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International News, April 2005

Friends of Wild Salmon

A “Save Our Salmon” summit held in Terrace, British Columbia (7th May), left Norwegian multinational Pan Fish in no doubt that their polluting presence is not welcome on the Skeena River. 450 people packed into the Friends of Wild Salmon event and the unanimous view from First Nations, tourist operators, recreational fishermen, lodge owners and commercial fisherman was a resounding “No” to salmon farms on the Skeena. “The whole question of salmon resources is fundamental to aboriginal society,” said Dave Porter of the First Nations Summit. “What we heard from the scientists today is: salmon farms kill a lot of salmon. If that is the case, then we are looking at a huge impact on the culture of the people who depend on this resource, an impact that would be devastating to say the least. So the First Nation Summit follows Friends of the Wild Salmon in calling for a moratorium. Our responsibility is to let the government hear clearly how we feel. And I’d like to add my personal view as to what should be done in this case, and that is: get them out of the water, put them on the land”. Chief Bill Cranmer of the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk First Nation said: “I’ll tell you what we have seen in our own eyes, in our territory in the Broughton Archipelago. As we speak, the sea lice are killing the salmon farm. We cannot over-emphasize the danger of the open-net fish farm operations, not only to the salmon, but to the clams, the herring, and everything that swims in the ocean. We have been opposing the fish farms in our territory right from the start. You hear the Premier and all the other ministers saying, “We have the strictest regulations in the world”. But they won’t enforce them. If they enforced the regulations, these fish farms wouldn’t be in our territories”.

Escapes in Norway

A new report - “On the run: Escaped farmed fish in Norwegian waters” – warns against the impact of farmed fish escapees worldwide. The WWF Norway report calculated that 50% of Norwegian rivers are “impacted” by escaped farmed fish. In some regions of Norway such as Hordaland county, 86% of “wild” salmon is of farmed origin. “Escaped farmed fish should be considered an introduced species, as they disturb the integrity of coastal and river ecosystems,” the report notes. “The aquaculture industry is growing rapidly, and there is an urgent need to adopt a more precautionary approach to the introduction of new species for aquaculture”. WWF Norway now wants to see all farmed salmon tagged to identify escapees. “Every year approximately a half million farmed salmon and farmed rainbow trout escape from Norwegian farm facilities. At the same time we know that the total influx of wild salmon each year is around 700,000,” said WWF Norway’s Maren Esmark. The Norwegian Seafood Federation claims that escapees caught in Norwegian waters could be from elsewhere. “Even though the figures show an increased percentage of farmed salmon in the number of fish caught in open waters, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are Norwegian farmed salmon,” said Lisbeth Berg-Hansen in an interview with the Norwegian newspaper VG (16th May). “Studies show that salmon that have escaped in the Faroe Islands; have been fished in Norway.” Tagging of farmed salmon with country of origin labels would resolve the problem and identify the culprits.

Fugitive salmon

Another report – “Fugitive salmon: assessing the risks of escaped fish from net pen aquaculture” – was published by an international team of scientists in the May issue of Bioscience (the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences). Professor Rosamond Naylor of Stanford University and her nine co-authors identify a “substantial risk” to wild salmon stocks posed by salmon escaping from marine farm cages. The report calculates that an estimated two million farm Atlantic salmon escape each year into the North Atlantic, and millions more have escaped on the western coasts of North American and South America. “Farm Atlantic salmon are more aggressive and faster-growing than native fish, with which they compete for food,” says the scientific report. “Interbreeding with native salmon stocks leads to long-term loss of fitness and productivity in wild populations and threatens their genetic diversity. Moreover, farmed salmon appear to have transmitted parasites and infections to wild stocks. Escaped farm salmon are now successfully breeding in the wild in Norway, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and North America. Incipient feral Atlantic salmon populations have been found in rivers in British Columbia and South America”. Naylor and her co-authors point out that understanding the risks associated with escapes from salmon farms is especially important because net-pen aquaculture of many fish species is expanding. Other marine finfish now being farmed include Atlantic cod, sablefish, halibut, Pacific threadfin, mutton snapper, bluefin tuna, turbot, sea bass, and sea bream.

Macquarie Harbour “like an abattoir” after salmon escape

Mayor Darryl Gerrity of the (Tasmanian) West Coast Council says that the mass escape of up to 25,000 salmon and trout from a fish farm in Macquarie Harbour has left the region looking like an abattoir. “The places are awash with bodies, carcasses and guts where people from away have caught these trout and salmon and just left the launching ramps and recreational areas looking like an abattoir,” he told ABC News. Gerrity claims numerous calls to help clean-up the area are falling on deaf ears. “It is the farm’s responsibility, it is the Minister's responsibility and it is also the government division of marine farming's responsibility and none of them, I repeat, none of them, want to know about it”. Gerrity said escapes from fish farms in the harbour occurred constantly and it was time Primary Industries Minister Steve Kons and the marine farming division looked at the problem and pitched in to clean up. “It’s a good look for tourists - fish guts and bodies lying everywhere,” Gerrity said sarcastically in an interview with the Hobart Mercury (18th May). “We are sick to death of this. Fish-farm management needs to be improved so these things don't happen. We appreciate accidents do happen but these accidents are too frequent and they are making too much mess”. With such a stench of death emanating from factory salmon farms it is no wonder that supermarkets are desperate to disguise the fact that they sell farmed salmon.

