Almost every category one can approach speaks to the concerns about farmed salmon. Atlantic farmed salmon have escaped from fish farming pens in British Columbia and Washington, They pose a threat to wild Pacific salmon populations through competition for food and habitat. They have been classified as an invasive species in the Pacific Ocean and are being monitored by the Atlantic Salmon Watch Program (ASWP).
Antibiotics: Penned fish are regularly fed antibiotics through their feed. Because it is not natural for fish to be penned, the close proximity in which they must dwell causes illness and other conditions to sweep through entire farms. The possibility of infecting wild salmon as they migrate by penned salmon both as smolt on the way out to sea and as adults on the way back to their spawning grounds makes farming practices questionable. Integrity and stewardship for our Mother Earth and her seas must precede our business practices. In contrast Wild Salmon do not have infestations of illness because they are not penned. A sick wild fish will die at sea or be naturally culled by predators. Information on these drugs are provided in the Fish and Fisheries Products Hazards & Controls Guidelines² third Edition June 2001.
Washes: Farmed Salmon must be regularly bathed in washes to try to keep down the incessant infestations of sea lice. A mature Wild salmon may or may not have one or two sea lice on them at time of harvest. As a fisherman of more than 20 years gillnetting in SE Alaska I estimate 1 or 2 percent of wild Alaskan salmon will have a couple on them. I have never seen fish infested by them. However in farmed fish the infestations can only be controlled by drug washes and are the norm rather than rare. Aside from the torment to the creatures who so patiently serve mankind, sea lice are a greater hazard to wild fish that to farmed fish. Wild smolt who migrate past pens pick up the lice and one or two on their tiny bodies will kill them. Craig Orr left his post as a federal fisheries biologist to join the David Suzuki Foundation (http://www.davidsuzuki.org) and has researched the demise of the pink runs on the coasts of Vancouver Island and conclusively determined the extermination of entire runs of millions of pink salmon are due to their contagion as they migrated by BC Farmed Fish pens (see www.watershed-watch.org). It is hard to understand the level of lack of integrity by shoreline salmon fish farmers as evidence mounts against the safety of them. We are truly connected beings and it is inexcusable that these farms allow themselves to threaten the wild runs.
Excrement: Does a salmon **** in the sea? You bet it does, but as all sea creatures move through the oceans, their feces do not pollute the waters because the oceans are so dilute. Rather the ocean floors absorb and compost wastes and the tides and currents and vastness of it all keeps it safe for all inhabitants to find homeostasis. A salmon fish farm is another entity altogether. The pollution from feces and uneaten feed collects beneath the pens and renders the shoreline polluted and dead. On the migratory journey to Alaska through British Columbia in 1989 we tied our boat Desire to the dock in the harbor near the village of Soldatna. A harbor dweller who lived on his boat and worked on engines for his living told us that he refused to service the boats of the nearby fish farms because the pollution was killing the tidelands beneath the pens. Its true we all must make our living to survive but this man's personal integrity precluded he make his living supporting the fish farms in any way. It was a strong statement to us that he felt his environment so threatened by these farms that he put his desire to protect the tidelands before making a living. Truly we all can make a difference by our behavior and by our love.
Omega Three Fatty Acids: Wild fish browse on a varied diet as they move from river and stream through tide lands out into the vast Pacific Ocean thousands of miles and back to the river of their birth. They lay down a layer of fat between their skin and muscled body and between the layers of muscles. Their roe is 20% oil. They prepare their bodies to stop feeding as they enter their river system and to sustain them hundreds and even thousands of miles upriver to the spawning grounds. The fat in their bodies is called Omega three and it is an essential fat for the building and maintaining of our tissue. In other words, some fats we eat are used for fuel and are not essential for our life. We can use a variety of fats interchangeably however omega three fats are essential to life and can only be obtained by a few foods, oily salmon being an excellent source.
Farmed fish are fed a diet of pellets which are formed from fish meals made by harvesting fish and processing it into feed. By the way, it is an inefficient system. It takes two pounds of harvested fish to be consumed as feed to make one pound of farmed salmon. When a fishes diet is not varied by natural browsing but is rather made of a few harvestable species, problems arise. Nutritional problems must be addressed with additives. It has been determined that pollution in the harvested fish pellets is more concentrated than in the natural grazing eating paradigm. Fish farmers, to combat the pollution and increase the nutritional value of farmed fish, are moving towards using less fish meal and fish oil in salmon feed and adding more vegetable products and oils. This leaves the farmed fish with even less omegas three oils in their tissues. The fish does not create Omega three fatty acids, just as the human body does not create this essential nutrient. The fish must consume Omega three fatty acids to receive this essential nutrient just as we must. (See The Bellingham Herald - March 17, 2003.)
