September 9, 2016

You May Never Eat Wild Salmon Again. Here’s Why.


“Our wild salmon are in serious need of our support, and we need to be saved from eating their farmed relatives,” said my father.

Where I live on the West Coast of Canada, one third of our salmon industry is used to grow farmed salmon. Globally, over 50 percent of seafood consumed is produced inorganically through aquaculture (farmed) and aproximately 62 percent of this seafood is produced in China.

Wild Salmon stocks are currently only a fraction of what they used to be, and many other species of fish have collapsed on a global scale. Overfishing is not the only problem anymore; right now open-net pen fish farms are the biggest problem.

These are massive pens placed in our open oceans and stocked with bred, diseased, treated and mass-manufactured non-native fish. The crazy thing about most fish farms is that they are owned by huge foreign investors who never have to live with or see the consequences of the industry they’re creating.

The people who live off these waters do know, however. First Nations are leading the stand against open-penned fish farms, built without permission in their own waters. These waters have sustained traditional ways of life, culture and spirituality for centuries—and now they are sick and dying.

Shockingly, the local government has granted permission to foreign companies to introduce such havoc into our ecosystem.

Farmed fish are foreign species bred in giant pens and fed antibiotics; they carry sea lice and deadly viruses with them. When so many animals are kept in such close quarters, they can’t help but produce more disease.

Just recently, scientists discovered heart and skeletal muscle inflammation in the salmon in my local waters. This disease is common in Norwegian fish (and many of the fish farm companies are of Norwegian heritage), but had never been seen before in our waters. This virus makes fish incredibly sick, causes abnormal swimming behavior and leads to organ damage and eventually death.

Since there is no way to completely isolate the open-penned farmed fish, their diseases spread. These infected fish escape and then contaminate our wild stocks.

Our local sea life has no natural antibodies for these foreign viruses, hence they are incredibly vulnerable to infection.

Sea lice are another huge problem exacerbated by fish farming. Most salmon naturally encounter sea lice (small marine parasites that attach to the gills of fish and feed off of their mucous and skin); however, in a fish farm, hundreds and thousands of fish are housed in confined quarters, a perfect environment for these lice to multiply and spread. Mass infestations of sea lice leak outside the open pens and into our aquatic systems, attaching onto our more fragile wild juvenile salmon and often leading to death.

The antibiotic used to treat diseased farmed fish goes straight into our main coastal food source: the ocean. In the case of combatting sea lice on fish farms, one study said that the pesticide solution used in fish farms spreads up to half a mile and lasts as a concentrated toxin for over five hours.

Let’s not forget the feces produced by this massive concentration of fish, which disrupts the habitat outside of the pens. Algae growth from the excrement of fish farms can be damaging; the Israeli government even shut down several fish farms because of algae growth’s devastating effects on their natural reefs.

Lastly, because these pens are located along major salmon migration routes, they disrupt the traditional migratory passage of our wild salmon, too.

One solution to these dangerous aquaculture creations would be to bring the open net fish pens onto land. This would create closed container farms, which would have less impact on our waters and native species.

I am so passionate about educating ourselves about fish farming because I grew up wild fishing. My father taught me how to fish at a young age, and wild stocks have always been a part of our family’s diet.

A simple thing we can do in our own lives to help this cause is choose to not buy farmed fish.

Oceanside communities like my own have thrived off of wild fish for thousands of years. Let’s not allow companies that don’t even eat or live off these waters to wreak this destruction any longer. We change this by taking back our power of purchase.

Here are four ways my father the fisherman has shown me to tell if the salmon we’re buying are farmed:

1. Color.

Farmed salmon are a lighter color. The natural color for Wild Salmon should be a dark orange to red, whereas farmed will be a light, washed-out orange.

2. Larger and regular spacing between the bones and tissues.

Farmed salmon bones will be too evenly distributed. Wild fish are biologically unique, while farmed fish have been bred to all be the same, so we will notice too much symmetry in their bone and tissue structure.

3. Fat versus Slim.

Farmed salmon have a higher fat content than wild ones, and are thus more round around their middle. Wild salmon will be longer and sleeker.

4. Taste.

This is where my father chuckles when I asked him what he meant. “Farmed just don’t taste like salmon.” But if you’ve never had wild salmon, how would you know? “Go buy from a local fisherman… they know.” And so we should.

It is our responsibility to protest for and protect the wild and its inhabitants so that it may provide for us as it has always done. Let’s not buy and support a foreign and diseased product that is profiting immorally off of First Nations land and water.

I would like to honour the First Nation Peoples of the Nuu-chah-nulth, the Klahoose, the Kwakwaka’wakw, the Homalco, the Sliammon, the Squamish, the Halq’emeylem, the Ostlq’emeylem, the Hul’qumi’num, The Lekwungen, the WSANEC, the T’sou ke and the Pentlatch, whose traditional territories my family and I have fished our whole lives. I have much gratitude to you.

“We must collectively do whatever is necessary to protect our wild salmon stocks from extinction.” ~ Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs


(If you would like some more information on this topic, here is a fascinating movie about how open-net pen farming is killing our Salmon: Salmon Confidential, by biologist Alexandra Morton.)


Author: Sarah Norrad

Image: Steven Zolneczko/Flickr 

Editor: Toby Israel


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