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International News, October 2004

If readers have any suggestions for international news stories or any comments please email Don Staniford.

Don Staniford, author of The Monitor's International News

Contaminated Chilean salmon could be re-exported

According to Ecoceanos News (23rd September), a 20 tonne cargo of farmed Chilean salmon contaminated with the suspected carcinogen malachite green returned to Chile in September. The salmon could now be re-exported to a country with less stringent laws. In August, health authorities in the Netherlands rejected a container of frozen Chilean farmed salmon bound for France.

Chilean government health officials said it was up to the company to decide whether to sell it elsewhere or have it destroyed. “We have control of the container and the company must decide if it re-exports it to a country without these limitations,” said health ministry official Yuri Carvajal in a statement to Reuters (24th September). Earlier this year it was revealed that Chilean farmed salmon contaminated with malachite green ended up being sold in Estonia after being banned from sale in the European Union.

The Director of Ecocéanos, Juan Carlos Cárdenas, told Reuters (24th September): “The food has to be destroyed, because it is contaminated and cannot be consumed”. The Chairman of the Environment and Health Committee of the Regional Santiago Medical College, Dr. Andrei Tchernitchin, said: “We are not second class citizens. We should not have to eat toxic substances that other countries reject.

It is also ethically unacceptable to export a product that is well-known for its serious effects on human health”. This opinion was shared by the parliamentarian Guido Girardi, who said: “We Chileans are as much citizens as the Dutch and we have the right to have our health protected. Therefore this shipment should be confiscated and destroyed, for food security and for the international image of Chile”.

So serious is the problem that the Chilean Parliament is to establish a special commission of inquiry to find out about the illegal and indiscriminate use of chemicals, antibiotics, and other substances used by the salmon industry. Jose Miguel Burgos Gonzalez, the top official at Chile’s National Fisheries Service’s Fisheries Heath Department told The Wave (October 6th) that over the last year 57 samples of Chilean farmed salmon had tested positive for malachite green:

“When positive cases occur, we do not give certification and legal procedures apply according to our legislation,” he said. According to the National Fisheries Service (Sernapesca), a dozen reported incidents of the illegal use of malachite green by salmon farming companies operating in Chile are awaiting trial in the Puerto Montt Court. This is not the first time salmon farmers in Chile have been in court - in 2002, Marine Harvest Chile was fined for the illegal use malachite green . Thus far, it is not known which companies are involved in this latest incident. Officials at a salmon producers association contacted by Reuters “were not immediately available for comment” and the Chilean government has not identified the companies that produced the fish.

CNN (27th September) reported that: “This is the latest in a series of tainted shipments that has Chile's $1.15 billion-a-year salmon industry on the defensive. Fish and fish products are one of Chile’s top exports”. Chile exported $820 million worth of salmon and trout to world markets in the first half of 2004, mainly to the United States and Japan.

Rodrigo Infante, general manager of SalmonChile (the association representing Chile’s farmed salmon industry) desperately tried to play down the scandal. “To put this in perspective, we’re talking about only one container out of about 9,000 containers we send to the European Union every year,” he told Intrafish (29th September). Perhaps Mr Infante is forgetting about all the other containers of Chilean farmed salmon that have been stopped entering the EU? Or the container loads of contaminated Chilean farmed salmon that were prevented from being exported to the EU?

According to The Oregonian (14th September 2003): “Health officials in the United Kingdom halted five incoming containers of Chilean salmon in March because they contained malachite green”. Over the last few years, containers of Chilean farmed salmon contaminated with malachite green have been stopped by food safety authorities in the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom (not to mention oxytetracycline being detected by Japanese health officials).

Since the European Commission first starting publishing ‘Rapid Food Alerts’ in May 2002, over a dozen alerts have been issued for malachite green contamination of Chilean farmed salmon. And what about all the other container loads of Chilean farmed salmon shipped to Japan, the United States, Canada and other countries where testing procedures are either non-existent or less rigorous than the EU? Now that Chile has overtaken Norway as the world’s Number 1 salmon farming nation (ca. 500,000 tonnes) it is anyone’s guess how many container loads of contaminated Chilean farmed salmon have slipped through the net and onto consumer’s plates.

