corporate Watch for a list of their clients) may turn out to be a walk in the park compared to selling the idea of farmed salmon as “safe”. The thankless task of turning fatty, artificially coloured and cancer-contaminated farmed salmon into a healthy product will be a makeover of Marlboro-man proportions. “If this is truly a safe product, and if it wasn’t harming the environment, they would have no need to go to such a firm. I think this is really an admission they have a ticking time bomb that’s waiting to explode and they need a lot of help dealing with it. Here, during the same week when they’re denying there’s anything wrong with sea lice, they’re hiring a large public relations firm who has a history of putting a positive spin on environmental and social disasters” said Ian McAllister of the Raincoast Conservation Society. The “War on the Water” (as the Canadian press have dubbed the current fight) has lit a blue touch-paper that looks set to be a burning international issue over the coming year.

“A little E161g with your fish, madam?”

The safety of Scottish salmon took yet another battering in The Sunday Times with the splash “A little E161g with your fish, madam?” (2nd February) complete with a colour photo of a farmed salmon and the caption “The Colour of Money”. According to author Nick Thorpe: “It’s not the first time that Scotland’s farm-bred salmon have found themselves in need of some remedial PR. Compared to the popular image of the migratory king of fish, leaping up waterfalls in its epic struggle to reach the spawning ground, it can be disappointing to realise that most of the salmon on supermarket shelves has lived a chemically altered life. Canthaxanthin is the least of shoppers’ worries, according to campaigners. Despite well-documented health benefits, farmed salmon has been shown in studies to be one of the most contaminated foods on the shelf due to accumulation of pollutants from the world’s oceans. Chemicals in your average salmon steak can include poisonous pesticides, cancer-causing PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and “gender-bender” chemicals known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) that disrupt hormones."

This is not the first time The Sunday Times has hammered farmed salmon. Back in November 2002 Sheherazde Goldsmith wrote: “In his early days, Napolean described one of his many rivals as a shit in silk stockings. With the expansion of fish farming, sadly, you could say the same about the modern salmon. Once considered the king of fish, this handsome creature has been largely replaced by a fluorescent, fatty impostor, whose very existence is jeopardising real salmon”. And who can forget the award-winning article – “Fish or foul? Tuck into this: salmon's flesh is flushed with chemicals, not health, and its farming as cruel as that of any battery hen” - by Richard Girling in September 2001 which included: “To restore their appeal they are fed on pellets containing artificial colour, graded so that farmers can choose the exact shade they want. So persistent are these dyes that they tone the excrement to match".