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Monthly Archives: April 2012

What’s in a name?

As Juliet once said: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

How about the titles and descriptions by the media about protesters and activists?  Typically, in a newspaper article the person being interviewed or talked about is mentioned by their first and last name, then their title/job description. From then on, in the article, they are referred to by their last name only (though sometimes a title such as Dr. continues to be used).  In the last couple of weeks two names have been very prominent in B.C. news reporting and I found it interesting to look at articles and see how the sources that agreed with the point of view of the activist used very specific language when talking about these people.

David Suzuki has a PhD in zoology from the University of Chicago. He is referred to as Dr. Suzuki on the David Suzuki Foundation website but very seldom in the media.

Suzuki has been a prominent figure in Canada for decades particularly for his work with his foundation and for his popular tv show “The Nature of Things.” It is fair to call him an environmentalist because throughout his career he has looked at many of the problems affecting our environment and has educated many people about them.  Some titles such as “Canadian icon” are disputable as is “Canada’s patron saint of the environmental movement.” That is a very lofty title that certainly raises Suzuki above all other environmentalists in Canada.

More often than not the conventional “Suzuki” is used by the media.

In contrast, the media has a much more emotional connection with Alexandra Morton. She graduated with a BSc in the 70’s. She studied whales in the Pacific for many years. One term often used in articles to describe Morton is “biologist”  or “marine biologist.” There is some discussion about whether the term biologist is accurate and one article actually calls her “a self-trained biologist

In 2010 SFU conferred upon Morton the honorary degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa. Because of this honor Morton is sometimes referred to as Dr. Alexandra Morton. This title is questionable though because honorary degrees are only really meant to bestow an honour on someone, not recognize their scientific knowledge and abilities. Putting “Dr.” in front of your name leads people to believe that you have done at least seven years of specialized studies to earn that title.

Honorary doctorates are just that, honors. This year alone, SFU will be handing out nine honorary degrees, and it’s pretty unlikely that any of the people who are to be recognized are going to put “Dr.” on their business cards afterwards.

For example, former B.C. senator Pat Carney received an honourary doctorate on the same day as Ms. Morton. I have never seen Carney call herself “Dr. Carney” anywhere.

Some writers refer to Morton as a wild salmon activist. The term wild salmon advocate has also been used. The problem with these titles is that they imply working for something. The truth is that Morton is against salmon farming. She completely ignores any other possible causes for the problems she has seen in the ocean such as over fishing, climate change or habitat loss. If she were for wild salmon she would be active in fighting every obstacle in their way, not the one pet peeve she has set her sights on.

The most accurate descriptions for Morton and her work are in reference to her work against aquaculture: Opponent of open-net fish farming or anti-fish-farming activist.

What has she ever done that was actually “for” wild salmon?

Speaking against something doesn’t count. Words are cheap.

Salmon enhancement projects are not.

I have seen the salmon farming companies year after year support wild salmon enhancement projects with donations of cash, equipment and expertise. But from the lack of attention these donations get, you’d never know it even happens.

Does a rose still smell sweet if we call it by another name? Yes. Do activists become more credible because of fan-boys who hold them on a high pedestal and call them lovely names? No.

Call a spade a spade, a rose a rose and an activist nothing more than an activist.

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Posted by on April 26, 2012 in Opinion

 

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Closed Containment is not a Panacea

Closed containment fish farming is considered by anti-fish farm activists to be the panacea to all aquaculture problems.

However, problems such as land use, energy use, water use and waste removal are mostly ignored because the idea of separating farmed fish from wild sounds so easy without all the messy details.

Even wild fish hatcheries have an impact through land use, energy use and fish feed.

 

In September 2010 DFO did a financial analysis of 10 closed containment technologies. (emphasis added)

Closed-containment includes a range of technologies and operating environments, from ocean- to land-based production systems, with varying degrees of isolation and environmental interaction. Typically, the more closed a system is, the more complex it becomes, since its energy requirements are often greater and waste can be more of an issue.

… This analysis is a two-step process, involving 1) an overview of existing and developing technologies, along with a complete evaluation of the technical aspects and external risks of the most promising technologies; and 2) a financial assessment of the most promising technologies identified in the first stage.

The findings of this paper showed that closed containment is not an economically viable option for raising salmon to market size.

Closed containment salmon farming unlikely to be viable

Canada: A new report from the Canadian government suggests that only a full recirculation system on land could be the only type of closed containment that could have a hope of making a small return on investment

The new DFO report focused on a more detailed financial evaluation of the various systems, and “To begin the study, DFO conducted a preliminary financial assessment of all technology types identified by CSAS. The results indicated that only two of them—net pen and recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS)—were likely to show positive returns”. The RAS system showed a marginal return after three years of operation of 4% on an investment of some CAD$ 22.6 million- even after being given a favourable and perhaps unrealistic Biological Feed Conversion Rate (FCR) of 1.05 and twice the density of a typical net pen farm. In comparison, a conventional net pen operation with an initial investment of CAD 5 million would show a return of 52%, with a FCR of 1.27.

Anti-net pen aquaculture groups who rally behind the idea that closed containment is the only answer saw the report in a different light.

DFO study affirms viability of closed containment technology for salmon aquaculture

The Feasibility Study of Closed-Containment Options for the British Columbia Aquaculture Industry recognizes that land-based recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS) are likely to show positive returns and that once the technology becomes more widely adopted within the sector, capital and operating costs may continue to go down.

“This new study shows that closed containment salmon farming is economically viable, something we have said for years,” says David Lane of T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation and CAAR. “In fact, numerous companies are moving ahead with plans for closed containment in B.C., creating a potential multi-million dollar sustainable salmon farming industry, with new jobs and an economic boost for coastal communities.”

This is a very optimistic reading of the DFO report. If this idea were brought to the dragons den with only a 4% return after three years it would be immediately turned down by all the panelists.

Closed containment is already used by all the salmon aquaculture companies to raise their eggs to the size needed before placing them in net-pen to grow to market size. RAS technology is currently being used at their hatcheries and further research into this technology is important to these companies.

Marine Harvest Canada had a need to enhance the management of its hatcheries and turned to the innovative use of the recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) where freshwater is filtered and reused. Today Marine Harvest operates nine RAS systems in its British Columbia hatcheries thereby enhancing the growth and health of young fish and reducing water requirements by 90%-97%.

The success of its RAS hatcheries has led Marine Harvest to consider the possibility of growing fish to market using land-based RAS. If this technological innovation proves viable technically and economically its use may address environmental and fish husbandry challenges that are of concern to the company and to society – but it may introduce additional challenges. At present it’s not at all clear that RAS closed containment is a viable option, but the company wants to find out.

Mainstream Canada’s parent company Cermaq is also interested in the development of these technologies.

CERMAQ´S POSITION

• Cermaq believes that present technologies for open net pens allow for sustainable aquaculture, and we aim to demonstrate this in our operations.

• Closed-containment technology does not currently represent a viable alternative, due in particular to its higher energy consumption and remaining risk of escapes.

• Cermaq will be following the development of closed containment aquaculture, and will consider testing of new concepts and explore the possibilities of closed-containment fish farming if suitable projects are presented.

The energy cost in a closed system will be significantly higher compared to the free energy given by the hydrodynamic forces in the sea. Although closed-containment systems are currently being described and promoted as environmentally-friendly alternatives to net-pen farming, there is an environmental cost associated with employing this technology which should be considered in any further evaluation of their environmental performance.

