The sea cage farming of carnivorous finfish such as salmon, tuna, cod and sablefish is fundamentally flawed in five ways:
Open net pens discharge untreated sewage effluent directly into Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Waste discharges include substances such as contaminated feed, toxic chemicals, artificial colourings, infectious diseases and mass escapes. Factory salmon farms like those in Clayoquot Sound are very large, so the volume of waste produced is significant. For instance, a recent application in Clayoquot Sound described the proposed site as consisting of 14 pens, each of which was 90 feet by 90 feet by 90 feet -- equivalent in total size to three football fields. This farm could contain 700,000 farmed salmon.
Scientists have calculated that some factory salmon farms can discharge untreated sewage effluent equivalent to a town of 200,000 people. Most of Cermaq's salmon and sablefish farms have the capacity to produce in excess of 2,000 tonnes of farmed fish per production cycle and total production capacity is in excess of 40,000 tonnes. Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is home to less than 1,500 people yet the salmon farms in Clayoquot Sound are estimated to produce as much sewage as 150,000 people.
By not paying for the pollution they cause, salmon farms are freeloading on the marine environment at the expense of tourism, fishing and shellfish farming. The accumulation of sewage on the seafloor in the vicinity of fish farms can severely impact and reduce the biodiversity of sea life that would naturally be present. Salmon farm sewage can contains antibi otics and pesticides, which make their way into the ocean food chain. Scientific studies have shown that 74 to 100 percent of wild fish caught in the vicinity of fish farms contain antibiotics in their flesh. Untreated effluent from salmon farms has been shown to cause eutrophication and may stimulate algal blooms.
Closed containment systems, an alternative to open-net cages, have exisited for years but many companies have dismissed them as not cost effective.
For more information on toxic salmon wastes see "A Big Fish in a Small Pond."
Whether from damage by storms or by simple mistake, escapes of farmed salmon happen. Sometimes only a few fish will escape through a small gash in a net, or other times a mass escape occurs spilling tens of thousands of farmed salmon into the natural environment.
Feral (wild) populations of Atlantic salmon hold the potential to jeopardize native wild fish by out-competing certain Pacific salmon species for food and habitat. Escaped farmed Pacific salmon also pose a serious threat to wild salmon. They can interbreed with wild salmon of the same species causing a dilution of genetically distinct runs. Farmed Pacific salmon are impossible to track as they cannot be distinguished from wild fish. Salmon farming companies have not implemented tagging programs that would make tracking escapes possible.
Open net cages can leak hundreds of thousands of farmed salmon escape each year across the globe -- an estimated 2 million in 2004 including an escape of 1 million farmed Atlantic salmon in Chile. Official Government figures show that reported escapes of farmed Atlantic salmon in British Columbia are in almost 400,000 since 1991 and over 215,000 since 1998. Since 1987 ca. 1.4 million farmed salmon (Chinook, Coho, Steelhead and Atlantics) have been reported escaped from their cages -- many into the waters of Clayoquot, Barkley, Nootka, Kyuquot and Quatsino Sounds on the Wild West Coast of Vancouver Island. Farmed Chinook (Creative Salmon are one of BC's largest producers of Chinook farmed salmon) are responsible for 70% of all reported escapees (1987-2003) despite making up only 22% of 2003 farmed salmon production in BC.
In September 2007, a net cage containing about 25,000 Atlantic salmon was ripped during harvesting at Cermaq’s Saranac Island farm. The 2007 British Columbia Marine Finfish Aquaculture Compliance report states that 19,168 Atlantic salmon escaped into Clayoquot Sound. As of October 2008, conservation officers and personnel from Ministry of Agriculture and Lands are still investigating the escape.
In January 2002, over 8,000 fish escaped from one of Cermaq's salmon farm in Clayoquot Sound. Cermaq were subsequently fined for failure to prevent escapes. Inspections by MAFF during 2002 also found that Creative Salmon's farm at Eagle Bay was in non-compliance for a failure to report escapes as required. In May 2004, 33,000 Atlantics escaped from cages operated by Norwegian multinational Grieg Seafood in Nootka Sound -- just north of Clayoquot Sound.
Faced with a flood of escapees, FOCS wrote to the BC Government in February 2005 demanding a public register of all escape incidents. Dr. John Volpe, professor at the University of Victoria's School of Environmental Studies said: "Public accountability with regard to farm escapees is sorely lacking. Until a transparent, auditable system is in place the public will be kept in the dark regarding what happens on these farms. Thus government is complicit in making it impossible for seafood consumers to make an informed choice."
Friends of Clayoquot Sound are a regional drop-off location for the Atlantic Salmon in Pacific Waters Research Group (with the University of Alberta). If you catch an escaped Atlantic, freeze it, record the date and location, and come drop it by our office.
For more information on escapes see Dr John Volpe's "Super Unnatural: Atlantic salmon in BC waters" published by the David Suzuki Foundation.
Densely packed salmon farm cages in the Pacific is a recipe for disaster. Infectious diseases and parasite infestations are a continuing struggle in many farms. Salmon farms have been linked with the spread of sea lice and diseases in wild stocks.
Sea lice are small marine 'ecto' (surface) parasites that occur naturally and feed on the skin, fins and/or gills of many different species of wild fish. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that juvenile pink and chum salmon that swim near open-net salmon farms become infected with sea lice. Because juvenile pink and chum's protective scales are not fully developed when they enter the sea, these young salmon can die shortly after the parasite attaches. Experiments have shown that pink and chum salmon fry can die when infected with only a single mature sea louse. Data suggest that up to 95 per cent of migrating juvenile salmon can be lethally infected, which may lead to localized extinctions in salmon farming areas.
