The Environmental, Economic, and Contamination Issues of Wild vs. Farmed Salmon
After shrimp and tuna, salmon is the third most consumed fish in the United States (Knapp, Rohelm, Anderson 123). Salmon are a unique species of fish because they are anadromous, meaning they are born in freshwater, migrate to the ocean as juveniles, and return to freshwater to reproduce. There are two sources to this incredible fish: salmon that are farmed in aquaculture pens and wild salmon that are caught by commercial fishermen using gill nets, purse seines, or by hand troll. However, choosing to consume wild salmon instead farm-raised salmon is clearly the better choice after considering the environmental, economic, and contamination issues regarding both of these sources of salmon.
Perhaps the most concerning issue regarding farmed-raised salmon is the destructive impact that salmon aquaculture has on the environment. One major environmental consequence associated with salmon farming is salmon aquaculture is occurring in habitats that are not natural to certain salmon species and escapees from aquaculture pens are a threat to wild salmon populations. Approximately 90 percent of all farmed salmon is Atlantic salmon; a species that stocks are nearly depleted in the wild (Naylor, Hinda, Fleming, Goldburge, Williams, Volpe, Whoriskey, Eagle, Kelso, Mango 428). Given the name Atlantic salmon, they are only native to river systems of the Atlantic however, Atlantic salmon are now being farmed in the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, millions of Atlantic salmon escape their aquaculture pens each year, and invade non-native waters in places such as British Columbia, where Atlantic salmon are now found is approximately 80 river systems (Naylor, Hinda, Fleming, Goldburge, Williams, Volpe, Whoriskey, Eagle, Kelso, Mango 428). The invasion of Atlantic salmon places stress on the native species of salmon as they compete for the same prey and reproduce with wild salmon that are native to the river system. In an interview with Robert Murphy, an Alaska Peninsula salmon management biologist of 23 years with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game claims that “farmed Atlantic salmon have poor genetic diversity, and are often inbred. When these salmon escape and invade river systems, they reproduce with wild salmon and pass down these poor genes to the wild species genetic pool which affects the survival rate of the next generation.” Furthermore, in the article Sterilize Farmed Salmon to Save Wild Salmon, “Scientists now fear that wild populations will be damaged irreversibly, losing traits that have evolved to keep them adapted to their environment, unless sterilization is introduced as mandatory” (Smith 12). Not only are poor genes by farmed salmon escapees are a severe threat to wild salmon stocks, Murphy also stated in his interview that “farmed salmon are given antibiotics and when they are integrated with wild salmon, they spread diseases to the native population because wild salmon do not have immunity due to the lack of antibiotics.” Another environmental consequence that is just as significant as farmed escapees is the waste produced by aquaculture. Since farmed salmon are confined to an aquaculture pen, they discharge high concentrations of fecal matter into the ecosystem and produces harmful algae blooms (Schardt 10). Harmful algae blooms produce bacteria that release toxins known as “red tide” that kill many forms of aquatic plants, fish, marine mammals and results in “dead zones”: a problem at is snowballing into effect (Shardt 10). Furthermore, a salmon aquaculture of 200,000 farmed salmon produces effluent that equivalent of a small city with a population of 65,000 (Shardt 10). Salmon farming is threating the existence of wild salmon populations and destroying marine habitat that was once thriving with life.
