What’s Wrong With Farmed Salmon?
Farmed salmon has been under the spotlight for reasons of human health and the environment. Disease, destruction of wild salmon stocks and degradation of the marine environment are some of the reasons we should avoid purchasing and consuming farmed salmon.
Pollution, contamination and disease
Farm-raised salmon can be contaminated with dangerously high levels of PCBs. This is because: a) the fish feed fish can be contaminated; and b) farmed salmon tend to be higher in fat than wild salmon and PCBs accumulate in fat tissue. A report in 2004 by the the journal Science warned that farm raised salmon contained 10 times more toxins (PCBs, dioxin, etc.) than the wild variety and recommended that it should be eaten no more than once per month as they posed cancer risks.
Salmon farms are hazardous as they can release fish excrement and chemicals into the surrounding waters. This can create problems for many fish species and marine life in the areas concerned.
Sea lice are small marine parasites commonly associated with salmon. Open net farms facilitate the spread of lice into the wild salmon populations.
Crowded farm conditions give rise to lethal diseases such as furunculosis and infectious salmon anaemia. In Chile, the salmon farming industry has been in a crisis since 2007 as a result of outbreaks of the infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) virus.
Farmed salmon can also escape to compete with wild salmon, thereby weakening the native gene pool. Interbreeding between the wild and farmed fish may weaken native salmon and reduce their long-term ability to survive.
While it is generally a healthy and sturdy fish, many wild populations of salmon are endangered. In many parts of the world, wild salmon face many obstacles in their life cycle – such as the disappearance of their habitat, logging operations, water diversion and water pollution. Add to this an introduction of non-native species and the wild salmon is in trouble.
We do not want farmed salmon
In Canada, the majority of salmon farms are found in British Columbia. At present, there is a class action lawsuit in the courts of BC by First Nations (Native Canadians) against the BC government for failing to protect wild salmon by allowing 29 fish farms to operate in the area.
A 2008 research using official government data from Canada, Scotland, and Ireland found serious decline in the species during the 1980s in areas of the North Atlantic and northeast Pacific where salmon farms have increased over the same period.
The Alaskan salmon fishery – where there are no salmon farms – is rated as a "sustainable". Most sustainable seafood guides rate salmon from Alaska in the green or good to eat category. Sustainability guides also give other options. The MSC guide for the UK advises against all Atlantic salmon and the Canadian SeaChoice guide recommends checking seasonal availability for wild BC salmon.
There is also the problem with farmed salmon being passed on as wild. Food labelling laws vary depending on where you purchase the fish. To decrease the likelihood of being defrauded, purchase your seafood from reputable sources (who will suffer the consequences of dishonest dealing) and ask the important questions. We do not want our love of salmon to fuel their decline.