In June 2014 my son went on a school trip to Seattle. One of the highlights was a visit to the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, where he learned more about the plight of salmon. It sharpened his mind about farm-raised salmon, as well as wild-caught salmon, and he came to understand eating sustainable salmon is by no means clear-cut. Farmed salmon comes with all sorts of harm to both species and environment, whereas wild salmon is struggling to survive. He now feels he should not eat salmon at all. Is it as black and white, I asked him? Surely there is farmed salmon that is raised sustainably for both environment and fish? Wild salmon caught without depleting the species? I asked him to write down his story, and I would research alternatives to his standpoint. Before I continue with that, here is what he wrote:
“We drove down a beautiful mountain road surrounded by alpine mountains with sapphire blue lakes in the valleys. After a few hours in the bus we arrived at the National Fish Hatchery where a park ranger entered the bus and explained that the hatchery breeds three different types of endangered fish that are commonly found on the plates of millions. These fish are Chinook salmon, Pacific lamprey and steelhead trout (rainbow trout). The guide took us to the hatchery’s own museum. That was where we were taught all the different species of fish that are commonly found in the state of Washington. Those fish are Sculpin, Redside shiner, pacific lamprey, mountain socket, mountain white fish, Chinook salmon and brook trout. A question lurking deep in your frontal lobe might be: “won’t a large amount of fish be needed in order to breed fish?” Well, an interesting fact is that 1000 fish in the hatchery is enough to potentially breed 1.2 million fish.
When talking about salmon, and the fact that they are endangered, I asked the manager of the hatchery: “what should we eat, wild caught or farmed salmon?” His answer was given quickly and clearly and without doubt “oh, you should always eat wild caught!.” He explained that farmed salmon have been treated inhumanely: getting cheap, synthetic food; they get filled with pesticides, antibiotics and hormones to increase the size of the fish; and most appallingly, the colour of the fish meat is chemically dyed to increase market appeal. The fish farms are also a hazard to other marine species and even humans. Between 1996 and 2008 over 3000 harbor seals, 750 California sea lions, over 300 Stellar sea lions where shot dead by fish farms to prevent loss of fish. Also the dye and hormones fish farmers inject into their produce is found to contain pollutants that could cause health issues. So, should we eat wild caught salmon instead? Well, the answer is, not quite. Salmon is still heavily endangered. The best thing to do is to walk past the salmon all together.” (written by my son, aged 14).
In response to a previous post where I mention the ongoing salmon debate in our house, Verlasso’s director Scott Nichols got in touch with me. Awaiting ASC* certification, Verlasso is a DNV certified sustainable salmon farm. Scott Nichols explained how Verlasso was founded to develop a new approach to sustainable salmon aquaculture, one that protects the health of the salmon, reduces depletion of precious ocean resources and protects the eco-systems where the salmon are raised. In his own words:
“The measure of all of us as food producers is not that there are environmental consequences to our actions but, rather, what we do to control, manage and mitigate those environmental effects.
The single most crucial issue facing salmon aquaculture is how the fish are fed. Traditional salmon aquaculture puts tremendous pressure on wild fisheries because it requires about 4 pounds of wild caught fish to provide the fish oil needed to raise 1 pound of salmon (this is often called a fish in fish out ratio of 4:1). Verlasso has solved the holy grail of salmon aquaculture by simultaneously lowering the amount of feeder fish from 4:1 down to 1:1 and still retaining healthy levels of omega-3s in the salmon’s diet.
We raise our fish at a pen density of 12 kg of fish per cubic meter of water. By comparison, the national regulation in Norway is 25 kg/m3. Additionally, we do not increase the number of pens at a farm site so our farms have substantially lower impacts on the surrounding ecosystem.
We fallow our farms for a minimum of 3 months and an average of 6 months. This gives the waters and ecosystem the chance to rejuvenate fully.” (Scott Nichols, http://www.verlasso.com
Salmon yes or no remains a difficult question to answer. Even if we’re careful in choosing sustainable salmon, by sheer amounts of daily consumption worldwide: aren’t we outrunning the salmon? And not just salmon. Articles abound on the topic: we’re harvesting fish faster than the ocean can replenish.
I was happy to listen to my son’s concerns. Sustainability efforts notwithstanding, we need to contribute as consumers. Together we’ve agreed to pick our fish carefully, be moderate, and use “good alternatives” to fish that we find listed as under threat.