Marine Harvest and Morrisons caught in malachite scandal

It is not just Chilean salmon farmers who are embroiled in the malachite mess. According to BBC News (29th September), the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) discovered traces of the banned chemical malachite green in Scottish farmed salmon bought in an English supermarket earlier this year. At least two Scottish salmon farms have been closed down due to malachite green contamination but the involvement of Marine Harvest Scotland is still shrouded in secrecy.

The VMD discovered malachite green at 4.9 parts per billion - more than double the European Commission’s limit of two parts per billion. The farmed salmon was bought in February from the fresh fish counter at a branch of Morrisons supermarket in Newcastle.

The ‘Brand Name Survey’ report, published by the VMD’s Veterinary Residues Committee on 29th September, stated that: “Action was taken with regard to the positive sample to ensure that further stocks of fish in question were not available for human consumption”. A statement from DEFRA (29th September) said: “The Government recognises there are continuing concerns about its potential effect on human health”.

According to the VRC, two salmon farms in Scotland have been quarantined due to malachite green contamination and “rrestriction orders stopping the fish entering the food chain have been served”. A statement by the VRC on 8th September said: “Follow-up sampling found detectable residues of leucomalachite green on two of the salmon farms and fish movement restrictions remain in place on these farms”.

Despite naming and shaming the supermarket concerned, the UK government is strangely reluctant to identify the salmon farming company responsible for supplying the contaminated farmed salmon although the VRC report does state that the farmed salmon in question came not from Norway, Ireland, Canada, Chile or the Faroes but from Scotland. The VRC report also makes the following pointed recommendation: “The name of the supplier should be obtained for all samples and published”.

So why is the Government reluctant to name and shame Marine Harvest? Surely such reticence is nothing to do with the personal involvement of the First Minister of Scotland, Jack McConnell, whose brother is a manager of a Marine Harvest salmon farm and who was recently presented with salmon cufflinks by none other than Marine Harvest?

“The appearance of malachite green is a bit of a mystery and it’s something that is being looked into,” a DEFRA spokesman told The Scotsman (30th September). “We asked the supermarket where the fish came from, they put forward a name and the alleged producers denied it. We tested their fish and there was no sign of malachite green. There is an area of doubt so we have taken the decision not to name the producer. You have to say ‘could it have come into contact [with malachite green] while being transported to the store or while in the store?’ or something like that.” Yeah right.

So who is the culprit? Step forward the largest salmon farming company in the world - Marine Harvest. Six weeks previously, a leaked report in The Daily Mail (10th August) named Marine Harvest Scotland as the guilty party supplying contaminated farmed salmon to Morrisons supermarket. Allan Miller, Sales Director of Marine Harvest Scotland, told the Daily Mail that he had “serious misgivings” about the accuracy of the tests. He said fish has been treated with the chemical in a freshwater hatchery in May 2002 but that claimed that it would be “absolutely impossible” for the salmon to have the malachite green residue at the levels found when harvested in February this year.

Scottish Quality Salmon, which represents the interests of farmed salmon producers (including Marine Harvest), has now called in scientists from the University of Stirling to deal with the contamination problem. Dr John Webster, scientific adviser to Scottish Quality Salmon admitted to BBC News (29th September): “If there are examples of malachite green occurring in farmed salmon then something is wrong.”

Something is very wrong indeed – Marine Harvest admit to using malachite green up until two years ago. In a statement to the VRC, Morrisons said: “We are aware that the supplier ceased using it in 2002”. When questioned by the Salmon Farm Protest Group on their involvement, Marine Harvest Scotland’s Dr Graeme Dear exclusively told The Salmon Farm Monitor (in an email on 20th September): “We have, and I can give you my personal assurance, not used malachite green illegally.