View a short video that fully describes the impacts and relationships between sea-lice, salmon farms, and wild stocks - Click here to watch and learn
The parasite Kudoa thyrsites which causes the condition known as "soft flesh" syndrome in farmed Atlantic salmon, began showing up in marketed Atlantics from BC farms by 1991. The parasite, which causes fish to soften into a jelly-like consistency, has led many salmon producers to offer discounts or credits on products infected with Kudoa.
In Clayoquot Sound and South Vancouver Island the following diseases and parasites have been reported in farmed Atlantic salmon by the BC Salmon Farmers' Association since 2003: Aeromonas salmonicida (Furunculosis), Caprellid Infection, Myxobacterial Infection, Lepeophtheirus Infection (Sea Lice), Renibacterium salmoninarum (Bacterial Kidney Disease) and Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis.
BCSFA figures for farmed Pacific salmon in BC were affected by the following diseases during 2004: Nucleopsora (Enterocytozoan) salmonis infection, Renibacterium salmoninarum infection, Aeromonas salmoncida infection, Caprellid infection, Large spleen syndrome, Vibrio (Listonella) infection, Myxobacterial infection, Costia infection and Saprolegnia.
Chemicals used on salmon farms include antifoulants to kill organisms such as barnacles and mussels that grow on the net-pens, artificial colourings to dye salmon flesh, antibiotics to treat infectious diseases and anti-parasitics to kill sea lice.
Copper-based antifouling paints are typically used on BC salmon farms to keep the open net-pens free from encrusting organisms. The active ingredient, copper, can end up in the ocean when the nets are stripped or cleaned, and it can slowly leach into the water directly from the paint. Copper is a toxic heavy metal.
Artificial colourings are often used to dye the flesh of farmed salmon pink. Canthaxanthin (E161g), has been linked to health fears. In the United States, supermarkets have to label by law whether farmed salmon contains artificial colourings, but this is not the case in Canada.
The use of antibiotics on BC salmon farms is also increasing with more than 25,000 kg of antibiotics used in 2003 alone - twice the amount used in 1995. When measured per tonne, antibiotic use was the highest in 1998. The pesticide of choice to treat sea lice outbreaks is emamectin benzoate, which is registered under the trade name Slice®. Here are some facts about Slice® use in BC:
For more information on chemical use in the salmon farming industry see "Silent Spring of the Sea" -- a chapter in the book "A Stain Upon the Sea - West Coast Salmon Farming."
The fifth and fatal flaw of open net-cage salmon farming lies in the raw material used to feed farmed salmon (and ultimately in the farmed salmon product). Fish meal and fish oil, used by the salmon farming industry as pellets to feed their farmed stock, is both depleted and contaminated. Salmon farmers are caught between a rock and a hard place -- between the devil and the deep blue sea. No amount of tinkering with the food supply will alter the fact that farmed salmon is a hazard to both wild fish and human health.
Far from being a solution to the decline of wild fish, the farming of carnivorous salmon is part of the problem. Aquaculture already uses up over 70% of the world's supply of fish oil and by 2010 that figure will rise to over 90%. The salmon farming industry is rather like an oil tanker running on empty (and running out of fuel). By choosing to eat farmed salmon consumers are contributing to the demise of capture fisheries not saving wild fish. Instead of farming carnivores such as salmon and sablefish we should be farming herbivorous species lower down the food chain.
The farming of carnivorous fish such as salmon is inherently unsustainable as vast quantities of wild fish are required to provide farmed salmon with food. By farming salmon -- top level predators at the top of the food chain -- we are effectively 'robbing Peter to pay Paul'. We are quite literally draining the oceans to provide the raw material to fuel the expansion of salmon farming. A scientific paper in the journal Nature calculated that it takes over 3 tonnes of wild fish such as anchovies, sprats and mackerel to produce one tonne of farmed salmon.
Salmon farming is not only a threat to the marine environment but it also poses risks to public health. According to data gathered by the US Food and Drug Administration farmed salmon contain more fat and are lower in the beneficial essential fatty acids such as omega-3 than wild salmon. The stark contrast between lean wild salmon and fatty farmed salmon is evident if you take the time and trouble to read the nutritional information on salmon labels. Whilst some wild salmon can have fat levels of less than 1% some farmed salmon can be as high as 27%.
An investigation by CTV and the Globe and Mail in February 2005 also found farmed salmon was contaminated with flame retardants. Out of 12 common foods tested, the highest levels by far were found in farmed salmon and trout. Farmed Atlantic salmon was found to be 187 times more contaminated than milk, 85 times more contaminated than cheese, 80 times more contaminated than extra lean ground beef and 35 times more contaminated than pork chop. According to CTV, "Canadian food now has the second highest levels of chemicals in the world, after the US". Beverly Thorpe of Clean Production Action said: "Compared to Europe our levels are 10 to 100 times higher and they are doubling every two to five years. So we are facing a chemical crisis".
The take home message is a stark one: eating farmed salmon is bad for both the health of the marine environment and for public health. Think twice before you take a cheap farmed salmon steak home to your family and friends.
PO Box 489, 331 Neill St., Tofino BC V0R 2Z0
Summary report of Global Assessment of Closed System Aquaculture ( 300 KB PDF - small)