Pollution: Besides being pollution in the Pacific Ocean the farmed fish is much higher in pollutants than its wild counterpart. The wild salmon moves unceasingly through the oceans usually only swimming in inter-tidal waters at the beginning of their life cycle and at the end. More pollutants are in tide land areas because human beings live in these areas and produce pollution which makes its way into the sea. Farmed fish are demonstrably higher in pollutants and it is recommended that many kinds should not be eaten more than once a month. Personally, I try to avoid eating pesticides and pollutants and find there are safe options available including organic foods and wild fish. See a chart on recommended guidelines for maximum meals per month of farmed vs. wild salmon published by the University of Albany Institute for Health and the Environment here.
Colorants: Farmed Atlantic salmon must be made artificially pink otherwise the flesh will be an unappetizing gray color. The fat between the muscle layers in farmed fish does not absorb the added color well and remains gray. Farmed fish have poor muscle tone and are essentially overweight. This can be seen by the thckness of this inbetween muscle layer. The colorants astaxanthin and canthaxanthin are added to the feed a short time before slaughter to color the flesh. View a "salmon fan" (chart of artificial salmon colors) at http://www.smithandlowney.com/salmon.
Muscle Tone: Wild fish are ever moving. Their motto: Eat or be eaten. They migrate from their river of birth through tides and currents into the vast Pacific Ocean. Their bodies are pure muscle and their life depends upon it. The return trip is even more harrowing than the outward bound journey. Once back in their river they must swim against the massive current for miles and miles. Some runs must jump waterfalls and rapids. It is truly awesome and I tell you THAT is the fish I want to eat!
The farmed fish however spends its life treading water. The farmed fish has meager muscle tone accounting for its soft texture. Treading water for life in a crowded pen is neither healthy for the fish itself nor does it make for a healthy meal for the consumer. It is a reletively new idea that the creatures we eat should have a reasonable life and is a mark of increasing human consciousness. Regarding the purchase and consumption of farmed fish: Caveat Emptor.
Lesions: Wild fish, though they swim in schools at times also swim singly and in pairs and small groups. There is ample space around them preventing the spread and infestations of disease and sea lice.
Farmed fish live in crowded pens. If they were not penned tightly the feed tossed into the pens would largely waft to the bottom. Much of it does, accounting for shoreline pollution. The tightly crowded pens cause much bodily contact and constant chaffing occurs causing lesions. These sores have difficulty healing contributing to the spread of illness. Interestingly, when Bob still gillnetted Puget Sound back in 1987 he caught a farmed fish escapee. It had a lesion on its body that was oozing and grotesque. Bob said he always wanted to taste farmed fish but the sore put him off it. We have never caught a farmed fish in Alaska because so far anyway it is still illegal to farm fish there. Farmed fish are subject to external protozoa and monogenetic tremetodes and fungi which must be treated by various drugs. Some of these drugs are: Formalin Solution, Oxytetracycline, Sulfadinethoxine/ormetoprim combination, Acetic Acid, Calcium Oxide Garlic and onion. These and other drugs some of which are approved by the FDA and some of which are not but are still permitted can be found listed on pps 131-133 in the Fish & Fisheries Products Hazards & Controls Guidance: Third Edition, June 2001.
Escapees: Farmed fish are polluting our Pacific Ocean and the stream and river beds where wild salmon spawn. It is a terrible environmental crisis. They eat the tiny smolt as they migrate out, they compete for food, they enter the spawning grounds and attempt to spawn, digging up fertilized eggs They are a menace and hazard to the delicate balance of our ecosystems. One wonders why the British Columbia government has all but eradicated the wild fisherman in suport of fish farming. BC runs have diminished significantly since the rise of fish farming and farmed fish have been observed in record numbers in spawning channels. See http://www.ems.org/salmon/farmed and_wild.html.
Marine Mammals Harassment: Fish Farms in British Columbia must deter the natural behavior of marine mammals such as orca whales, seals and sea lions Marine mammals naturally forage the sea and must be kept from breaking into the pens. One way thousands of salmon escape is from tears in pens caused by marine mammals. Two web sites that discuss both the killing and harassment of marine mammals by fish farmers are: www.georgiastrait.org/reviewmammals.php and www.seaweb.org/resources/19update/mm.html. A most important web site to visit is Alexandra Morton's. She moved to BC to study the sounds of the orca whales, but they have been driven from their habitat by salmon fish farm audio devices that polute the waters. Please go to www.raincoastresearch.org/about.htm and http://www.princerupert.com/economy/morton_responds_hagen.htm
In Conclusion: As you can tell I am passionate in teaching the ills of farming salmon. I feel part of what it means to be human is to endlessly and relentlessly refine ourselves so that we might act with ever increasing integrety. I believe this is the cure for our bodily ills as well as the healing of our planet. Each one of us wherever we are holds a piece (peace) of the giant jigsaw puzzle of life on Earth. Our participation at the level of honesty and integrety is what makes this life worth living and this world so wonderful.