Marine Harvest Scotland stopped using malachite green when its use was disallowed in June 2002. 100% of the stock that we have that were born after June 2002 will never have been treated with malachite green”. Yet the use of malachite green has never been legal. In a report published in September 2004, the UK’s Veterinary Products Committee conceded that: “Malachite green has never been authorised as a veterinary medicine”.

Marine Harvest Scotland is perhaps guilty of knowingly using malachite green illegally for years – and they are now paying the price with the continuing contamination of their product. In another email dated 7th October, Dr Dear said: “We have amended a number of husbandry protocols which, I would hope you would agree, is a responsible response. In addition we have access to the licensed fungicide Pyceze”.

Marine Harvest should have listened to Professor Ron Roberts (vice-chairman of the European Food Safety Authority’s Animal Health and Welfare Committee). In his article - “The Lingering Legacy of Malachite Green” – published in Aquaculture Magazine (March/April, 2003) he candidly wrote: “Malachite green and particularly metabolite leucomalachite, is extremely persistent in fish tissues and is also very easy to measure chemically. Thus many smolt producers, who used it in their process in any way at all, even once, are now unable to sell their smolts.

“All purchasers, under extreme pressure from the supermarkets, who buy 70% of all farmed salmon, are now demanding as a condition of sale, a certificate of freedom from malachite residues, supported by independent chemical analyses at time of delivery. This is rendering many suppliers unable to sell their smolts”. If consumers knew the full extent of the contamination problem then supermarkets would surely be unable to sell their farmed salmon as well”.

‘MRPLs’ for malachite in force in December

Malachite (and its metabolite leucomalachite) green is so persistent that it will be rearing its ugly head for a long time to come. An expert at the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate told The Scotsman in August 2003: “Although the use of malachite green was banned in the UK last year [in June 2002], estimates indicate that we can expect to see residues up to around June 2006, and possibly for longer”. That it could take another two years for farmed salmon to clean up its act spells deep trouble for the industry – in fact it has only two months to do so.

Back in November 2003 the World Trade Organisation adopted new ‘Minimum Required Performance Levels’ (of 2 parts per billion) for malachite green and leucomalachite green contamination of farmed fish “to facilitate trade” – these MRPLs come into force in December 2004. Yet such is the extent of malachite contamination that the world trade in farmed salmon could be seriously affected for years to come.

An annual survey of residues in food published by the UK’s Veterinary Products Committee in September 2004 showed that 5% of Scottish farmed salmon tested (4 out of 84 samples) was found to be contaminated with malachite green and/or leucomalachite green (a breakdown product of malachite). One sample of Scottish farmed salmon was so contaminated it exceeded the new MRPLs by over 180 times.

It is not just Scottish salmon farmers who should be concerned. According to the European Commission’s Health and Consumer Protection Directorate, one in seven farmed salmon tested in the European Union during 2002 were contaminated with malachite green. Hot spots of contamination were Ireland (65%) and Austria (24%). Thus far, the EC have refused to release information pertaining to the origin of the contaminated salmon – it could have been farmed in Scotland, Chile, Ireland, the Faroes, Norway or Canada, for example. Testing by the UK authorities has certainly found malachite green and leucomalachite green residues in farmed salmon from Chile and the Faroes (as well as Scotland).

A survey by the UK’s Veterinary Products Committee published in September 2004, for example, found four “violative samples” of Chilean farmed salmon at values ranging from 2.6 ppb (just over the MRPL of 2ppb) up to 20 ppb (ten times the MRPL). The VPC report stated that: “Malachite green has never been authorised as a veterinary medicine in the EU and should not be present in imported farmed fish.

Its safety and that of its metabolite leucomalachite green has never been established. A meeting has taken place in London between representatives of the Chilean government, Defra’s Animal Health and Welfare, International Trade Division, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and Food Standards Agency to discuss the residues of leucomalachite green found in the Chilean salmon”. And in 2002 the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate also reported that two samples of Faroese farmed salmon had tested positive at 10 ppb and 11 ppb (some 5 and 6 times the MRPL).