Growing up in the second largest fishing port in the United States, it is very common to see a bumper sticker saying “friends don’t let friends eat farmed fish” around Kodiak, Alaska. Being a crewmember on a commercial salmon fishing boat myself, I have experienced the market for wild salmon first hand. To give a gist about how commercial fishermen earn their living, we make money by selling our catch to fish processing plants. Eventually, salmon products such as salmon fillets and canned salmon that are produced from seafood processing plants are exported all over the United States, Europe and Asia. The owner of the boat and commercial fishing permit receives all of the income from the sold fish and is responsible for all expenses associated with fishing which includes maintenance, repairs, fuel, insurance, food, and paying the crew that help run the boat. Crewmembers are not paid by the hour, but receive a percentage of net income from the fish sold. Commercial is fishing dangerous work, although it is not the only risk associated with the job; you never know when you are going to make your next dollar. When the boat is experiencing poor fishing, or not fishing at all due to a closure in the fishery or a boat repair, the crew is not earning a living. In addition, catching fish is only half of the equation to a commercial fishermen’s income; the price that seafood processing plant pays for raw fish plays is just as important. However, the increasing demand for farmed salmon is a key reason why the price of wild sockeye that the fish processors are buying from fishermen has dropped from $1.40 to roughly $.80 per pound for this upcoming season. Theoretically speaking, if commercial salmon boat were to catch the same amount of salmon this upcoming season as last year, the crew would make approximately 40 percent less money. A key reason why the price fell significantly is because the seafood processors that purchase wild salmon directly from fishermen are losing money because they are unable to sell all of their products from the previous season due to decreasing demand for wild salmon. Americans consumed 300,000 metric tons of salmon in 2004 compared to 130,000 metric tons in 1989 and its consumption is continuing to grow considerably due to the increased importation of farmed salmon from other countries (Knapp, Rohelm, Anderson 123). In addition, of the 300,000 metric tons of salmon consumed in 2004, two-thirds were farmed salmon and one-third was wild salmon (Knapp, Rohelm, Anderson 123). Furthermore, Norway, Chile, Canada, and the United Kingdom produce 98 percent of the world’s farmed-raised salmon (Shardt 9). Therefore, overseas aquaculture farms do not employ Americans nor do they pay taxes that benefit communities across the United States if their business were to be established in this country. However, commercial salmon fishing and seafood industries across the United States employ many residents of coastal fishing communities and also produces a significant amount of tax revenue. According to a press release from the United Fishermen of Alaska, Alaska’s seafood industry produces a staggering $250 million in tax revenue annually from commercial fishing. The press release states, the fisheries business tax generated the most tax revenue of all of the seafood taxes and fees at $44.2 million for the fiscal year of 2013. In addition the press release explains how the levy works, “Fisheries business tax is collected primarily from licensed processors and persons who export fish from Alaska” and there is a direct correlation with the price of salmon and the revenue that is generated from this levy because, “the tax is based on the price paid to commercial fishers or fair market value when there is not an arm’s length transaction”. Also, the press release informs that the Alaska Department of Revenue receives half of the fisheries business tax revenue while the other half is dispersed between 65 fishing communities and boroughs. Commercial salmon fishing has a positive impact on Alaska’s economy however, the trend of importing farmed salmon from other countries is threatening both the livelihood of commercial fishermen and the tax revenue that is a result from the commercial fishing of wild salmon in Alaskan waters.
Supporters of salmon aquaculture generally have two main arguments against wild salmon: salmon farming more sustainable to the environment because of the untargeted species that are caught from fishing techniques such as gillnetting and farmed salmon has less contaminants because the ocean is polluted. Also known as bycatch, unwanted species that caught from salmon fishing is based solely off of the assumption of old fishing technology. Gillnetting is a fishing technique that uses a net that is stretched vertically in the water column and when fish swim into the webbing of the net, it entangles the fish by the gills so it is unable to swim away. Based off of my observations as a commercial fishermen on a boat that uses gillnetting to harvest salmon, there is little to no bycatch involved with Alaskan gillnet salmon fisheries. The gillnets used in these fisheries do not catch every living organism that comes in contact with as one may believe, in fact, the webbing is specifically shaped for