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By Ronnie Cummins
Factory farming and fish production are now a multi-trillion-dollar monster with a growing and devastating impact on public health, animal welfare, small farmers and farmworkers, rural and fishing communities, ocean marine life, water quality, air pollution, soil health, biodiversity and last but not least, global warming.
We now need to eat two portions of farmed salmon to equal the amount of omega-3 intake that we would have gotten just five years ago, says a study from Stirling University in Scotland. The change appears to be due to a reduction in the amount of ground-up anchovies added to their feed.
Farm-raised and wild caught salmon contain the same amount of cholesterol, but wild salmon have half the fat of farmed in a typical half-filet serving.
Salmon farming is only about four decades old, but it is the fastest-growing food production system in the world according to WWF. Globally, about 3.5 million tons are caught or raised each year, and salmon accounts for 17 percent of the global seafood trade. About 70 percent of the world's salmon production is farmed.
Salmon is among the most popular seafoods in the U.S., where we eat 2.3 pounds per person each year. We prize salmon for its omega-3 fatty acids. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that consumption of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are key omega-3s found in seafood, may help to prevent high blood pressure, heart disease, certain types of cancer, clinical depression, anxiety and macular degeneration. Of the salmon consumed in the U.S., half is farm-raised.
Wild catch vs. farm-raised seafoodMarine Harvest
NOAA also states that farmed seafood is safe and healthy to eat, but many have questions about the practice. Crowded conditions in the pens used for raising salmon provide an ideal breeding ground for sea lice, which are now invading wild Alaskan salmon populations. Sea lice can be lethal to juvenile pink and chum salmon. In farms in some parts of the world, a pesticide is used to combat sea lice that is toxic to marine life and banned by both the European Union and U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The greatest concern, though, centers around interbreeding of farmed and wild salmon. In September, a study by Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans found that more than 750,000 salmon have escaped from fish farms in Newfoundland since aquaculture began, and that these fish are breeding with wild salmon and producing offspring. A separate study in Norway found that half the wild salmon tested had genetic material from farmed fish. It's unclear which traits might impose themselves on wild salmon, but farm-raised fish are bred to grow big and to grow fast.
Farm-raised and wild caught salmon contain the same amount of cholesterol, but wild salmon have half the fat of farmed in a typical half-filet serving. Farmed fish also deliver three times the saturated fat as wild. But to feed a growing global population and provide the omega-3s they need, wild fisheries may not be up to the job.
On the West Coast of North America, salmon are in trouble. The number of endangered or threatened salmon runs on the Columbia River system has jumped from four to 13. In British Columbia, the sockeye salmon run this year was the lowest ever seen. Alaska's pink salmon catch is the worst it has been in 40 years.
Farmed salmon can still be ecologically friendly. According to WWF, it takes 10 to 12 pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef, but less than two pounds to yield a pound of salmon. Recognizing the need for fish farming, WWF worked to create global standards for salmon aquaculture designed to address the worst impacts. The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) now manages the standards and provides a certification program that retailers and consumers can use to ensure they are buying responsibly-farmed salmon.
The standards require farms to minimize diseases and the occurrence of sea lice while limiting the use of medicines to a set of strict conditions. Farms are also required to monitor and control water quality and prevent fish escapes as much as possible. The ASC also limits use of wild fish as feed, which is now seen to be responsible for reducing omega-3 levels in farmed salmon.
"We, and many others, are working very hard at developing new sustainable alternatives to fish oil and fish meal as sources of these long-chain omega-3s," wrote Dr. Douglas Tocher, one of the authors of the study, in an email to EcoWatch. "These include microalgal sources and genetically-modified oilseed crops."
The U.S. imports 91 percent of the seafood it consumes. Currently, oysters, clams and mussels account for tho-thirds of farmed seafood produced in the U.S., but NOAA opened up the hurricane-prone Gulf of Mexico to fish farms in January. That's the first time federal waters have been available for fish farming. So far, no commercial proposals have been received.
The World Bank estimates that almost two-thirds of the fish we eat in 2030 will be farm-raised. "Aquaculture will be an essential part of the solution to global food security," said Jim Anderson, bank advisor on fisheries, aquaculture and oceans for the World Bank Group. "We expect the aquaculture industry to improve its practices in line with expectations from the market for sustainable and responsibly produced seafood."
Aquaculture may also be the only answer to overfishing of the seas. Almost one third of global fish stocks are overfished, according to the United Nations. WWF says that stocks of all current food species of fish could collapse by 2048. But we'll need to feed 9 billion people by then.