With the new MRPLs coming into force in only two months – in December 2004 – and farmed salmon still being contaminated with residues of malachite green, the UK, Chile, the Faroes and Ireland could be subject to a glut of world trade bans. As a spokeswoman for the European Commission’s Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Byrne warned in December 2002: “Britain has no time left to sort this out. This substance should not have been around in the first place. If it continues to be used we will be forced to ban the export of salmon and start proceedings to fine Britain”. Time has nearly run out on contaminated farmed salmon.

COOL rules delay enrages foodies and fishermen

Given the contamination of farmed salmon with malachite green, PCBs, dioxins, dieldrin and other cancer-causing chemicals, it is not surprising that supermarkets are reluctant to advertise the fact that the vast majority of fresh salmon is farmed. New labelling laws were due to come into effect on 30th September 2004 but lobbying by the industry successfully delayed the long-awaited U.S. Agriculture Department COOL (Country of Origin Labelling) regulations until 4th April 2005. Consumers in the United States will now have to wait another six months for labels on seafood sold in grocery stores to tell them where it was caught and whether it is wild or farmed.

“In the latest twist of the political drama known as country-of-origin labelling, consumers will once again be forced to wait for vital information about what they are feeding their families,” said Wenonah Hauter, Director of Public Citizen's Food Program (30th September). “Consumers have a right to know where their food comes from, but in the United States, we blindly eat meals every day without knowing or having any way to find out. Given that we know where our clothes and cars are made, it seems logical that we should also know the same information about our food”.

When the new COOL rules do come into force next year, the labelling requirement applies to fresh and frozen seafood - fish as well as shellfish and crustaceans - whether whole, cut into steaks or fillets, or broken into pieces. As with the EU Fish Labelling Regulation (introduced in January 2002), the COOL rules come with loopholes – they do not apply when seafood is an ingredient in another product, or when it is cooked or steamed, which effectively means that fish sticks, canned tuna and smoked salmon are not covered.

Restaurants and independent fish markets and butcher shops separate from grocery stores are also exempt from the regulations (except in Alaska where restaurants must identify whether the fish they serve is farmed or wild). For method of production information, "wild", wild-caught", "farm-raised" and "farmed" are all acceptable. Terms such as "ocean caught", "caught at sea", "line caught", "cultivated", "cultured", or "aquacultured" are not acceptable.

The loopholes in the COOL rules have enraged fishermen in Alaska. “The United Fishermen of Alaska (UFA) strongly objects to the exclusion of canned and smoked salmon products from COOL labelling requirements, as doing so dilutes the effectiveness of this law for consumers and producers of seafood,” UFA Executive Director Mark Vinsel told Sitnews (4th October).

UFA says recent years have seen a large influx of salmon into the US from other nations (including canned farmed salmon from both Norway and Chile). “With exclusion from the COOL law of the predominant product form for Alaska salmon, consumers will have no information as to the origins of the canned and smoked salmon they buy. Consumers have the desire and the right to know where these seafood products were produced and their methods of production, just as with other forms of salmon and other seafood,” said Vinsel.

The industry is not happy either at what it sees as expensive and unnecessary regulation. “We have just opened the door to a new government agency to regulate our industry,” complained Justin LeBlanc of the National Fisheries Institute to Intrafish (30th September). “There is no way this [new law] is not going to increase costs.” The NFI claims one major grocery store chain with sales of $350 million annually estimates that COOL will cost them $27 million.

For consumers of salmon though it is a price well worth paying. Craig Orr, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, told Business Edge (30th September): “There is a consumer revolt going on against farmed salmon because of the health concerns raised by scientists. In the U.S. (about 75 per cent of B.C.’s farmed salmon is exported to the U.S., its biggest market) shows such as Oprah Winfrey and Kathy and Regis all have talked about the danger of eating farmed salmon, and that has hurt sales.” Forcing supermarkets to label cheap and nasty salmon will only serve to hurt sales yet further – no wonder the industry is opposed to telling the truth about farmed fish.

U.S. ban on offshore aquaculture?

Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski has introduced a bill - the Natural Stock Conservation Act (S. 2859) - to ban offshore aquaculture operations in U.S. waters. According to an article in Alaska Report (29th September), fish farming would be banned in the exclusive economic zone (3 to 200 miles offshore). Murkowski wants further studies to be conducted on disease control, engineering, pollution prevention, biological and genetic impacts. “It is a fact that scientists, the media and the public are gradually awakening to the serious disadvantages of fish raised in fish farming operations compared to naturally healthy wild fish species, such as Alaska salmon, halibut, sablefish, crab and many other species,” said Senator Murkowski.

“There is abundant evidence that fish farming practices are deeply problematic, but still there is a small cadre of federal bureaucrats that continue to push hard for legislation to encourage the development of huge new fish farms off our coasts. We all want to make sure we enjoy abundant supplies of healthy foods in the future, but not if it means unnecessary and avoidable damage to wild species, to the environment and to the economics of America’s coastal fishing communities”.

Alaska is desperately trying to fight off the advance of fish farming and still has a moratorium on salmon farming – the only U.S. state to do so. The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, however, is currently debating whether to permit fish farming within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone. Alaskan fishermen are not impressed at what they see as a threat to wild fisheries via the spread of infectious diseases and mass escapes.

“It is now time to rein in such efforts until the true impacts of fish farming are known,” said Senator Murkowski. “Creating such farms is an area where we can’t afford a rush to judgment. It is far too dangerous, if we make a mistake.” Murkowski also begged Canada to stop its expansion of offshore fish farms – some salmon and sablefish farms on the northern British Columbian coast could be within 40 miles of Alaskan territorial waters.

It is not just in Alaska where trouble is brewing. “Plans to push tuna farms out into open waters off the coast of the United States are raising an environmental alarm,” writes Rex Dalton in Nature (30th September). “A business consortium is making plans for a tuna ranch in the Santa Barbara Channel off California.

The consortium hopes to anchor two square kilometres of nets on a former Chevron oil-drilling platform, about 20 km off the coast, and fill the nets with tuna and other deep-water fish.” Chevron is offering £10 million to run the operation for three years. The California Coastal Commission is not impressed. “We will go to court [to stop the farm],” said executive director Peter Douglas. “The opportunity for large-scale environmental disasters is enormous,” says Dr John Volpe, a fisheries ecologist at the University of Alberta, Canada.

Tuna farmers violate the law

The shameful (and unlawful) practices of tuna farmers around the world are hardly boosting the image of fish farming. A report released by WWF last month (21st September) denounces the illegality and the unsustainability of a number of tuna fishing and fattening practices in the Mediterranean. “Most of the tuna ranchers are violating the rules,” said WWF’s Chantal Menard. “Everyone’s interested in developing the business because it’s easy, quick money.” Mediterranean countries involved in tuna fishing and farming are: Algeria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Spain, Tunisia, and Turkey. Countries involved in Mediterranean tuna trading are: China, Japan, Korea, and the United States.

The report by Spanish-based tuna-farming consulting company Advanced Tuna Ranching Technologies (ATRT) confirms that the highly overexploited tuna stock may soon become commercially extinct. The author of the report, Mr Roberto Mielgo Bregazzi, told the Daily Telegraph (23rd September) that he was speaking out before it was too late: “After 10 years in business, it is a matter of survival. If we don’t change the way we work and the market is not properly regulated, there is the end of it.” “I believe overfishing is killing the business and I believe the Japanese are getting away with it,” Bregazzi told Intrafish (22nd September). “If fishing continues like this, it’s the end of bluefin tuna [in the Mediterranean] in two years max.”

The authors of the report said they had received threats from parts of the industry because of what was disclosed in the report. The comprehensive report details illegal unloading, fishing in illegal areas, farming without proper licenses and illegal flights by tuna spotter planes, operating from Greece, Sicily and in Libya during times when spotting activity is banned in the Mediterranean. Illegalities are common at each step of the tuna fishing and farming chain, in particular the main problem coming from unreported tuna which is directly shipped to countries in the Far East and escapes from registration duties in EU countries.