OUR INITIATIVES & ACHIEVEMENTS

• Cermaq is demonstrating that net-based salmon aquaculture is a highly sustainable way to produce salmon.

• Cermaq does not develop technology or technical equipment for fish farming, but is following technology developments closely, including the development of closed containment aquaculture.

• EWOS Innovation is testing closed containment equipment to build knowledge and network on such technologies.

These companies have invested a lot in their hatcheries and they know a lot about closed containment technologies. Salmon aquaculture companies are very interested in closed containment technology improvements, but they are realistic about the fact that, right now, closed containment is not the best choice for the entire life cycle of the fish.

Some small groups have built land based and ocean based closed containment facilities but they are proving to not be very profitable.

Farming salmon on land is a risky proposition only suitable for niche markets

Land-based salmon farming workshop brings farmers together
Campbell River Mirror, September 29, 2011 2:00 PM

Thue Holm, the CEO of Atlantic Sapphire AS, is currently working on developing a facility in Denmark capable of farming 1,000 metric tonnes of salmon on land. However, he offered some words of caution.

“It’s a niche product,” he said, pointing out that a small-scale facility such as his can’t compete directly with the main farmed salmon market.

Finding a specialized market for his product, as well as selling it at premium pricing, is important, he said.

Location is also crucial, said Steven Summerfelt, director of aquaculture systems research for the Freshwater Institute in West Virginia. Summerfelt spoke at the workshop about several projects he is involved with, including a planned land farm site in Washington State which can buy electricity for only two or three cents per kilowatt-hour (BC Hydro’s business rates are closer to 9 cents per kilowatt-hour).

Summerfelt said farming Atlantic salmon on land has potential “if you can pick sites with cheap power right next to the market.”

In order for land-based salmon farms to be profitable, he said, they have to farm fish at much higher densities than ocean net pens. Conventional net pen systems farm fish at a density of about 15 kilograms of fish per cubic metre at their peak size. In order for a land-based farm to be profitable, it would have to farm fish at densities close to 80 kilograms per cubic metre or even higher, he said.

There are other closed-containment pioneers.

Closed-containment fish farming initiative launched
Glen Korstrom, Business in Vancouver, February 15, 2011

Swift Aquaculture co-owner Bruce Swift farms a small amount of salmon in land-based closed-containment tanks in Agassiz and sells most of those fish to restaurants such as C, Nu and the Raincity Grill.

He supplements fish-farming revenue by growing wasabi, watercress and other crops, which are fertilized with fish farm waste.

Swift’s production is small, however. Overwaitea Food Group therefore sources supplies of closed-containment salmon from Washington state-based SweetSpring.

But SweetSpring owner Per Heggelund earns less than half of his revenue from selling fish to Overwaitea.

The balance is generated by providing training programs for saving endangered fish species in the U.S. and selling fish eggs.

This article also refers to the in-ocean floating solid-wall pen system near Campbell River.

Walker added that, more than simply being a sustainable option, farming salmon in closed tanks in the water instead of open-net pens is also good business.

“It makes sense to control your rearing environment. There’s an old saying, ‘You can’t manage what you can’t control.’”

Walker added that algae blooms wipe out millions of fish each year. But water for AgriMarine’s fibreglass and metal tanks is drawn from depths that reduce the likelihood of such blooms.

“We control the internal rearing environment so we supplement with oxygen as well so if there’s low dissolved oxygen then we don’t suffer from that,” he said.

AgriMarine lost $2.1 million in the six months that ended September 30, when it had a $14.6 million accumulated deficit.

It’s unclear how far the company is from achieving profitability. However, Walker told BIV that, unlike other companies’ past closed-containment experiments, which were done on land, AgriMarine’s water-based operation is scalable. That’s an important consideration in a sector where economies of scale often dictate profit.

“Land-based systems will be quite a bit more expensive – by orders of magnitude,” he said. “It’s a completely different technology. When a lot of people say closed containment is too expensive, they’re referring to land-based closed containment.”

But floating tanks in the ocean aren’t cheap either, and the DFO report on all the different technologies found that they would not be profitable at a large scale.

Odd Grydeland, fishfarmingXpert, November 26, 2010

The [DFO] report suggested that a system using rigid, floating ocean tanks to produce the 2,500 tonnes per cycle of Atlantic salmon would show a negative return of between -2 and -10%. This doesn’t bode well for the newly delivered tank for AgriMarine, Inc., which is installing such a system north of Campbell River these days, although they are using a larger tank and Pacific salmon.

One of the major financial backers for AgriMarine is a coalition of anti-fish farm groups. The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform has a very specific interest in closed containment projects. CAAR states on its site  that it “is a coalition of four leading environmental organizations working to transition the open net-cage salmon farming industry to more sustainable production methods. The groups involved are the David Suzuki Foundation, the Georgia Strait Alliance, the Living Oceans Society ,  and the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation.”

CAAR threw their full support behind AgriMarine’s farm:

…We are writing to express our support for the Agrimarine Middle Bay Closed Containment salmon farm. …We believe the Middle Bay operation shows there are real, viable alternative methods to dealing with the proven environmental impacts of open net pen aquaculture and will be a valuable contribution towards demonstrating the effectiveness and economics of closed containment fish farming. …Predator interactions or kills will likely be completely avoided as will farmed salmon escapes.

Alexandra Morton supported AgriMarine but did have some reservations:

A long-time opponent of open-net fish farming has given the thumbs up to B.C.’s first-ever closed, floating salmon-farming tank.

…Morton said she only has one concern.

“I’d prefer that they were completely out of the water, because the ocean always breaks everything that’s in it eventually,” she said. “But really, my hat is off to them [AgriMarine] and all power to them. I mean, this is what needs to happen. This is the answer—closed containment. It could be a B.C. industry. Once you go into closed containment, you can grow a lot of exciting things, like algae, for example. People should really look into that—sunlight and water and you are making food.”

Even politicians were jumping on the AgriMarine bandwagon.

BC opposition party still insisting on closed containment salmon farming

Canada: New Democratic Party MLA’s heralding new farming model yet to hit the water.

With only three months until the May 12 provincial election in British Columbia, the two main political parties- The governing Liberal Party and the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) are starting to manouvre into positions that they think can garner some votes.

…In a recent interview with Kris Schumacher of The Prince Rupert Daily News, two NDP MLA’s endorsed new technology being developed by Agrimarine Industries in Campbell River, using a set of floating, solid-wall tanks with seawater pumped in and circulated through the tank holding the fish before being discharged back to the ocean. Both Skeena MLA and fisheries critic Robin Austin and North Coast MLA Gary Coons were members of the NDP-dominated Special Committee On Sustainable Aquaculture (Austin was the Chair) that delivered a report almost two years ago, recommending that all salmon farms should be transitioned into closed containment systems.

There were some others with reservations:

Odd Grydeland

When the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans wants a scientific opinion about a certain matter, it often relies on the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) which coordinates the peer review of scientific issues for the Department. CSAS also coordinates the communication of the results of the scientific review and advisory processes. Four years ago, CSAS undertook an in-depth review of various forms of “closed containment” technologies that could potentially be used in the salmon aquaculture industry. Its 2008 report; “Feasibility Study of Closed-Containment Options for the British Columbia Aquaculture Industry” found- among else- that “A review of over 40 closed-containment systems from around the world found that none was producing exclusively adult Atlantic salmon and that many previous attempts to do so had failed. Reasons for failure were numerous and were often interrelated. These reasons included but were not limited to mechanical breakdown, poor fish performance, management failure, declines in market price and inadequate financing”.

