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Going Green Good for Pattison’s Pocket Book

A common protest against salmon farms is that they are owned by multinational corporations. It seems that to these protesters big industry = bad. But when a large industry matches your world view it is ok and it doesn’t matter how much money they make or how many nations they are involved in because they agree with your beliefs. Two examples of this: the “wild” Alaskan fishery (marketing coordinated by ASMI) and Jim Pattison Group (which owns companies across Canada and the US). I have talked at length about the billion dollar Alaskan industry but what is going on with Jim Pattison Group (JPG)?

June 28, 2012: Overwaitea Food Group, which is owned by JPG,  achieved a “green” ranking in Greenpeace‘s seafood sustainability report by discontinuing “red-listed” items such as net-pen farmed salmon. Carmen Churcott, vice-president, OFG, stated in the OFG press release: “At the end of the day, we want people to feel confident that we’re doing everything we can to provide seafood today that also ensures that seafood will be available for future generations.”

That sounds like a nice sentiment. A question arises though… where will that seafood come from? They point out that they are sourcing land-raised coho and are able to sell it at all their stores. That is great for fresh salmon but what about frozen and canned salmon? They will sell Canfisco products of course!

In 1984 JPG acquired the Canadian Fishing Company which is also known as Gold Seal.

Is the elimination of net-pen raised salmon a choice for the sustainability of the environment or the sustainability of a multinational corporation who has a huge stake in the diminishing returns of the Alaskan “wild” fishery?

Not all grocery stores are jumping on the Greenpeace band wagon. Sobeys disagrees with Greenpeace. David Smith, Sobeys’ vice-president of sustainability, has said  “We don’t follow the herd.” Sobeys and its parent company Empire Company do not have any direct links to seafood production and seem to be able to make a more informed decision than the JPG.

Thankfully not all supermarkets give in to pressure from protest groups or take the easy way out of competition between seafood products. There are many stores across Canada that offer Canadians the ability to choose what they think is best for their families.

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Posted by on June 29, 2012 in News, Opinion

 

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Alaska’s little white lie

The dichotomy in action.

The state of Alaska, through the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), claims that all the salmon caught by fishermen in Alaska are wild. Sustainable seafood ecolabels such as MSC and guides such as Seachoice perpetuate this claim and further claim that current fishing methods are sustainable.

Is the salmon in our supermarkets as wild as we are led to believe, or is Alaska telling a little white lie to encourage the farmed vs. wild dichotomy?

Looking around the internet at sites that protest salmon farming you are often confronted with the recommendation to “eat wild.” Where am I supposed to get this wild salmon? For most people in B.C., local salmon is not that easy to obtain, except for a month or two in summer. During the rest of the year, most of the salmon sold in large B.C. supermarkets is from Alaska. Most salmon with a Seachoice or MSC label is from Alaska. MSC recently certified B.C. pink and sockeye fisheries, and will certify chum fisheries this year,  but the Seachoice guide still lists B.C. salmon as having “some concerns” while Alaska salmon are green lights all the way.

Chum Opening at Hidden Falls Hatchery – An example of Alaska’s so called “sustainable” fisheries.

Alaska hauls in huge amounts of fish every year. How are they able to sustain such large catches year after year? “Careful management” is the reason given on the MSC website and the Seachoice website. Depending on how you look at it, “Careful management” has three parts: 1. Hatchery programs, 2. catch limits, 3. a prohibition on finfish farming.

Salmon aquaculture protesters hold Alaska in high esteem for their aquaculture policies (prohibitions) and ASMI use this to their advantage when talking about this legislation.

Alaska salmon are wild; there are no salmon farms in Alaska. In order to protect Alaska’s wild fisheries from potential problems, salmon farming was prohibited by the Alaska legislature in 1990 (Alaska Statute 16.40.210).

All Alaska salmon live in their natural habitat in the cold, clean waters of the North Pacific Ocean. Here they grow to adulthood at their natural pace, eating only their natural foods like shrimp, herring, squid, zooplankton, and other marine life. They swim free on the high seas and then return to their natal streams on their own schedule. This is why Alaska’s salmon fisheries are seasonal, rather than year-round. Alaska salmon are wild; there are no salmon farms in Alaska. In order to protect Alaska’s wild fisheries from potential problems, salmon farming was prohibited by the Alaska legislature in 1990 (Alaska Statute 16.40.210).

Here is the statute:

Alaska Statutes – Section 16.40.210.: Finfish farming prohibited.

a) A person may not grow or cultivate finfish in captivity or under positive control for commercial purposes.
(b) This section does not restrict
(1) the fishery rehabilitation, enhancement, or development activities of the department;
(2) the ability of a nonprofit corporation that holds a salmon hatchery permit under AS 16.10.400 to sell salmon returning from the natural water of the state, as authorized under AS 16.10.450, or surplus salmon eggs, as authorized under AS 16.10.420 and 16.10.450;
(3) rearing and sale of ornamental finfish for aquariums or ornamental ponds provided that the fish are not reared in or released into water of the state.
(c) In this section “ornamental finfish” means fish commonly known as “tropical fish,” “aquarium fish,” or “goldfish,” that are imported, cultured, or sold in the state customarily for viewing in aquaria or for raising in artificial systems, and not customarily used for sport fishing or human consumption purposes.

