For years, environmentalists advised consumers to steer clear of farmed salmon, but now, some groups are beginning to ease their warnings due to a progressive partnership that will gradually overhaul the industry, according to National Geographic.
Given its high protein, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and low traces of saturated fats, salmon is increasingly being marketed as a nutritious food.
The shift in perspective has helped increase salmon demand by more than 20 percent over the last decade, and consumption has spiked three-fold worldwide since 1980.
In fact, salmon aquaculture, otherwise known as fish farming, is the fastest growing food production system in the world—accounting for 70 percent (2.4 million metric tons) of the market, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Five years ago, global fish farming production lapped wild catches as the primary source of all seafood consumed, and two years ago, global aquaculture production outpaced global beef production.
Environmentalists had sounded past warnings to avoid farmed salmon, mainly because the carnivorous fish are fed animal-derived proteins called "fish meal," or fish oil made from anchovies, which have been shown to carry Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other toxins that can make their way into the human food supply.
"It’s fair to say that salmon farming is better than it used to be, but it used to be horrendous," wrote Oceana contributor Justine Hausheer. "Even the best farms still pollute their waters with parasiticides, chemicals and fish feces. The Chilean farmed salmon industry uses over 300,000 kilograms of antibiotics a year, causing bacterial resistances that affect fish, the environment and human beings."
Additionally, farmed salmon can leap out of the oceanside pens they are raised in, which can potentially spread disease or unwanted genes to wild populations already under stress from overfishing, pollution and shrinking habitats.
Yet, the fish farming industry has taken major steps to clean up its act and is now gaining positive feedback from environmental groups, according to Jason Clay, WWF's senior vice president for market transformation. Clay spoke on farmed salmon at Seafood Expo North America in Boston on Tuesday and is an authority on the matter due, in part, to his contributions in developing a set of sustainability standards called the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC).
Founded in 2010 and based in the Netherlands, the ASC is a nonprofit organization, which is helping to lead a global certification and labeling program for responsibly farmed seafood that reduces social and environmental impacts.
ASC standards include 152 different indicators, including low tolerance for escaping fish, limits on antibiotics and safety guidelines on food the fish can be fed.
So far, a small proportion of salmon grown on Norway farms has been shown to meet the group's standards, but much more is on the way in various countries.
Last August, 15 major salmon farm companies, representing 70 percent of the world-farmed salmon market, formed the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI), which has pledged to source 100 percent of their salmon from farms that meet ASC standards by 2020.
All agriculture inevitably pollutes to some degree, said Doris Soto, senior aquaculture officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, at this week's seafood expo. With this agreement, salmon producers have set themselves apart, she said.
"The industry is trying to face its problems, especially the environmental problems in a way that has perhaps not been done in agriculture," she told USA Today.
Despite Ongoing Progress, Critical Impacts Linger
According to WWF, here are some major environmental and social impacts the salmon farm industry needs to address in the coming years:
- Biodiversity Loss Chemicals and excess nutrients from food and feces associated with salmon farms can disturb the flora and fauna on the ocean bottom.
- Chemical Inputs Excessive use of chemicals, such as antibiotics, anti-foulants and pesticides, or the use of banned chemicals can have unintended consequences for marine organisms and human health.
- Disease and parasites Viruses and parasites transfer between farmed and wild fish as well as among farms, presenting a risk to wild populations or other farms.
- Escapes Escaped farmed salmon can compete with wild fish and interbreed with local wild stocks of the same population, altering the overall pool of genetic diversity.
- Feed Escaped farmed salmon can compete with wild fish and interbreed with local wild stocks of the same population, altering the overall pool of genetic diversity.
- Nutrient Pollution and Carrying Capacity Excess food and fish waste increase the levels of nutrients in the water and have the potential to lead to oxygen-deprived waters that stress aquatic life.
- Social Issues Salmon farming often employs a large number of workers on farms and in processing plants, potentially placing labor practices and worker rights under public scrutiny. Additionally, conflicts can arise among users of the shared coastal environment.
Genetically Modified Fish: The Future of Salmon Farming?
Some say the next step is to grow and sell genetically engineered salmon that can mature twice as fast as its natural counterpart. AquaBounty Technologies, a Massachusetts-based company, has spent years developing a fish it refers to as AquAdvantage salmon.
The company wants to raise sterile Atlantic salmon females that can rapidly grow to market size compared to conventional salmon by using a growth hormone-regulating gene from Chinook salmon and some genetic material from ocean pout.
The FDA has yet to approve the fish, which is the first genetically engineered food animal in the world.
In 2010, an FDA advisory panel stated the fish is "highly unlikely to cause any significant effects on the environment" and that it is "as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon," although the agency said more testing was needed, according to National Geographic.
Last spring, more than 1.8 million people sent comments vehemently opposing the approval of a genetically engineered salmon by the FDA.
No genetically modified salmon are currently permitted under the ASC guidelines.
The Sierra Club said it's against genetically engineered fish, saying the fish pose "an even greater hazard to natural stocks and are even more difficult to properly evaluate and to monitor than [genetically engineered] crops."
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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