With respect to the technology that AgriMarine has been promoting as environmentally superior to conventional, floating net pens was found to require almost five times the capital investment, and the CSAS report stated that; “The engineering challenges associated with various designs of floating closed-containment systems were modeled. Those constructed of rigid material and anchored to the bottom represent a particular challenge in terms of the tidal currents and wave heights that are typical of exposed areas, which may mean that site selection for those types of structures may be limited by these two oceanographic factors”. DFO conducted a preliminary financial assessment of all technology types identified by CSAS, resulting in the findings that only conventional net pen and Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) were likely to provide a return on investment, although the latter just barely.

The conditions around Vancouver Island proved to be too much for the rigid wall containment system and in March of 2012, after a severe wind storm, the tank was damaged.

2,745 farmed Pacific salmon escaped from facility of “leader in floating solid-wall containment”

Canada’s Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) disclosed yesterday (April 18) that 2,745 farmed Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) escaped on March 12 from the Vancouver Island/British Columbia demonstration farm of the “leader in floating solid-wall containment technology and production for sustainable aquaculture”, AgriMarine Holdings Inc. “An extreme storm event caused damage to the containment structure at their facility in Middle Bay, allowing some fish, averaging 2.1 kg, to escape…,” DFO wrote. This regrettable incident is noteworthy because closed-containment technologies have been hailed by many salmon farming critics and eNGOs as being ‘the future’ of marine finfish aquaculture, notably because they made fish escapes supposedly impossible… In noticeable contrast, no other fish escapes were reported from other ‘conventional’ salmon farms in BC. On March 14th, AgriMarine had reported “some storm related losses”. On March 21, Robert Walker, President of AgriMarine Industries, had told SeafoodIntelligence: “… Until we completely empty the tank we won’t know the final number, but at this time it appears that we did not lose any fish.” The Toronto, OTCQX & Frankfurt stock-listed firm did not, yet, communicate on the escapes. One (including investors) would be in a position to expect the same transparency from AgriMarine as from other (listed or not) salmon farmers. And since when did AgriMarine know? The firm said itself it had filed a report with the feds on March 14. Yesterday, a top salmon farmer (Cermaq) stated in its 2011 Report that “Closed-containment technology does not currently represent a viable alternative, especially related to energy usage but also [fish] escapes remain a risk in closed containment farming.

AgriMarine did put out a press release about the event but it leaves more questions than answers.

As previously reported by FishfarmingXpert, a couple of weeks ago AgriMarine reported that its floating, 3,000m³ tank had suffered some damage, and today it confirms that most of the Chinook salmon grown in the tank have been sent to a processing plant at about half of the projected harvest size- approximately four pounds (~1.8 Kg) dressed weight. The company plans to repair the tank and continue with the deployment of additional, re-designed tanks.

…As expected, AgriMarine is trying to put a positive spin on this catastrophic event, but some of its statements warrant some scrutiny;

  • AgriMarine is pleased to report the first commercial harvest at its Canadian demonstration site at Middle Bay in Vancouver Island, British Columbia
    • Comment: How can a company be pleased by having to harvest its crop at half the planned size due to the failure of its technology- advertised as superior to net pens?
  • Management feels that harvest results prove the commercial value of AgriMarine’s unique technology for sustainable aquaculture
    • Comment: How can AgriMarine suggest that this event proves anything regarding commercial validity without providing any cost figures?
  • The fish reached a harvestable size in 13 months, thus demonstrating excellent growth rates achievable in the AgriMarine System
    • Comment: How do these growth rates compare with Chinook salmon grown in traditional net pens?
  • It appears that there was no loss of inventory, and although final harvest numbers are not complete, we have so far harvested and sold over 95% of the original stocking numbers
    • Comment: This is obviously a premature statement. And this is also a surprising statement in as much as the inventory of the tank on September 15, 2011 was stated as 52,954. With some AgriMarine reports suggesting that the tank was originally stocked with some 56,000 fish, this would mean that less than 95% of the fish stocked had survived up to a time over six months ago
  • Only 3 sea lice were found in the entire crop of salmon, proving that the AgriMarine System effectively controls sea lice infestations
    • Comment: Sea lice is also typically at very low numbers on Chinook salmon produced in conventional net pens, making producers of these fish exempt from most of the routine monitoring that Atlantic salmon farmers must go through
  • The processing yield was 91%
    • Comment: This is surprising, as the gills of Chinook salmon are routinely removed during processing due to their rapid deterioration. The gills represent about 3% of the round weight of the fish, while blood and viscera usually add up to over 10%

Even the fish farm protesters can't agree about growing salmon for profit.
(There were no escapes from net pens during the storm and there is no evidence of stomach cancer in B.C. farmed salmon.)

Is closed containment the answer to all the woes perceived by anti-fish farming activists? To put it bluntly, no. The truth is that even if the aquaculture industry moved on to land the anti-fish farm activists would still send up a hue and cry about the negative impacts that are worse when farming fish on land as opposed to in the ocean.

To have a land based system that matches the volume of fish currently harvested from farms in B.C. would require a huge amount of land that would be better suited to other uses. The anti-fish farm activists would complain about how much land is being used for industrial purposes. The energy requirements for the land based systems would be extensive and would require an energy source such as coal or hydro dams. One choice is bad for air quality and one choice destroys fish habitat. Neither are better for the wild salmon than what is happening right now. There is also very little if any profit to current closed containment technologies. Even the current “successful” projects have to rely on a second form of income, or generous grants from governments and philanthropic foundations, to stay open. Water based closed containment is expensive and the risk of escapes are very possible.

This is an example of land used for a fish farm hatchery by one of the major salmon farming companies. You can see the company's latest investment in closed-containment technology, a multi-million dollar RAS system, being constructed at the top of the photo. To raise salmon to full size at current volumes would require many times more land.

No one in the aquaculture industry is turning their back on closed containment. It is a vital part of the hatchery process and any improvements to the technologies benefit the industry.

The reality is that calling for the end to net-pen aquaculture is not the answer. Continued improvements in all the technologies related to aquaculture benefit the farms and the ocean.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in News

 

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Hypocrites

Monterey Bay Aquarium, creators of the Seafood Watch program are proving themselves to be hypocrites. This is the program that has attempted to simplify how consumers choose seafood that doesn’t harm the environment. The problem is that the aquarium its self buys and serves red listed seafood to the aquarium residents. They also have an “open” system where the waste water from the aquarium is flushed, unfiltered, into the Monterey Bay. Diseases and medications get washed out to sea with all the other effluence.

Instead of finding ways to clean up their act they are asking for an exemption to the Ocean Plan prohibition against waste discharge.

The Seafood Watch program is the basis for most of the seafood buying guides in North America. If this is how they treat their local marine environment this is one more reason to be critical about their seafood guide.

For a better understanding about this hypocrisy read the full story on Alaska salmon’s Blog

Monterey Bay Aquarium applying for waste impact exception

To learn more about seafood guides read our previous posting The Gospel of Seafood.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in News, Opinion

 

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Fear mongering

Alexandra Morton got more press time today and yesterday after putting out a press release to promote her latest home made science experiment.

Fear mongering (or scaremongering or scare tactics) is the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end. The feared object or subject is sometimes exaggerated, and the pattern of fear mongering is usually one of repetition, in order to continuously reinforce the intended effects of this tactic, sometimes in the form of a vicious circle.

This is the tactic used by Alexandra Morton and the supporters of the group Salmon are Sacred. They try to make people believe that fish farms are evil and should be feared, . They use repetition until people finally believe that sea lice will be the death of all wild salmon and fish farms are to blame. This despite the fact that research done by Morton herself has shown this to not be the case.