According to the report, from 2002 to 2004 the amount of tuna farmed has increased from 14,620 to 22,500 tonnes, leading to the overexploitation of the resource (some 28,000 more tonnes are expected to be produced this year). “For the past five years, sheer greed and business short-sightedness among all of us [has] virtually taken our Bluefin stock to a complete collapse,” states the report. The report points out that the overfishing and overfarming have been encouraged by EU subsidies (US$34 million since 1997 has been distributed to France, Greece, Italy, and Spain) coupled with Japanese and Australian investments in Spain, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, and Croatia.

“This data clearly shows how the fast growing tuna farming business is out of control,” said Paolo Guglielmi, Head of WWF-Mediterranean’s Marine Unit. WWF urges the European Commission to take into consideration the evidence provided in the report and put an immediate end to damaging tuna farm subsidies. WWF is asking for an immediate moratorium on new tuna farming plans and the attribution of specific quotas of the total tuna catches for the tuna farms.

France dit “Oui” to salmon farming

Je ne sais pas pourquoi. But France seems intent on embracing salmon farming with a certain joi de vivre. The Norwegian company Inaq is planning the installation of a huge salmon farm (4,000 tons a year) in the estuary of the Trieux, near Paimpol, in North Brittany. Local opposition is growing to Inaq’s expansion plans. Jean Deleplanque told the Salmon Farm Monitor that: “Our association is fighting against this project”. Inaq is the owner of SaumonFrance - the largest producer of salmon in France with a license for an annual production of 3,000 tonnes. The company deliver their products to the French market under the label ‘Saumon de France’. SaumonFrance produced ca. 900 tonnes of Atlantic salmon in 2003 and aims to produce of 3,000 tonnes in 2006.

Inaq have another salmon farm in Cherbourg. According to Intrafish, the Inaq (Norwegian)-owned, La Société des Cultures Marine de Cherbourg were “France’s only salmon production site” in December 2001. In the same year, Inaq took over the bankrupt French concern from Norwegian-owned SA Ferme Marine Saetremyr Cherbourg. Saetremyr also had a pilot project in the South of France offshore from Marseilles.

MD, Dag Naess told IntraFish: “It’s not easy finding a suitably deep, sheltered spot, far enough away from crude oil traffic, on the north coast of France. We aren’t producing to an officially recognised standard, but we are working along the Label Rouge for Scottish salmon guidelines.” In another Intrafish interview, Frode Blakstad of Inaq said: “It’s no more difficult to farm fish in France than it is in Norway. When the opportunity arose we couldn’t let it pass by. In the long term the intention is to succeed with starting smolt production in France and we are also concentrating efforts on obtaining more fish farm licences in the next few years. The aim is to produce 10,000 tonnes in the long term, but we will give priority to profitability ahead of volume.”

The French may be getting more than they bargained for, however, by allowing salmon farms to pollute their coastal waters. A paper presented as the 2004 ICES Annual Science Conference revealed that trout farms kill off wild Atlantic salmon in Brittany. “Pollution from trout farm effluents caused a significant increase in salmon deaths before they spawned,” concluded Etienne Provost of the INRA research facility in Rennes, France. “Fish farm effluents are point sources of pollution known to have an impact on the production of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) juveniles. They potentially have effect on adult Atlantic salmon before spawning as well”. What effect salmon farming could have on France’s economically important shellfish farming industry remains to be seen.

Sablefish farming plagues Canada (and Alaska)

Sablefish (also known as black cod) farming is spreading around the British Columbian coastline like the Black Death and is now threatening Alaska’s pristine coastal waters. Like farmed salmon, sablefish are susceptible to many potentially devastating pathogens, including those causing furunculosis, Vibriosis, Bacterial Kidney Disease, and Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia, all of which cause significant mortality and can reach epidemic levels.

“Not long ago it would have seemed surprising that anyone would want to set up ocean farms to raise sablefish,” writes Marian Burros in the New York Times (22nd September). “Now the first sablefish fingerlings have been introduced into two fish farms along the coast of British Columbia, and more than 40 new farms have been permitted in the last year along its Pacific shoreline. The first fish will be ready for market in a year and a half or so.

