Most of us love salmon. That delicious pink fish that can be used for just about any fish dish you can think of. The problem is that there isn’t enough of it to go around. The solution has therefore been to farm salmon. A good thing you may think, but the salmon farms have a dark side. So dark that you may think twice next time to see that farmed fish in the fish counter at the supermarket, or on the table.
The environmental impact from the salmon farming industry is not very visible to the everyday Joe and Jane of our society. Most it is happening under the ocean surface, and in the rivers, and the part that directly impacts us humans is not so easy for the naked eye to see, because it is mixed together with a bunch of other dangers that we surround our selves with every day, so I will start with the simple basics first.
When I was in High School I worked for a while in a small fish farm that produced salmon fry for the big food production farms out in the fjords of Norway. The fish farming industry was still in its infancy, and everyone though it would be the next big thing after the Oil industry and tourism. It was great watching the salmon eggs hatch and the baby salmon go from swimming around with their big yolk sacks to feeding on powdered fish food. It was also fun to fish in the farms outlet where schools of large fish would gather to eat the handful of dead fingerlings that we cleaned of the exit grid every day. This was just natural, we though as in nature only about 10-20% of the fertilized eggs end up becoming 1 year fingerlings. In the fish farm 85% reach this age. We had absolutely no thought of the waste from the fish farm, because we had enough water running through the farm that the drain water was almost clean enough to drink, or at lest it looked like it was. Now, almost thirty years later I know better. Just about all the seaweed in the fjord where that fish farm lies is gone, so are most of the various species of wrassen. The sea-trout and salmon in the rivers that run out in that fjord are almost extinct, and the red animal plankton that used to color the entire fjord dark red at various times of the year are almost all gone.
Today there are several fish farms in the area. Not only the small land based fingerlings farm that had a license to produce 1,5 million fingerlings a year. Now there are several food farms as well. Open net farms that raise salmon from fingerlings to slaughter ready salmon. Even the small hatchery has increased its capacity more than three times. With a grant to produce 6 million fingerlings a year the water draining out of the farm is not longer clear, but murky brown with fish poo and leftover fish food. The bottom under the open net ponds and the outlet from the hatchery is covered with several meter high mounds of rotting material that consumes all oxygen from the water, and kills almost all life in the area. What was once spawning areas for Cod and ling, and fishing areas for shrimp and other crayfish is now a dead wasteland, and this is only part of the problem. When the fish get ill there has been four ways of treating the fish for illness. The one was to take the fish out of the pens and put them in a bath of medicine. Second was to feed the fish food that contained medicine, third was to kill off all the fish in the fish farm, and the fourth was to vaccinate the fish at a young age so they wouldn’t get ill. Today mostly the wo last methods are used, but still there are thousands of tons of waste containing chemicals and medicines on the bottom where fish farms used to be.
Under some farms these mounds are 15 to 20 meters tall, and will slowly be spreading their toxins for several decades to come.
Another problem with the waste is that most of the nutrients in the waste dissolves in the ocean water, and spreads over large distances. I fact it acts as a fertilizer, causing unwanted plant plankton to grow rapidly and suppressing the various key plankton that are keystones to all ocean life. We can see similar effects in the Baltic ocean where large areas of the Baltic are dead due to over sewer from the large cities and farming around the Baltic ocean. In addition the hydro-electric dams in area has been preventing important minerals to feed into the Baltic that are needed by the keystone species in the ocean. We can see the same effect in the Norwegian fjords, but due to their short distance to the Atlantic it will take much longer before we have a new Baltic sea incident off the Norwegian coast, but we are seeing the signs of this starting to happen.
Those beloved (and hated) Chemicals.
All big industries seem to love to use their chemicals. Fish farming is no exception. On the contrary they use a lot more chemicals than most other agriculture. They may not spray fields, but they use about twice as much just bathing their beloved salmon against sea lice.
Medicine food may be gone, but food containing anti lice remedies are frequently used in the exact same way. Then there are the chemicals for cleaning the nets. Most popularly the nets are taken on board the raft when they are emptied, and cleaned using chemicals in combination with high pressure water.
In the early days of fish farming the food given to the farmed fish was waste material from other fish products manufacturing, such shell from shrimp, and ground up fish fins, heads and guts. More or less the same food that the salmon would find at sea, but as the industry grew hey needed more, and today the fish farming industry has almost decimated several key species of fish from the Atlantic, and the pacific oceans. When the governments of the world started to set bans on the various types of fishery that the farming industry was killing of they had to find other sources of fat and protein for the salmon, so they turned to regular agriculture. Today only about 20% of the fish food is fish proteins. the rest is soy oil, and grain. Most of the soy oil comes from Rain forest damaging soy fields, where the rain forest has been cut to plant soy . The grain is mostly the best quality food grain that could have been used for human consumption.