The survival of the pink salmon cohort was not statistically
different from a reference region without salmon farms.

At least here we have a scientific paper that can be referenced and reviewed. However, Morton’s newest favourite topic is disease transfer. If there is a disease on a salmon farm, there is a risk of it spreading to wild stocks. Even if in reality the risk of transfer is miniscule, Morton tries to get people to believe that any risk, even tiny, is unacceptable.

Even if there is no disease on a farm the wild stocks may still get sick and Morton and her friends will make sure that it will be the farms who are blamed. We has seen this with Morton twisting the genomic research of Kristi Miller to make it sound like farm viruses are killing salmon (even though Miller herself has made no such link and has stated it is probably NOT linked to salmon farms),

Of course this makes no sense and is bad scientific procedure. But for Morton the approach is to say “let’s find a disease, any disease, assume it’s from fish farms and find evidence to support this.” She used to be a respected scientist but I think her last few attempts at fear mongering seem more like grasping at straws.

Sea lice does not cause a higher morality rate and ISA is not proven to be in B.C. waters (if it were farms would be devastatingly affected). Those straws didn’t work, let’s try…. HSMI. It sounds scary. Most people in B.C. have not heard about it. Great choice to instill fear, yet again. But her science in this case is without merit.

B.C.’s salmon farmers, however, don’t believe the fish tested positive for the virus.”We are not seeing any indication of a virus with the impacts that she has described in the release,” said Mary Ellen Wallin with the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association.”I think that it is probably quite unscientific to test samples from a supermarket. There is no research design, the fish have no internal organs to sample and there is a lot of opportunity for cross-contamination.”

In the same article it is shown that Morton can’t seem to read and understand an abstract that she herself links to in her blog article:

Morton says the virus can spread easily from salmon farms to wild fish nearby. She says farmed salmon can recover from the virus but it can be lethal to wild salmon.

The study cited is: Longitudinal study of a natural outbreak of heart and skeletal muscle inflammation in Atlantic: salmon, Salmo salar L. “In conclusion, HSMI appears to be a severe disease with elevated mortality, morbidity close to 100% and prolonged duration.”

I don’t have a bachelors in science, like Ms. Morton, but I don’t see where it says that Atlantic salmon can recover from this disease. Morbidity close to 100% is extremely serious, like an outbreak of ebola would be for humans.

What is amazing is how many news groups and blogs are accepting her word without question. What ever happened to investigative reporting? Since the news media won’t ask the questions make sure you do before you get suckered by the age old tactic of fear mongering.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2012 in News, Opinion

 

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The Gospel of Seafood

A great looking seafood display from a store in Mississippi.

Seafood shoppers have a lot of information to consider these days when making healthy food choices.

I put my money where my mouth is. If you like healthy, fresh, available year round, great tasting salmon, try Atlantic.

But opponents of fish farming, like the David Suzuki Foundation, want to you use your wallets to shun farmed fish.

Learn more about the seafood you like to eat. Get familiar with the online sustainable seafood guides, provided by SeaChoice or Seafood Watch to help inform your choices. Your actions in the marketplace can help realize urgently needed fisheries-policy reforms to end overfishing and habitat-damaging practices.

But what is the alternative? If you want salmon on the table, and you are told not to buy farmed, then you need to buy wild. Save the wild salmon by eating them. This does not make a lot of sense to me, but, if you are going to buy wild, what are your options for putting fish on your table?

Canned fish comes from wild caught sources. Some frozen prepared fish (fish sticks etc.) come from wild sources, but fish like tilapia are farmed. Trout, Atlantic salmon and tilapia found in the fresh seafood section are farmed but most of the rest is wild. Most of the pacific salmon available in the grocery stores in Canada are caught in Alaska. Is farmed fish “bad?” Is Alaskan salmon really wild? How do we know for sure what the best choices are for the oceans?

We all know that we should care for our oceans and that overfishing has caused many problems in the last few centuries (whale hunting and cod fishing immediately spring to mind). How do we choose which fish we should buy? There are many different labeling systems currently in use across the world. Marine Stewardship Council or MSC is one of the most global and well known certifications. Also, there are at least 4 different ones across North America. So we just look for a sticker that implies a “sustainable” fish source, buy it and feel good about what we are putting on our plate for dinner, right?

Labels like gospels

People promoting these labels expect us to accept them like gospel truth.

But how much faith can we put into these labels? Are they reliable? Consistent? Do they have motivations that go beyond the health of our oceans?

MSC is based in London, England and only certifies fisheries, not farms. They have offices worldwide and seem to have a very thorough process.

Eco-labeling programs evaluate the production process of a fishery with regard to established environmental standards set by an independent third party. If the process meets these standards, the producer or marketer may buy a license to use a specific eco-label in marketing efforts. In effect, the label conveys to the consumer information concerning a product’s environmental impact. The consumer is then able to choose among product alternatives, eco-labeled and not. In theory, if the consumer perceives benefits from seafood from sustainable fisheries, then the consumer will pay a premium for that product, creating a marketbased incentive for the fishery to become and remain certified, and for other fisheries to do the same. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) was created in 1996 through a cooperative effort of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Unilever, a multi-national corporation. The goal of the partnership was to provide a standardized mechanism for certifying and labeling sustainable seafood products from wild fisheries worldwide, thereby providing a market-based incentive to maintain sustainable fish stocks. The MSC has been independent from WWF and Unilever for several years.

However, Alaska fisheries recently announced they were no longer going to seek MSC certification. If one of the largest salmon fisheries in the world doesn’t want to be MSC certified what does that say?

And there are other critics:

“Does the MSC label provide sufficient information for the consumer to make a wise choice?  Typically it does not.  There are 5 choices of text that MSC provides to accompany their blue eco-label.  None of these contain any information on the geographic stock location of the fishery, the scientific name of the species, or the fishing gear used.  There is also nothing to distinguish fisheries that have conditional sustainability certification from those that meet all the MSC criteria.  Consumers must take the MSC eco-label on faith or visit the MSC website and do their own research to determine these important details. (1)

“Sustainable fish customers ‘duped’ by Marine Stewardship Council

Certification granted to controversial fisheries has prompted severe criticism of the sustainable fisheries organisation

Richard Page, a Greenpeace oceans campaigner, said decisions to certify some fisheries “seriously undermine” the MSC’s credibility. “I will go as far as to say consumers are being duped. They think they are buying fish that are sustainable and can eat them with a clean conscience.”

… Chris Pincetich, a marine biologist with the Turtle Island Restoration Network, said: “The MSC has rushed to accept applications from hundreds of fisheries around the globe in order to grow their business and network. Many of those are actually viewed by scientists as unsustainable. They should really take a closer look before they even engage with those fisheries.” (2)

“Greenpeace is of the opinion that no fully credible certification system for sustainable seafood currently exists. Although Greenpeace acknowledges the MSC’s professional operation and its transparency and stakeholder involvement at all levels, Greenpeace does not currently endorse the MSC. (3)

Greenpeace is vehemently against certain fisheries around the world but they don’t have much to say about salmon fishing. They are against fishing in BC because of the damage they claim the logging industry has caused to the “great bear rain forest.”

However, they do mention fishing in the North Pacific Ocean and the problems associated with it:

The Bering Sea seems so remote for most of us. However, the waters between Alaska and Russia are a rich marine environment home to a diverse array of wildlife.