The U.S. Department of Commerce, has proposed allowing fish farming off the coast of Alaska, despite a state ban on the practice, and is considering legislation to make aquaculture in federal waters easier. Sablefish, which fetches $3 a pound wholesale, is a likely candidate. But there is concern that the same problems attributed to salmon farms - disease, pollution and overproduction - will visit the sablefish fishery”.

Paula Terrel, a staff member of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, which works to protect fishing interests in Juneau, warned: “If we flood the market [with farmed sablefish] it would have a serious impact on coastal communities.” It is not just Alaskans who are worried at the influx of sablefish farming – Canadian fishermen are bracing themselves for a wave of new sablefish farms. In a letter to the Vancouver Sun (8th September), Eric Wickham, executive director of the Canadian Sablefish Association, wrote: “Interestingly, today’s sablefish promoters once expounded the virtues of salmon farming. But after a decade of failure on the salmon front, they have now switched to a different species”.

Mr Wickham sees the same problems in sablefish farming as inherent in salmon farming: “B.C. fish farmers get pretty much a free ride on the regulatory side, allowing them to pollute at levels unprecedented in other industries. While pulp mills are forced to spend millions to eliminate an annual output of a few pounds of potentially carcinogenic chemicals, fish farms are allowed to dump massive amounts of unregulated, uncontrolled pollutants into the ocean. This, despite the fact that the amount of sewage dumped by one fish farm can be as high as a town of 60,000 people. With over 100 fish farms licensed on BC’s coast, this level of environmental contamination cannot continue”.

The list of sablefish licences already issued by the Canadian government reads like a “Who’s Who” of the worst salmon farming polluters. Salmon farming companies now moving into sablefish farming include Nutreco (Whiteley Island, Kyuquot Sound), the Omega Salmon Group (13 sites including Doyle Island, Duncan Island, Cleagh Creek, West Thurlow Island, and Wishart Island), Stolt Sea Farm (7 sites including Swanson Island and Baker Island) and Cermaq-owned Ewos Aquaculture Ltd (6 sites including Cypress Bay, Bedwell Sound and Saranac Island). Sablefish licences are being handed out by the Canadian Government like confetti. Not everyone is celebrating though. “I conclude with regret that the regulatory rigor involved in farming sablefish is as limiting a process as receiving a prize inside a Cracker Jack box,” says Theresa Rosenbush of the Raincoast Conservation Society.

Vietnam/China – the lands of the rising salmon

Companies from as far and wide as Finland and Canada consider Vietnam and Chile full of eastern promise for salmon farming. The Far East has always been a centre of salmon farming (Japan has been farming salmon for decades) but Vietnam, China and even South Korea have ambitious plans to gain a foothold in the world trade in farmed salmon – even if it is at the expense of the tourist industry. The Vietnam News Agency reports (22nd September) that a “tourist site is ideal for salmon farming”. “Blessed by nature, Thac Bac (Silver Waterfall) in the northern mountain resort of Sa Pa, Lao Cai province, is likely to become Vietnam's largest salmon farming centre by 2005 when a project being carried out with assistance from Finland is completed,” said the Vietnam’s Aquaculture Research Institute No.1.

The project to build a salmon breeding and farming centre in Thac Bac was launched in September with technical assistance from the Samontaimon Company from Finland. The centre is designed to produce between 10,000 and 20,000 fry in the first year of operation and is expected to sell 1.5-2 tonnes of salmon and thousands of breeding fish annually. A feasibility study had sent a group of local and Finnish experts to Lao Cai, where they found a number of cold streams ideal for raising salmon. Thac Bac is one of the three best areas which boast huge, clean water resources to develop large-scaled salmon farming. With the advent of salmon farming, Thac Bac’s “clean water resources” will not last long.

Vietnam is the latest country to join the ranks of salmon farming nations – over the last few years South Africa, Argentina, France, Iceland and China have all dipped their toes into the polluted water. The newspaper La Opinión Austral reported in May, for example, that Korean investors are looking to expand salmon farming in the Patagonian region of Argentina. China, in particular, is casting its eye on both salmon farming and on the trade in world salmon.

