Why And How Salmon Farming Decimates Ecosystems And Is Bad For Our Health
Hundreds of species depend on salmon for their livelihood, humans included. Salmon fisheries, Native American tribes and tourist industries depend on salmon for economic survival. Loss of salmon would be a blow to those groups, but they would eventually be able to move on and find new ways of thriving. The loss of salmon would irreparably damage local ecosystems, and by a chain reaction, the world’s ecosystem. Salmon are a key species in the food chain. They are predators, keeping the prey population regulated. They also prey themselves. They serve specific functions at each stage of their life cycle, providing predators, scavengers, and even river beds and land plants with nutrients they need to thrive. Remove the salmon from this equation, and whole ecosystems will topple. To imagine that the loss of one ecosystem has no affect on the world as a whole is folly.
When it is time for adult salmon to return to their spawning grounds, an internal timer sounds within the salmon and tells them it is time to return home. The fish then begin a long voyage that takes them from the open ocean, through freshwater rivers to their spawning grounds near land.
While they are making this journey, they are prey to bears, eagles, sea lions and many other species. Salmon in the undisturbed wild are strong and hardy, and a good number of them make their way to the spawning grounds unmarred. Males fight for the females’ favor, eggs are lain and fertilized, and completing their biological imperative, the adult salmon settle into a final rest.
Even then, they make an important part of the food chain. Freshly dead, they feed bears and scavenger birds. Their decaying bodies feed other fish and enrich the forest and river floors with fertilizer.
The eggs overwinter as they incubate. When they hatch in the spring, the young salmon continue to live off their yolk sacs until they have matured enough to make the trip out to the ocean where they will feed and grow. They work hard to store up enough energy to be able to make the arduous upstream journey to their home grounds so they can spawn and complete their life cycle.
This life cycle has been repeated, unhindered, for centuries. Salmon have survived normal fluctuations in the availability of food, the danger of predation and the natural order of disease. Normally, some fish should perish as prey or in sickness. This allows the strong to survive and spawn.
With the advent of salmon farming, everything has changed.
Salmon Farming And Disease
Sea lice are parasites that live on the bodies of salmon. They are naturally found in the open ocean and don’t survive well in fresh water. In the natural cycle of nature, sea lice would not be found in the near-shore coastal areas that young salmon inhabit.
Mature salmon are hardly enough to withstand having a few lice without a problem. This is similar to how a human with a good immune system can withstand having a cold or two and not succumb to deadlier diseases.
When adult salmon reach fresh water on their way to spawning ground, lice typically fall off and die. This leaves the route back to the ocean free of parasites for the young salmon to make their journey in the spring. Young salmon typically survive this journey in large numbers, despite the danger posed by predators.
Salmon farms have chosen these vital near-coastal freshwater areas as a home for business, and this choice has already had devastating effects on these areas. Salmon farms grow salmon year-round in pens, introducing disease, parasites, waste and chemicals into these areas at levels never seen before.
Sea lice had never been reported on young pink salmon before the advent of salmon farming. Juvenile salmon are not hardy enough to manage the needs of their bodies when compromised by sea lice. Just one louse is enough to kill a young pink or chum salmon. Because of salmon farming, upwards of two hundred lice have been found on the bodies of juvenile salmon that never made it to the ocean. Sadly, they never had a chance.
Sea lice are only one problem that salmon face because of salmon farming, but lice alone have destroyed the numbers of salmon that make it out to the sea, in turn depleting the number who make it back to spawn in the fall. This chain of events is rapidly destroying the species.
What Goes In And What Comes Out
According to an article by Dr Joseph Mercola, natural health doctor and whistleblower on harmful practices in food and medicine, it can take up to five kilos of krill and other wild fish to produce one kilo of farmed salmon. Salmon are carnivores. Farming salmon for their meat is a little like farming lions for theirs. It is not logical, economical or beneficial.
This doesn’t stop the industry from doing it. Because of high demand, outsourcing, and cheap labour, salmon farmers still come out ahead. There is money in it for them, and they continue to destroy ecosystems in the name of profit.
In addition to using large amounts of wild-caught fish, salmon farming relies heavily on the use of chemicals and antibiotics. Without them, farmers would never be able to keep the fish from dying.
Factory farming has the same harmful effects on the environment in water as it does on land and then some. It is very difficult to control the spread of disease. Wild salmon are dying because of diseases carried by farmed salmon. Diseases such as furunculosis can be spread from farm to farm as far as 15 miles apart even when no farmed fish are exchanged between them.
Salmon are also grown, like corn, in a monoculture. Farmed salmon all descend from the same few types and have been selected for their size, fast growth, adaptability and temperament. Because escape rates can be high in open-containment salmon farms, this super-salmon are competing with wild salmon for food, mates, and habitat and wild salmon are losing. According to Farmed Salmon Exposed, a group dedicated to educating consumers about the dangers of farmed salmon, as much as 90% of all the salmon in Norway, Canada, Ireland and Scotland are escaped salmon and their descendants: all one type, all aggressive and nearly all carrying disease.