Polar bears, seals, sea lions, walruses, whales and millions of seabirds make their home here. It is also one of the most productive fishing spots in the world. In fact, more than half the fish we catch in the United States comes from Alaska, including salmon, pollock, king crab, and Pacific cod.

But, the fragile ecosystem cannot sustain this level of commercial fishing without paying a price. Factory fishing ships are taking too many fish out of the sea-and leaving too little left for the animals whose lives depend on it.

They are also bulldozing the ocean’s seafloor, barely leaving a coral or sponge left standing. Even native communities are feeling the negative impacts of commercial factory fishing on their livelihood and traditions.

Greenpeace states that there is no fully credible certification system for sustainable seafood; however, they do have a campaign that encourages people to shop at stores that agree with Greenpeace philosophies about sustainable seafood.

Our oceans are in peril. Despite the sustainable seafood movement gaining steam globally, the devastation wrought by global industrialized fishing continues on a massive scale. In spite of overwhelming evidence and strong warnings from the scientific community, we continue to plunder our seas.

To learn more about how supermarkets play a role in ocean conservation, Greenpeace USA has released its fifth Carting Away the Oceans (CATO) report, our periodic snapshot of seafood sustainability in the US grocery sector.

In this guide Greenpeace has granted their seal of approval to Safeway and Whole Foods for working with third-party environmental groups.

“Companies like Safeway and Whole Foods are joining forces with independent third-party environmental groups like FishWise and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in order to improve their operations and to better promote sustainable seafood to their customers.”

Green peace also applauds Target, for removing farmed salmon from their stores and selling wild Alaskan instead and gives the company a good rating because it is consulting with certification programs:

Target is a member of the Food Marketing Institute’s Sustainability Task Force and its subsidiary, Seafood Working Group. In addition to working with industry groups that represent producers, processors, and conservation organizations, Target also consults with seafood scientists on its seafood sustainability and supports certification groups such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA). Information from the company suggests that new partnership endeavors are underway.

It is interesting that Greenpeace holds such a double standard. They don’t like certifications yet promote their own. And as we see here in their latest report that Greenpeace is giving a thumbs up to Target for working with MSC, Fish Wise, Monterey Bay Aquarium and GAA. They obviously don’t like MSC and don’t have total faith in any certification system. Not to mention the fact that GAA supports fish farming in B.C. Which Greenpeace seems to hate.

Greenpeace makes bold statements against certification programs on one page of its site but seems to say something else on other pages. What is a consumer supposed to do? If you decide that any certification system is better than no system at all then which guide do you choose?

Worldwide there is doubt about MSC, so what about the North American options? Here are four groups who all oppose salmon aquaculture but support Alaska’s “wild” salmon fishery: Monterey Bay Aquarium and their Seafood Watch program, Vancouver Aquarium and their Ocean Wise program, Sea Choice, and Fish Wise. But are they four different groups who came to the same decision after individual analysis by each group? No. If you look closely at each of the groups sites eventually you will find that they all work in collaboration with Monterey Bay Aquarium. This is an American aquarium which receives American funding which in turn supports an American fishery over Canadian options.

It is hard not to be a little skeptical about their good intentions. Especially when you consider that much of the Alaskan catch is not wild at all but “cultured” or “ranched”. In other words, Alaskan salmon is born and raised in hatcheries on land, fed flakes and then pellets made from wild sources of protein, moved to ocean net pen until they grow big enough to be released into the wild to be caught later by a huge fishing industry. And yet Alaska states that it is opposed to fish farms.

Greenpeace and Alaska stand resolutely opposed to fish farms, which generate lethal amounts of sea lice that threaten wild salmon,” said Jeremy Paster of Greenpeace U.S. “British Columbia is expanding aquaculture toward Alaska, a reckless move that endangers wild salmon stocks in both Canada and the U.S.”

Aquaculture is a huge industry in Alaska but because they raise pacific salmon and they don’t raise it to full maturity in pens they figure they can name it enhancement and leave aquaculture critics behind them. Here are two of the many examples of the hatchery companies in Alaska:

Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation (PWSAC) is a private nonprofit aquaculture association founded in 1974 by local fishermen and other stakeholders to optimize Alaska’s wild salmon resources. PWSAC produces hatchery-born, ocean-raised wild salmon for the commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries in the Prince William Sound and Copper River regions.

What is the NSRAA?

We are a private, nonprofit regional aquaculture association formed by a community of salmon fishermen back in the late 1970’s with the goal of enhancing and providing salmon opportunities in southeast Alaska. At our creation, the drive was to reverse the decline in the local salmon fisheries. To date, our efforts have been extremely successful. We are involved with a range of projects, from determining hatchery and fish dock locations to operating two large salmon hatcheries.

Instead of focusing on net pen aquaculture as an issue in Alaskan waters, climate change is a better answer to the ills of the ocean.

Whether the current magnitude of hatchery production in Alaska is impacting wild stock production has been debated, especially in relation to pink salmon production in Prince William Sound. The most recent analyses suggest that variable conditions in the marine environment over time, rather than the number of hatchery fry, best explain the changes in wild stock production.

If hatcheries are not to blame why are fish farms?

Here are some recommendations from a extensive report on salmon aquaculture in North America called The Great Salmon Run:

Recognize the role of hatcheries. Salmon hatcheries account for a significant share of North American “wild”  salmon catches, particularly of pink and chum salmon. There are important issues related to the effects of hatcheries on salmon ecosystems, as well as to the economic role of hatcheries in commercial salmon fisheries and markets. These issues should be explicitly recognized in analysis and policy discussions about North American “wild” fisheries.

Recognize that the choices are not between wild and farmed salmon. It is essential to move away from the simplistic perspective that policy makers and consumers face a choice between wild salmon and farmed  salmon. Salmon farming is a major world industry which is here to stay. Wild salmon is incapable of supplying the much larger domestic and world salmon market which has been created by farmed salmon. Natural wild salmon, hatchery salmon, and salmon farming all offer potential economic opportunities and benefits to consumers. All also have inherent risks. The real issues are how to take responsible advantage of the potential economic opportunities and benefits to consumers from both wild and farmed salmon.

If you want to serve sustainable seafood choices at your dinner table use these certifications as guides, not gospel. These guides are right that it is important that we are critical about how our seafood is brought to our table and we should be aware of the source of our seafood, even if it is labeled sustainable.

We should use all the information available, not just seafood guides, to make good decisions about the seafood we buy.

Additional Reading:

* Extensive article and conversation with Monterey Bay Aquarium about how Alaskan fisheries are assessed in the Seafood Watch guide and how that will change in 2012 – written by Bertrand Charron

* Fishyfellow writes a blog about eco-certification labels and specifically focuses on the MSC

Here is a link to an interesting interview of the CEO of MSC, Robert Howes, by Bob Searle of The Bridgespan Group… One concern may be Howes’ view that “From the consumer’s perspective, they don’t need to know this amount of detail [the complexities of the MSC standard and how it is applied to determine whether or not a fishery is sustainable]. They need to see the eco label and know that that fishery has been through an incredibly rigorous, often lengthy certification and assessment process.” This sounds a little paternalistic.  Don’t worry your pretty little heads, just trust us, we have everything under control.  Surely it is the right of the public to question and challenge decisions that a third party is making regarding whether or not a fishery accessing a public resource really is sustainable?

* Food and Water Watch published a paper about eco-labels and their inadequacies.