Counterfeit salmon in NY

After years of rumours, the New York Times (11th April) has finally exposed an international counterfeit salmon racket. Tests performed in March showed that six out of eight on salmon sold as wild by New York City stores were actually farmed (and one other was probably a farmed salmon escapee). Dean & DeLuca in SoHo; Grace’s Marketplace and Leonard’s on the Upper East Side; M. Slavin & Sons at the Fulton Fish Market and its Brooklyn retail store ($5.99); and Wild Edibles at the Grand Central Market were caught out selling cheap and nasty farmed salmon (which sells for as little as $5) for as much as $29 a pound. When told of the results of the fresh salmon tests, Gretchen Dykstra, New York City's commissioner of consumer affairs, said, “Labeling any item to be something it's not is a classic deceptive practice”. She added that her agency would “be investigating whether these stores are in fact improperly baiting their customers”. Mislabeling food is against US federal law. John Fiorillo, writing in The Wave (11th April), said: “This stuff drives me crazy, and it should tick you off, too. The entire industry gets stained by the bad press that comes from events like these. This industry is full of cheats and frauds, and their bad behavior tarnishes the reputations of everyone -- especially the good guys. Do your business and the industry a favor and blow the whistle on the cheaters. Let's take out our own trash and leave it by the side of the curb where it belongs”. Laura Fleming, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, a state agency that promotes wild seafood, said, “The symptom is not confined to Manhattan. We’ve had calls from various places around the country over the last several years from indignant fans telling us that stores are promoting product as wild Alaskan salmon when in fact it is not wild salmon at all”. David Pasternack, the chef and an owner at Esca, a theatre district fish restaurant in New York, said buying authentic wild salmon “is like a crapshoot”.

Farmed salmon consumption increases cancer risks

Consumers of farmed salmon are dicing with death – so says new scientific research published in the May issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. The same team of scientists that published a paper in Science in Jan 2004 on dioxins and PCB contamination of farmed salmon have now shown that eating farmed salmon increases the risk of cancer. “Consumption of farmed salmon at relatively low frequencies results in elevated exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like compounds with commensurate elevation in estimates of health risk,” says the scientific paper. “Many farmed Atlantic salmon contain dioxin concentrations that, when consumed at moderate rates, pose elevated cancer and non-cancer health risks. However, dioxin tne DLCs are just one suite of many organic and inorganic contaminants and contaminants classes in the tissues of farmed salmon and the cumulative health risk of exposure to these compounds via consumption of farmed salmon is even higher”. The scientists found that farmed salmon from Norwegian and Scottish farms carried an even higher cancer risk than farmed salmon from Chile, Canada and the US with wild salmon by far the lowest. The scientific paper – “Risk-Based Consumption Advice for Farmed Atlantic and Wild Pacific Salmon Contaminated with Dioxins and Dioxin-like Compounds” - is available on-line.

Norway: “Now we are doing it with cod”

Farmed cod is on the march and will soon follow in the slipstream of Norwegian farmed salmon. “At the seafood exposition today I launched the Norwegian Seafood Export Council’s campaign - “Fresh cod from Norway all year around”, said the Norwegian Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, Svein Ludvigsens at a salmon show in Brussels (26th April). “In the cause of three decades, Norway has become the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon. Last year, the production exceeded 500.000 tons. We have done it with salmon. Now we are doing it with cod!” Whilst many may think the advent of cod farming is a recurring nightmare, Norway sees it differently. “Stable supply of fresh cod from Norway all year around - is it a dream?”, asks Ludvigsens. “No, this is possible by wild catch when in season, and by cod from aquaculture outside of the catching seasons. Norwegian companies are investing a great deal of money in research and development to ensure that farmed cod becomes a profitable line of business. And together with cod from wild catch this will meet the consumers’ demand”. Consumer demand for carcinogenic farmed fish – surely not?!

US supermarket’s ultimatum to BC salmon farmers:

“B.C.’s salmon farming industry was hit by a fresh wave of bad publicity with revelations that the Albertsons supermarket chain in the U.S. ‘sees serious environmental problems’ with the way the industry produces its fish,” reported Scott Simpson in the Vancouver Sun (13th May). “ In an April 6 letter to a salmon farming lobby group, Albertsons says it wants a number of changes, which, if adopted, could make it prohibitively expensive if not impossible for the industry to continue”. Albertson’s letter was addressed to industry lobby group Salmon of the Americas. It reveals that the company has been encouraging salmon farmers since December 2003 to address a series of environmental problems and stated that it would “monitor the progress of the industry” towards solving them, “Unfortunately, since then, the environmental problems of farmed salmon have become an even more conspicuous issue. Due to the values we hold as a food retail leader, we remain concerned about these problems,” wrote Albertsons group vice-president for fresh foods market Jim Smits. “This is a major retailer demanding the very steps proposed by the NDP to protect wild stocks and safeguard industry jobs,” said the NDPs Gregor Robertson said. “A shift to closed containment systems is urgent if this industry is to survive at all. The Campbell government’s wide-open salmon farming policy is putting wild salmon stocks and jobs at risk. A moratorium on new development and a shift to closed containment is the only way to make this industry sustainable.”