"The solutions are very much in the pipeline," wrote Dr. Tocher. "Farmed salmon still deliver more omega-3 than wild salmon. And there is also absolutely no harm In eating two portions of farmed salmon."
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Judith Lavoie
Last week a small flotilla of boats from Kingcome Village, Gilford Village and Alert Bay, with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's research vessel Martin Sheen in the background, handed eviction notices to four Cermaq Canada salmon farms. Hereditary chiefs said notices will be issued to all 27 farms in their territory.
Hereditary chiefs and supporters from the Musgamagw Dzawada'enuxw First Nation hold a cleansing ceremony at a Cermaq Canada salmon farm off northern Vancouver Island. The First Nation has issued eviction notices to four farms and say they plan to try to evict all 27 farms in their territory.
With chiefs in traditional robes, drumming and singing, the group ignored efforts by Cermaq employees to prevent them from landing, handed over the notice and then held a cleansing ceremony and wild salmon barbecue at one of the farms.
"Our people have spoken. We want salmon farms out of our territory," said Chief Councillor Willie Moon, the first to pull into the farm off northern Vancouver Island.
Musgamagw Dzawada'enuxw consists of five nations, with 576 members, whose territory encompasses the Broughton Archipelago east of Alert Bay. Cermaq and Marine Harvest have farms in the area.
"I just told them they were trespassing and we had every right to be there. This land belongs to our people," Moon said in an interview.
Last spring 40 percent of young salmon leaving the territory were killed by sea lice, Moon said.
Beaches and clam beds are also being polluted, said Melissa Willie, Dzawada'enuxw councillor and fisheries coordinator.
"All that shit going into the water. I don't believe it is being flushed out and the beaches are becoming muck. It's our whole food chain. We want them totally out of our territory and I just hope someone is listening," she said.
Musgamagw Dzawada'enux leaders, who say they have the support of many other coastal bands, are demanding that no more farm fish be transferred into their territory, all farm salmon should be removed within three months, that First Nations have access to the fish so they can assess what diseases exist and the right to have an observer present during harvest.
Two previous attempts to evict the farms have failed and, this time, the First Nation is sending a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to live up to his promise to honor the rights of First Nations as a "sacred obligation."
The letter reads:
"We, the Musgamagw Dzawada'enuxw view the destruction of wild fish by the fish farming industry as part of the long history of genocide forced on our people by the governments of Canada. Salmon are essential to our well-being and the well-being of our world."
People are now ready to fight for their traditional way of life, Willie said.
"One of our youth said 'are we prepared to die for this?' I think we are now," she said.
"The fight is on … This is just the beginning."
There has been no support from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans who, in 2015, allowed the number of salmon at several farms in their territory to almost triple, even though each tribe had rejected the applications, the leaders said.
After the first eviction notice was issued on Thursday, the leaders received a letter from Cermaq offering to meet them.
"But all they want to talk about are their operations and we are just talking about getting them out. That's the bottom line, so I don't think there's much point," Willie said.
Jeremy Dunn, BC Salmon Farmers Association executive director, said salmon farms in the area have a two-decade history of positive working relationships with First Nations and farmers have 20 social and economic agreements with BC bands.
Those agreements cover 78 percent of the salmon raised in BC, he said.
"Thirty years ago there were no First Nations agreements and salmon farmers were one of the first to put together agreements to respect their territories and to share in the benefits of the activity," Dunn said.
Cermaq is open to meeting with the First Nation to discuss the issue, but having the group landing on the farms has been disconcerting for staff, Dunn said.
"Imagine if 30 people came to your workplace when there are four or five of you in the middle of the ocean. It is challenging," he said.
The eviction notices appear to be part of a campaign being orchestrated by Sea Shepherd, Dunn said.
The "Martin Sheen" crew are helping independent biologist Alexandra Morton on a virus-hunting voyage around salmon farms.
Morton is taking samples to investigate which diseases could be spreading from farmed fish to wild salmon.
Cermaq also suspects Sea Shepherd is behind the eviction notices.
"Over the past few weeks, our employees have been harassed by the Sea Shepherd Society and other activists," says a statement on the Cermaq website.
But Musgamagw Dzawada'enuxw members say their only aim is to cleanse their waters for their children, future generations and ancestors.
"The people who are benefitting from these farms are benefitting over the suffering of our people," said Dzawada'enuxw hereditary leader Farron Soukochoff.