  • The eco-label certification programs reviewed in this report demonstrate inadequacies with regard to some or all of the following: environmental standards, social responsibility and community relations, labor regulations, international law, and/or transparency.
  • Eco-labeling programs may cause increased public acceptance of products from controversial farming operations, such as coastal shrimp ponds and open-water aquaculture.
  • Eco-labeling programs fail to promote local seafood options or account for the miles that imported seafood travels.
  • Existing eco-labels have the potential to override the authority of governments, particularly in developing countries.
  • Each of the examined eco-labels that certify wild fisheries fails to meet Food and Agriculture Organization criteria for eco-labeling and certification programs for wild fisheries.
  • Financial constraints have affected the ability of some otherwise eligible fisheries to attain certification.
  • For some programs, there is a conflict between the intent to promote change within a certain fishery and the product labeling program, which can place a seal of approval on a product from a certified fishery before it has made conditional improvements in ecological performance to actually meet the standards for the label.
  • Eco-labels should not be permitted for forage fish. These types of fish are processed into fishmeal and fish oil for use in various products, including animal feed. Depleting forage fish stocks can damage marine food webs and negatively impact food security in developing countries.
 
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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Opinion

 

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The Language of Protest Pt. 4 of 4

Organic vs. inorganic or nonorganic, terrorism vs. freedom and democracy, dirty oil vs clean, free range vs. feedlot, farmed salmon vs. wild.

These arguments seem so clear, so black and white, right and wrong, but there is one more that could be added to the list: pirate vs. privateer. If you were Spanish Francis Drake was a pirate (read evil) and if you were English he was a privateer, a man fighting to keep your country safe from the evil Spaniards.

Your perception of the issue will be different depending on what you think you already know about it. The language used to describe that issue will definitely play a part in how you perceive it, whether you know it or not. In this four-part series, I will take a look at some of these dichotomies of language that protesters, governments and industries use to sway public opinion.

To read Part 1 go here.

Part 4 of 4 – Wild Salmon vs. Farmed Salmon

The idea of saving a wild animal pulls at the heart strings of humans. Saying “save the wild salmon” sounds like a great idea! But first you have to ask, are salmon in danger, and do they need saving? If so, from what?

As with everything on the planet, humans are having a negative effect on wild salmon. Is it any action in particular or is it a variety of issues? Logging, habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing, and fish farms all have effects. Is one more to blame than the others?

Logging, hydro dams and pollution

Every human action has environmental consequences.

Logging has come under stricter regulations over the last 30 years or more and everyone seems to understand the importance of leaving trees around streams and rivers. Everyone one also knows that dumping industrial waste into rivers does not benefit anyone. Many hydro dams provide salmon ladders so that spawning salmon can return to their homes.

However, not all hydro dams have had their effects mitigated. In the United States, US Army Engineers spend millions of dollars each year to move salmon past the series of dams on the Columbia River in trucks. Does it help? We don’t know for sure.

Despite being called a source of “clean energy”, the debate over hydro dams continues and many believe dams in the Western US are largely responsible for the decline of salmon in Washington and Oregon. It is highly emotional, much like the debate over fish farms, and like that debate, while the language used is black and white, the actual causes and effects are not so clear.

Net pen salmon aquaculture

Alexandra Morton and the group Salmon Are Sacred certainly believe that fish farms are the cause of all the ills in the ocean. Working from the premise that cattle feedlots are bad for the environment and knowing that the term creates a mostly negative image in peoples minds, she coined the phrase “salmon feedlots” and that term is now widely used by B.C. media.

In 2009 she started a blog and commented on what she felt was a similarity between salmon farming and agricultural feedlots.

“The Norwegian salmon farming companies that operate in BC waters are perhaps the only farmers who never shovel their manure. It flows unimpeded into our ocean and with it the bacteria, viruses and parasites that brew under all feedlot conditions.”

In 2010 her use of the term feedlot becomes more focused until eventually, instead of being like feedlots, salmon farms are labelled as feedlots.

“We the undersigned stand against the biological threat and commerce of industrial net-pen feedlots using our global oceans.”

Prior to the use of the term feedlot the description for the salmon farming that happens off the coast of BC was “net pen salmon aquaculture.” But, let’s face it, feedlot is a lot easier to fit into a headline.

The problem is the negative connotation built into the term feedlot (for more on this discussion see part 3 of this series).

“She [Alexandra Morton] calls salmon farms “industrial salmon feedlots”. Ewwww…conjures up images of chickens stuffed in cages and pigs rolling in their own poo. Ewwww. (no offence to the hard working poultry and pork farmers of this world).”

Morton can’t seem to get her opinion out strong enough with “feedlot” so she adds “industrial” to the front to make it even more “evil” (because, as we know, industry is out to destroy the world).

As discussed in the other parts of this series, if animals (or fish) are kept in unsanitary or stressful situations they will not grow. If they don’t grow, farmers don’t profit. There is no profit in harming your own stock.

Is feedlot a valid description of net pen aquaculture?

One image the term feedlots brings to mind is a large number of animals (or fish) crammed into a small enclosure. This paper takes a fair look at aquaculture and has some interesting points to make about stocking density.

CLOSED WATERS: THE WELFARE OF FARMED ATLANTIC SALMON, RAINBOW TROUT, ATLANTIC COD &  ATLANTIC HALIBUT

Written by Compassion in World Farming and the World Society for the Protection of Animals in 2007

Maximum stocking density

It is important not to stock up to a theoretical maximum but instead to provide a safety margin so as to ensure that, even when problems arise, fish continue to have good water quality and sufficient space for swimming. Farmers are not in control of all the factors – such as water quality and bad weather – that can adversely affect the fish. A safety margin is important to allow for harmful developments.

Recent research shows that above 22kg/m3, increasing density is associated with lower welfare for caged Atlantic salmon. However, in order to provide a safety margin, CIWF and WSPA believe that the maximum stocking density for Atlantic salmon in sea cages should ideally be 10kg/m3, with farmers who achieve a high welfare status and in particular low levels of injuries, disease, parasitic attack and mortality being permitted to stock up to a maximum of 15kg/m3.

Net pens in BC farm at a density that is between 15kg/m3 and 20kg/m3, and try to keep it as low as possible, which, as this study suggests, is optimal. In fact, for each net pen, only 3% of volume of pen is taken up with fish. This is far from the image of feedlots and battery chickens that Ms. Morton and her ilk try to portray.

Ms. Morton and others claim that closed containment is the only choice for the future of salmon farming, while ignoring the fact that farming fish on land on a large scale would be more “industrial” than farming them in the ocean. They seem to blissfully ignore the environmental costs of using agricultural or forest land for industrial purposes, as well as the amount of fresh water that would be required, the energy usage or the environmental cost of trucking and disposing of fecal matter.

When the word industry is Googled under images you see hundreds of photos of smoke stacks and factories. Which seems more “industrial:” a net pen floating in the ocean with a 3% volume of population per net or a land-based factory requiring hundreds of acres of developed land?

Plans for a 2,500 metric tonne land-based fish farm

Plans for a 2,500 metric tonne fish farm show it would take at least five acres of land for the tanks alone.

Current closed containment projects are being held up as examples for the future of the industry but every discussion about taking the industry out of the ocean completely ignores the land use problems. Current successful land based farms grow 100 tonnes of fish. One net pen site in the ocean grows 3000 tonnes. Take one of these land sites and increase them 30 times and you will get one net pen farm. There are many farms currently in the ocean and they do not have anywhere near the impact that land-based sites of equivalent capacity would have.

It is also seldom noted by opponents of net pen farming that the salmon spend the first third of their lifetime in a land-based facility. No one knows better than the fish farming companies about closed containment technologies, and the limitations of the technology, than the industry because they have been using it since the beginning.