According to the Norwegian Seafood Export Council, considerable quantities of salmon fillet are already being sent from China to the European Union. “Much of this is probably frozen fillet of wild Alaskan salmon, but some may have originated from Norway or Chile,” said NSEC salmon and trout market analyst, Paul Aandahl, whilst speaking to IntraFish (4th October). In 1999 2,583 tonnes of salmon fillet were exported from China to the EU leaping to 6,000 tonnes in 2003 export of salmon fillet amounted to just on 6,000 tonnes.

As well as importing farmed salmon, China is gearing up for domestic salmon farming production. The industry newspaper Intrafish (www.intrafish.com) asked in May this year: “How long before China is a farmed salmon powerhouse?” The Chinese are experimenting with salmon farming in Shandong Prefecture. According to Bill Atkinson’s News report, fingerlings weighing 0.5 kilos were placed in pens in March, with the salmon reaching a size of 0.75 to 1.2 kilos during the first month. Growth is reportedly “proceeding well”.

China’s first Atlantic salmon farm was established in early 2004 at an abandoned Russian sturgeon farm in the Dalian region. “The goal is to produce five million pounds of Atlantic salmon for the Chinese market, according to project consultant Wayne Gorrie of Nanaimo, BC-based PRAqua Group,” reported Intrafish (16th December 2003). Gorrie told IntraFish that his re-circulation company, along with BC-based JLH Consulting Inc., was hired by the Chinese company to provide advice on the feasibility of salmon farming in the region and to design the land-based hatchery.

The company flew the consultants to the area – which lies to the southeast of Beijing - in early August to meet with the management, whose principal executive has ties to Canada. “It is difficult to find suitable conditions for net pen rearing in China. There are extreme temperature variations. To date, no one has been successful at it,” Gorrie noted.

Irish troubles for Marine Harvest

Marine Harvest (the largest salmon farming company in the world after last month’s merger of Dutch multinational Nutreco and the Norwegian giant Stolt Nielson) is encountering yet more problems. As if malachite green contamination, job losses and a huge hole in their finances were not enough of a problem, Marine Harvest’s plans to expand in Lough Swilly, County Donegal, are meeting with strong local opposition.

Despite being refused a licence last year, Marine Harvest Ireland has now reapplied. “What part of no do they not understand?” asked an exasperated John Mulcahy of Save The Swilly (23rd August). “For those who are not aware of the most recent developments in Lough Swilly, the company that had been refused a salmon-farming licence by the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board (ALAB) in December 2003 has decided that this answer was not the correct one, and they are planning a re-match. It will be a travesty of the democratic process if this new application is even allowed to move to the next stage”.

The grounds for the 2003 refusal of Marine Harvest’s original licence application at a site named Dooanmore, in Lough Swilly, included: “It is considered that the deterioration in water quality arising from the proposed activity would have a negative impact on the recreational use of the adjacent Portsalon Blue Flag Beach; it is considered that the proposed activity constitutes an unacceptable risk to navigation; it is considered that the location of the proposed activity would give rise to injury to visual amenity in an area visible from a designated scenic and tourist route and within the views and prospects of special amenity as designated in the Donegal County Development Plan 2000.”

“This area is simply an unsuitable location for fish farming,” says Save The Swilly. “It should be noted that the enlarged Marine Harvest will be the biggest salmon farming company in the world, producing farmed salmon in Norway and Chile at costs well below the break-even point in Ireland. In the nature of multinational businesses, the likelihood is that the jobs will eventually go to the location with the lowest production costs.

The priority for Lough Swilly, for Donegal and for Ireland must be to provide sustainable employment, and to protect jobs in sectors that require investment, such as fishing and tourism. Aquaculture is appropriate when practiced in appropriate locations and with regard to other stake-holders. Dooanmore was not, in 2003, judged by the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board as an appropriate site for salmon farming. Nine months later, it is still not an appropriate site”. Here here.