To avoid the flour from the grain, and the fish meal to take fire they add huge amounts of flame retardant. These are chemicals that are known to among other things cause cancer. They get concentrated in the fish meat, and go on to your dinner table.
The oi is treated with preservatives so it won’t go bad, and in the same way as the flame retardants they get concentrated in the fish flesh and go on to your dinner table. The big question about this preservative is that it is illegal to add to human food, but not to put in animal food, so it ending up on your dinner table is a loophole in the system. It is also a mystery what this chemical does to humans. So far all we know is that it breaks the blood brain barrier. Two researchers in Norway got their funding cut and lost their jobs when they started to investigate the product, and Monsanto that holds the patent on the product refuses to release any data on how it effects the human body. They only have set a limit to what it is supposed to be used for.
Killing off the rest of the worlds oceans.
Do you know ow the white man eradicated the North American natives? It was not by using warfare like we read about in books, and see in western movies. It was by using biological warfare. The white man gave the natives blankets from the hospitals filled with small pocks patients. The natives had no immunity, got sick, spread the desease on to others and died. Around 90 and 99% of all natives died that way, and today the fish farming industry is doing it to all oceans, except the Atlantic. Farmed salmon is Atlantic salmon, and the farming industry has tried to move the farms to where the consumers are. Salmon farms are mainly open net farms. that means the ocean water flows freely in and out of the pens. The Atlantic salmon carry with them deseases from the coast of Norway, and have so far brought these to the coast of BC, Scotland, and Chile. We know there are Norwegian owned fish farms with Atlantic salmon in other parts of the world as well, but so far we have only heard of deseases and salmon lice being transported to Chile and BC. They have certainly been spread places as well, but a huge scandal was published when the entire farming industry in Chile got a heavy blow due to a huge outbreak of desease. In BC four known deceases with Norwegian origin have spread to the species of salmon that live native in the pacific, and are causing the rivers in BC to die out. Unlike the Atlantic salmon the Pacific salmon species are keystones in the entire ecosystem also inland BC. They are what fertilizes the forest of BC, and feed the animals of the forest there as well.
An unhealthy meal.
Besides the toxins in Atlantic salmon, causing it to be the most toxic food you can buy, it isn’t exactly a healthy meal any longer either. Fish, and specially fatty fish have been known for their high amounts of Omega-3 fat. A diet of equal amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats is considered just about the healthiest diet you can have. Unfortunately you can not rely on salmon having all those good Omega-3 fats any more. Due to the salmon’s food mostly being plant material, the fish’s fat has also changed.
Stealing jobs from local communities.
One of the big arguments for expanding the fish farming industry is jobs. For each and every license to put up a fish farm, there is a promise of a hand full new jobs to the local community. The problem is that for each fish farm there is everything from 1 to 20 jobs that go bye-bye.First o it is the loss of fishing grounds, which causes local fishermen to have to lay off their jobs, then there is the loss of natural environment, which discourages Tourists to come to the area, and thus lost jobs within the tourist industry. Unfortunately the locals either don’t see what they are loosing, or they fall short to big business and their owners with fat wallets. While the total sum of permanent sustainable jobs will cash in more tax money, and money to the locals in the long run, it is drowned by the big industries propaganda. The really sad thing is that as soon as the fjord where the farm is dies, the farm is moved to a completely different location, and the local village is left with the mess.
Is there a solution ?
Yes there is. For years now there has existed land based fish farms that recycle up to 9% of the water, and the sewer from the farms can be used to produce bio gas, and fertilizer for agriculture. Actually there is such a fish farm in Finland where only water and fish food is supplied to the farm, and out comes electricity produced on bio gas, Fish, and vegetables. A huge greenhouse complex is connected directly to the farm, which thrives on the CO2 from the electricity production, and fertilizer from the bio gas production plant.
The entire plant is completely environmental friendly with absolutely no polluting of the environment. Another up side is that there is absolutely no need for medicine, pesticides or other chemicals beyond what is needed to wash the tanks, as the entire system is closed.
Is is unfortunately a long way to go before such plan will take over for the open net farming. Fish farmers don’t want to invest in something that will reduce their profits.
This is big business, where each fish farm has a hand full of employees, working at normal wages, and one or two big owners that skim the profits for their own pockets.