Everything humans do affects the environment. Salmon farms are no exception. However, when all the human factors are looked at, it seems highly unlikely that salmon farms caused the decline of salmon runs on the west coast. An unhealthy ocean would mean an unhealthy farm. An ocean without wild salmon would be an unhealthy ocean and this is not something salmon farmers want to see happen.

Commercial fishing

Before I learned about salmon farming I learned about the collapse of the commercial cod fishing industry on the east coast. Overfishing removed fish from the ocean so there were fewer left to spawn and fewer that would be there for next year’s catch. Farmed fish (salmon being my favorite) seems a good solution.

It should be noted that fish meal and fish oil are used in fish feed. It is obtained from “forage fish… [which] are fast-growing and short-lived fish not generally used for human consumption.”

“Ocean-farmed salmon feed comprises about 30% fishmeal, a name for the otherwise unused forage fish that is converted to food. Salmon feed represents nine percent of the world’s fishmeal consumption, otherwise used for fertilizer or livestock and poultry feed…The Food & Agricultural Organization of the United Nations confirms that forage fish are not over-fished or depleted.”

This is a concern, but I also learned that salmon farmers, and farmers of other types of fish, are working very hard to reduce the amount of fish meal and oil in fish feed. And the amount of small fish harvested to use in fish feed, poultry and hog feed, and health supplements has not changed in decades, despite a growth in aquaculture around the world.

This is a good use of resources because salmon are incredibly efficient eaters.

Ratio of feed required to edible food produced (pounds)
Wild Salmon 10 : 1 or 15 : 1*
Beef 10 : 1
Pork 5 : 1
Chicken 2 : 1
Ocean-Farmed Salmon 1.5 : 1
*Varies depending on mortality rates and feeding

Many groups feel that one way to save the oceans is to not buy farmed salmon for dinner but buy wild salmon instead. Hold on a minute, to save the wild salmon we need to kill and eat them, thus preventing their ability to spawn and removing them from the gene pool? This is cognitive dissonance if ever I saw it.

For most people commercial fishing is their source for wild salmon.  If terms such as “industrial” or “factory” are considered negative when discussing farming why not when discussing fishing?

Factory ship

A fishing "mothership."

A fishing "mothership."

Contemporary factory ships have their origins in the early whalers. These vessels sailed into remote waters and processed the whale oil on board, discarding the carcass. Later whalers converted the entire whale into usable products. The efficiency of these ships and the predation they carried out on whales contributed greatly to the animal’s precipitous decline.

Contemporary factory ships are automated and enlarged versions of these earlier whalers. Their use for fishing has grown dramatically. For a while, Russia, Japan and Korea operated huge fishing fleets centred on factory ships, though in recent times this use has been declining. On the other hand, the use of factory ships by the United States has increased.

Some factory ships can also function as mother ships. The basic idea of a mother ship is that it can carry small fishing boats that return to the mother ship with their catch. But the idea extends to include factory trawlers supporting a fleet of smaller catching vessels that are not carried on board. They serve as the main ship in a fleet operating in waters a great distance from their home ports.

Greenpeace uses some very descriptive language to explain factory fishing.

“Beneath the serene beauty of our ocean waters lurks a nightmare worse than any Jaws movie. You could compare it to alien abduction – massive numbers of fish are being snatched out of the water by high-tech factory fishing trawlers. This nightmare scenario is real, and the impacts on our ocean’s ecosystems are extensive. Entire populations of fish are being targeted and destroyed, disrupting the food chain from top to bottom.”

Commercial whaling caused the decline of whales, these types of ships are now used for fishing. Would it not make sense that they will also cause the decline of wild fish stocks?

Sea Choice is a sustainable seafood program that supports Alaskan fishing over over B.C. fishing and salmon farms.

“Salmon (Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink, Sockeye) From: U.S. – AK  Method: Wild, drift gillnet, purse seine, troll

Pacific salmon in Alaska is among the most intensively managed species in the world, with excellent monitoring of both the fish populations and the fishery. Alaskan salmon dominates the West Coast salmon market. Over the past 20 years, Alaska has landed roughly 10 times as much salmon as California, Oregon and Washington combined.”

How is catching 10 times more salmon better for the environment? How is catching that many salmon sustainable?

Alaska has a hatchery program that is very different from what we are used to in B.C. Here smolts are released into a river or stream with the hope that they will grow to maturity and return to spawn. In Alaska there is a process called salmon ranching, which is also referred to as salmon enhancement. The problem with this enhancement is that it is not for the purpose of saving the wild stocks and growing the population, instead it enhances the commercial fishery and allows for the 10 times greater catch.

Simply put, salmon ranching refers to a process by which indigenous salmon are initially caught and stripped of eggs and milt. The fertilized eggs are then cultured in a hatchery where they will hatch and begin feeding on a feed powder. Mimicking the natural life cycle of a wild salmon, these salmon are then transported from freshwater hatcheries to saltwater fish farms. The juvenile salmon continued to be cultured in saltwater fish farms using net pens to contain the salmon. While in net pens, salmon are fed feed pellets to gain size and strength. Also, by remaining captive in an area suitable for a future commercial fishery, the salmon are “imprinted” to the area where they are temporarily farmed. Imprinting ensures that these cultured salmon return to the same place where they were “born” – similar to natural, wild salmon. Once large enough to successfully compete with wild salmon for food and space, these cultured salmon are released into the ocean to forage for food (referred to as “ranching”). Depending on the species of salmon (Pink, Chum, Coho, Chinook or Sockeye), they will return to their birthplace in two to four years. Upon return, a mixture of wild and ranched salmon are caught by commercial and sports salmon fisherman. Selected salmon are also retained by the source hatchery to be used again for eggs and milt – thus repeating the process.

See a video of this process here.

The beginning two thirds (or so) of life for these ranched fish is exactly the same as farmed fish. How is releasing them for the last year of their life more sustainable?

There are some opponents of this practice but not nearly as many as oppose BC fish farms. As mentioned in the posting Transparency some of the money that goes into these campaigns against fish farms in BC (such as the David Suzuki Foundation) comes from groups who support the Alaskan commercial fishery and it’s ranches. To try and say they have the best interests of the environment at heart is a double standard.

Here is one article talking about the drawbacks of this kind of salmon rearing written in Oct. 2010:

“We hear so much about missing wild salmon and recently a record run. But Simon Fraser University scientists say a population explosion of hatchery and wild salmon in the North Pacific Ocean is leading hatchery fish to beat out their wild cousins for food…“Higher levels of hatchery fish straying onto spawning grounds, combined with low numbers of wild fish, could further erode wild salmon diversity, which helps stabilize their abundances,” explains Peterman. “Many salmon from both sides of the Pacific intermingle in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and/or south of there. Together, these factors create the perfect storm for reducing wild salmon over the long term.”

Here is another, also written in Oct. 2010:

“We’ve been down this road before, in salmon country further south. I watched Oregon’s salmon economy crash after a failed reliance on hatchery-produced salmon. Oregon and Washington are now busy reforming salmon hatcheries, after learning the hard way that a salmon economy built on hatchery fish is a house of cards.”

If the practice of salmon ranching were stopped in Alaska, the Alaskan fishery would collapse and people would be shocked about how few salmon are left.

Alternatively, the Sea Choice guide says:

“Freshwater habitats in Alaska have remained relatively pristine, and salmon originating in Alaska does not face the same damming, deforestation and development challenges as those in California and the Pacific Northwest. The current abundance of Alaska salmon and its habitat reflects the success of the state’s management practices. For these reasons, wild-caught salmon from Alaska is ranked as a “Best Choice.”