What happens when this salmon-over medicated and under-diversified fall ill in mass? Think back to the potato famine of Ireland or the dust bowl of the American great depression. Salmon farming is creating the perfect circumstances for salmon extinction.
The same parasites, diseases and pollution that affect salmon are also affecting entire food webs in the inlets where salmon farming is present. Not only are the salmon in danger, but other fish are, too. Environmental attack at this level puts us all in danger.
Salmon farmers are aware of the inefficient use of feed in salmon farming, and they are looking to change their ways. Unfortunately, some of the methods they are researching include feeding animal byproducts, slaughter waste and genetically modified soy products to farmed salmon. None of these would improve the health of salmon, ecosystems or consumers.
Farmed Salmon Are Bad For Your Health
Not all fish are created equally. A farmed fish is no more like a wild one than corn syrup is like an ear of corn. Because farmed salmon are “grown”, differently their end product is different as well.
Wild salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, but the total amount of fat in a wild salmon filet can be as little as one percent. Farmed salmon, on the other hand, can be as high as 27 percent fat. This high-fat content means the protein content is lower, as well. Farmed salmon has high quantities of omega-6 fatty acids and lower quantities of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids compete with omega-3 fatty acids for absorption. So not only are there less omega-3 fatty acids in farmed salmon but even less are absorbed. Consumers eating salmon for omega-3 benefits are being duped.
Because of the way they are produced, farmed salmon often carry much higher concentrations of toxins like PCBs, dioxins and mercury than do wild fish. They also contain chemicals like copper sulfate; a chemical used to combat algae in pens.
Farmed salmon can also contain the food dye canthaxanthin. Because of the way they are raised, farmed salmon flesh is naturally a sickly grey color. Consumers won’t buy a grey salmon, so farmed salmon is dyed to match its healthy, wild counterparts. Canthaxanthin has been linked to retinal damage in humans.
What Government Officials Are Doing About Salmon Farming
Government officials in places like British Columbia and Scotland are in a bind. On the one hand, they need to protect their tourist dollars, and salmon farming is bad for tourism. On the other hand, salmon farming brings in serious money that can boost the local economy. There is evidence that government officials, specifically fisheries ministers in British Columbia and Scotland are ignoring evidence that salmon farming is detrimental to the environment so they can continue accepting money from salmon farms.
Salmon farming has wormed its way into government so that it can continue to thrive unchecked. Cermaq is one of the largest salmon farming companies in the world. Who is its largest shareholder? The Norwegian Government.
Even though regulations are being set regarding what is allowed in fish farming practice, they aren’t being heeded. Despite an injunction by the high court and a ruling by the appeals body to keep them out, salmon farming giant, Marine Harvest, remains in Scotland’s lochs. If the public isn’t educated about salmon life cycles, it can seem that salmon are being protected when they are not. National salmon fjords are aquatic sanctuaries in Norway that are supposed to be protected from environmental hazards like salmon farming. Because there are no salmon farms within their boundaries, it would seem the sanctuaries are being respected. However, because salmon farms are located just outside the boundaries of these fjords, directly in the path of migrating salmon smolts, the life-cycles of these supposedly protected salmon are, in fact, greatly affected by these farms that are allegedly following the rules.
If government officials are ignorant of the problems posed by salmon farms in their nations, it is by choice. Biologists such as Alexandra Morton, First Nation representatives and environmental spokespersons regularly haunt trade conferences where they interact with salmon farming giants Marine Harvest and Cermaq, as well as fisheries ministers and other government officials. They have presented these ministers with peer-reviewed studies, personal accounts and other evidence that salmon farming is decimating economies, ecosystems and individuals.
What is their response? Canadian fisheries minister Gail Shea says, when presented with evidence of salmon farming’s hand in the collapse of a vital sockeye salmon run in British Columbia: “It’s too early to tell. I’m here to support our aquaculture industry in Canada because it’s a very important part of our economy.”
In 2009, despite knowledge of the serious problems caused by salmon farming, Norway fisheries minister Helga Pederson suggested Norway boost farmed salmon production.
Those are the repercussions of salmon farming in first-world countries. When salmon farming is outsourced to countries like Chile, the effects are catastrophic. Regulations, when they exist, are rarely met. When irresponsible farming and labor practices lead to inedible fish, outbreaks of disease or employee death, it is up to the local communities to take care of the consequences and repair the damage. Salmon farming is unsustainable in regular practice. When it is practised as it is in Chile, it wipes out ecosystems and resources and leaves environmental destruction, unemployment, and devastation in its wake.