salmon gill plates and is sized to only catch salmon. If an untargeted marine organism is too big, it will bounce of the net and if the creature is too small, it will swim right through it. Further, the webbing used in gillnets today is so specific that we use different size webbing to catch different species of salmon. To debunk the myth that marine mammals are constantly entangled into our nets, here is some enlightenment; marine mammals such as seals are highly intelligent animals and wait by gillnets until a salmon is trapped in the net. Once a salmon is completely helpless and unable to swim out of the net, the seal will viciously eat the salmon out of the net because mooching fish is much easier than chasing a fish with its primary defense being capable of swimming at high speeds. Cetaceans such as whales are not caught in salmon gillnets either and are powerful enough to swim completely through the net, blowing a hole in the webbing since it is of relatively thin nature. These new technological advances in gillnet help minimize bycatch because no fishermen wants unwanted fish; it waste our time, energy, and wears out our gear. Alternatively, farmed salmon are fed a diet of fishmeal and fish oil. To meet the demand of this artificial diet, other wild fish are required to be caught. It takes three tons of wild fish such as herring in order to produce one ton of wild salmon which threatens the sustainability of other fisheries (Wilson 30). Opponents that claim bycatch caught by commercial salmon fishermen places stress on other species of fish is a hypocritical refutation considering that wild fish are needed be caught by commercial fishermen to feed farmed-raised salmon. To address the argument that farmed salmon has less contaminants than wild salmon because the ocean is polluted, salmon management biologist Robert Murphy also stated in his interview that “Although some species of wild salmon such as chinook salmon can contain miniscule amounts of mercury, these levels are not concerning enough to be dangerous for human consumption because of wild salmon’s unique lifecycle unless excessively eaten. Most species of wild salmon only spend two to three years in the ocean before migrating back to their native freshwater river system compared to other species of fish such as tuna, which spend their entire lives in saltwater, therefore have high levels of mercury.” On the other hand, in a web article published by Harvard Medical School, claims that polycholorinated biphenyl (PCB) levels in farmed salmon on average, are almost eight times higher at 36.63 parts per billion compared to 4.75 found in wild salmon. The article also stated that PCBs are a synthetic chemical that was commonly used in paint additive before being banned in the 1970’s and while the Environmental Protective Agency classifies PCBs as probable to causing cancer in humans, studies have also found that children that are born to women with that have high levels of PCB are more likely to have neurological problems and developmental delays. The claim that wild salmon have higher contaminants than farmed is simply not true.
The web article published by Harvard Medical School states that both farmed and wild salmon have significant health benefits as they both contain high levels of omega-3 and a diet that is rich in this fatty acid can prevent sudden death from irregular heart rhythm, heart attack, and stroke. However, the next time you are at a grocery store or seafood restaurant looking for a healthy dosage of omega-3 fatty acids from this superfood, be more mindful about the two sources of the salmon. Not only is wild salmon more sustainable for the environment and contains less contaminants, consuming wild salmon also benefits workers in the seafood industry and supplement government budgets that are reliant seafood taxes. The bottom line is, choose wild Alaskan salmon instead of farm-raised salmon.
“Getting Your Omega-3s vs. Avoiding Those PCBs.” The Family Health. Harvard Medical School, 1 Apr. 2004. Web. 9 May 2015.
“Farmed Salmon vs Wild Salmon: Salmon Management Biologist Robert Murphy’s Point of View.” Telephone interview. 5 May 2015.
Knapp, Gunnar, Cathy A. Rohelm, and James L. Anderson. “The Great Salmon Run: Competition Between Wild and Farmed Salmon.” (2007): 123. TRAFFIC North America, 1 Jan. 2007. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
Naylor, Rosamond, Kjetil Hindar, Ian A. Fleming, Rebecca Goldburg, Susan Williams, John Volpe, Fred Whoriskey, Josh Eagle, Dennis Kelso, and Marc Mangle. “Fugitive Salmon: Assessing the Risk of Escaped Fish From Net-Pen Aquaculture.” Bioscience 55.5 (2005): 428. Oxford Journal, 1 May 2005. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.
Schardt, David. “Farmed Salmon Under Fire.” Nutrition Action Health Letter June (2004): 9-10. JSTOR. Web. 1 May 2015.
Smith, Lewis. “Sterilize Farmed Salmon to Save Wild Salmon.” The Independent. The Independent, 10 Mar. 2014. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
United Fishermen of Alaska. Alaska Seafood Industry Taxes. United Fishermen of Alaska, Jan. 2015. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.
Wilson, H.W. “Farmed Salmon.” Ecologist 35.8 (2005): 30. EBSO Host. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.