B.C. does face the development challenges mentioned and because of this Sea Choice does not recommend salmon caught in B.C. waters. It doesn’t seem to me that the abundance in Alaska has as much to do with the state’s management practices as it does with the abundance of salmon ranching in the state.

What Sea Choice does not point out is that the fish which spawn in B.C. rivers travel through international boundaries to the northern pacific, where they are taken from the ocean by American fishermen and sold as an American product.

What is sustainable seafood?

Is wild salmon the best choice for dinner? How was it caught? Where was it caught? How much fuel was used to catch it and deliver it? What percentage of the wild stock was directly destroyed by that catch?

Sustainable is a word used by people on both sides of these protests, but what does it mean? The Google dictionary explains it this way: 1. Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level. (esp. of development, exploitation, or agriculture), 2. Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources. Industry Canada explains it this way:

Sustainable development’s most common definition is “a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, from the United Nations study which first brought this issue to the world’s attention more than twenty years ago (Our Common Future, The World Commission on Environment and Development – Brundtland Commission, 1987). It is an approach to growth that considers the impacts of policies, programs and operations on economic prosperity, environmental quality and social well-being.

Which is more sustainable; an industry that directly kills a population by removing it from the ocean or an industry that strives to have as low an impact on the ocean as possible but is still able to provide a fresh product all year long?

For more information about the aquaculture industry in BC please visit: BC Salmon Facts, Positive Aquaculture Awareness and the blog Salmon Farm Science.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in News, Opinion, Series

 

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The Language of Protest Pt. 3 of 4

Organic vs. inorganic or nonorganic, terrorism vs. freedom and democracy, dirty oil vs clean, free range vs. feedlot, farmed salmon vs. wild.

These arguments seem so clear, so black and white, right and wrong, but there is one more that could be added to the list: pirate vs. privateer. If you were Spanish Francis Drake was a pirate (read evil) and if you were English he was a privateer, a man fighting to keep your country safe from the evil Spaniards.

Your perception of the issue will be different depending on what you think you already know about it. The language used to describe that issue will definitely play a part in how you perceive it, whether you know it or not. In this four-part series, I will take a look at some of these dichotomies of language that protesters, governments and industries use to sway public opinion.

To read Part 1 go here.

Part 3 of 4 – Free Range vs. Feedlot

Mmmmm... BBQ!

There is a lot of debate over how beef is raised, slaughtered and sold. If you Google the terms “feedlot vs. free range” you will not find much in favour of this method of cattle farming.

Popular films such as “Fast Food Nation” and documentaries such as “Food Inc.” paint a very unpleasant picture of cattle farming and particularly how beef is processed and sold.

What is a feedlot?

According to the Google dictionary it is “an area or building where livestock are fed or fattened up.”

The US EPA refers to them as AFOs

“Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) are agricultural operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations…. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures, fields, or on rangeland.”

Not as picturesque as free range cattle, also called grass fed cattle.

“Since the late 1990s, a growing number of ranchers have stopped sending their animals to the feedlots to be fattened on grain, soy and other supplements.  Instead, they are keeping their animals home on the range where they forage on pasture, their native diet. These new-age ranchers do not treat their livestock with hormones or feed them growth-promoting additives. As a result, the animals grow at a natural pace. For these reasons and more, grass-fed animals live low-stress lives and are so healthy there is no reason to treat them with antibiotics or other drugs.”

Since the industrial revolution, the bulk of the human population has become concentrated in cities. One downside of this is that we move further from our food production, creating a great disconnect between what we think we know about farming and what really occurs when food is raised for the billions of people who now live on this planet.

As children we learned about farms with red barns and happy farmers in overalls surrounded by a few animals. But this isn’t real. And this leads to a serious misunderstanding about what is good for food production, and what is good for animals.

The more we are separated from our food sources, the more humans like to anthropomorphize animals. We see an image of cattle close together and we know that we would not like to live that way so we decide that animals should not live that way. As adults living in urban centers we read an article or two about “feedlots”, we see a few pictures that don’t fit with our ideal image of a farm and we start to form opinions about how cattle should be raised.

[When commenting on free range cattle] “Those cows will stay on pasture eating grass for their entire lives, “doing what God intended a cow to do,” said Seth Nitschke, who owns Open Space with his wife, Mica.”

This disconnect from where our food comes from leads to groups like PETA that don’t like any form of meat production:

“Many organic and free-range farms cram thousands of animals together in sheds or mud-filled lots to increase profits, just as factory farms do…”

PETA’s opinion aside, the life of free range cattle seems idyllic, but is it really? No needles, hormones or close quarters but also no shelter, no diet control, no salt lick, no medical care (i.e. antibiotics)… free range doesn’t necessarily mean healthy and happy.

There are environmental issues to consider, too. Would free range cattle be able to feed the growing population of this world? Free range cattle need a lot of grass to graze on. That is land that could be used for growing crops. Soy is being grown not just for food but also as an alternative diesel fuel. What is the best use of agricultural land?

It is so easy to say “no” to a practice because you are removed from it and it makes you uncomfortable, but have you looked at all sides of the issue? Have you investigated the ultimate outcome of your protest?

There are many websites with negative perspectives of feedlots, using language and carefully chosen images to paint a dark and dreary image of sad animals, crammed together, being force fed, drugged and never seeing green grass.

But the truth about feedlots (especially those in Canada) is not what you may believe.  For an example from Ontario check out the virtual farm tours (also see other links at the bottom of this article). The site points out that the animals do not spend their entire lives in pens.

“Cattle being raised for market are moved to feedlots (penned yards) from the open range and pastures for the final months before marketing. They’re fed a high-energy diet of grains, corn or hay silage or hay. The consistent, high quality feed brings them to market weight faster then on grass alone.”

Here is more information from the virtual tour:

“About the Life Cycle of Beef Cattle

Cows are generally bred in the summer because farmers try to time the birthing of calves for the spring. This is so that the calves can be born outside and both cow and calf benefit from fresh pasture and decent weather.”

The tour of the feedlot will take you to the feed control room. Here you will find a description of what kind of food these cattle are fed.

“Once they are moved to feedlots at about fifteen months of age, the cattle are fed a nutritionally balanced mixture of forages such as grasses, alfalfa, or clover with vitamins and minerals added to balance the animal´s nutritional needs. By the end of their stay in a feedlot, cattle will be eating a diet that consists of about 90% grain like corn or barley.”

In BC barley is used exclusively.

The fact is that farmers, whether they are growing grass-fed, free-range or feedlot beef, want their animals to be comfortable and healthy. A sick animal or an animal under a great deal of stress will not grow or gain weight. Any farmer interested in a profit from her herd will ensure the health and well being of her animals.

If you are concerned about where your meat is coming from or how it is raised, ask questions. Talk to your grocer or butcher about where they purchase the meat. Even better, take the time to talk to a farmer about what they do and how they treat their animals. Talk to livestock and poultry feed suppliers and ask questions. It is amazing what you can learn from people who work with animals everyday.

Here are some internet resources to get you started:

Alberta Feedlot Management Guide 2nd Edition

Farmissues.com – your gateway to information about Canadian food and farming

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association

Government of Saskatchewan – Agriculture

For a skeptical but balanced look at an American feedlot read this article:  Cattle Feedlot: Behind The Scenes

Part 4

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2012 in News, Opinion, Series

 

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