For those not fluent in legalese here is an explanation from an FAQ on the government of Alaska’s site:

Can I raise fish?
No. Alaska statute 16.40.210 prohibits finfish farming. However, Alaska does allow nonprofit ocean ranching. Finfish farming is defined as growing or cultivating finfish in captivity. Ocean ranching, on the other hand, involves releasing young fish into public waters and being available for harvest by fishermen upon their return to Alaskan waters as adults.

So, as with most things in life, it comes down to money. As long as you are not making a profit from your finfish aquaculture facility you can grow fish.

Is there finfish aquaculture in Alaska? Yes. Eggs are harvested from wild fish and grown in closed containment hatcheries. When they hatch they are fed commercial fish feed, then, when they are too big for closed containment facilities, they are put into ocean or lake net pens where they are fed pellets, leave their excrement on the ocean floor, deal with sea lice and receive vaccinations to ensure that the spread of disease is very low. However, because the fish are released into the ocean to return when they are mature, these operations are labeled “hatcheries” or “salmon enhancement programs” instead of fish farms.

In Alaska the hatcheries are run by public non-profit (PNP) organizations paid for by fishermen and the government of Alaska. Because these fish are raised for a few years then released into the ocean to live out their last year or so, any fish caught by a fisherman (regardless of where it started its life) is considered a wild fish:

5 AAC 39.222(f)(43) Policy for the management of sustainable salmon fisheries. “wild salmon stock” means a stock of salmon that originates in a specific location under natural conditions; “wild salmon stock” may include an enhanced or rehabilitated stock if its productivity is augmented by supplemental means, such as lake fertilization or rehabilitative stocking; “wild salmon stock” does not include an introduced stock, except that some introduced salmon stocks may come to be considered “wild” if the stock is self-sustaining for a long period of time.

It cannot be said that Alaska has no finfish aquaculture, only that the fish are not harvested from a site for profit. They are instead released to be caught later by fishermen, who then sell them for a profit.

The Wally Noerenberg hatchery (above) on Esther Island in Prince William Sound is one of the largest such facilities in Alaska, releasing 175 million pink and chum salmon in 2006. The fish farm pens adjacent to the hatchery are used to hold the fish prior to release.

PNPs don’t deny the term aquaculture. In fact, many of them use the word aquaculture in their corporate titles: Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association, Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation, Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association.

What is aquaculture? According to Wikipedia:

Aquaculture, also known as aquafarming, is the farming of aquatic organisms such as fish, crustaceans, molluscs and aquatic plants.[1][2] Aquaculture involves cultivating freshwater and saltwater populations under controlled conditions, and can be contrasted with commercial fishing, which is the harvesting of wild fish.

The aquaculture of salmon is the farming and harvesting of salmon under controlled conditions. Farmed salmon can be contrasted with wild salmon captured using commercial fishing techniques. However, the concept of “wild” salmon as used by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute includes stock enhancement fish produced in hatcheries that have historically been considered ocean ranching. The percentage of the Alaska salmon harvest resulting from ocean ranching depends upon the species of salmon and location, [3] however it is all marketed as “wild Alaska salmon”.

Consumers are constantly being advised to “eat wild salmon” but how wild should the fish be? Is Alaska’s definition of any fish caught by a fisherman close enough or do we need to be more exacting in our definition and follow the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council’s definition?

“Salmon are considered “wild” if they have spent their entire life cycle in the wild and originate from parents that were also produced by natural spawning and continuously lived in the wild.”

Is it fair to market Alaskan salmon as truly wild? Many people say no:
The Truth about Alaskan Salmon  :The term ‘wild’ is false – up to 50% of ‘wild’ salmon in Alaska have been hatched in a plastic tray, fed pellets and then released from captivity to mix with real naturally wild salmon. Of course there’s plenty of salmon in Alaska – Alaska releases about two billion (yeah, billion-not to be confused with the word million) cultured salmon into Pacific waters every year. By cultured, we mean hatchery raised, pellet fed, vaccinated little salmon.  Heck, they probably have names!

Fair Questions: In its early years, the commercial fishing industry also made mistakes.  Back in the 1950s, over-fishing got so bad that the U.S. president declared Alaska a federal disaster area.  Since then, stocks have been re-built with hatchery fish. Today, about one third of Alaskan “wild” salmon is actually born in a bucket. It is sometimes said that Alaska banned salmon farming because of environmental concerns. While that may have been part of the reason, the fact is, its too cold for fish farming in most of Alaska.

blogfish: Alaska hates farmed salmon…until Alaska produces them and re-brands them “wild.” It’s a little-known fact that many of Alaska’s so-called “wild” salmon start their lives in a fish farm before being allowed to escape into the ocean. Do you think I’m kidding? Read this just released by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation:

Pink salmon in the Prince William Sound (Alaska) are a modern, man-made marvel. Hatcheries operated by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation and the Valdez Fisheries Development Association (VFDA) are responsible for virtually all of the pink salmon harvested in Prince William Sound.

A man-made marvel? These so-called “wild” Alaska salmon start their lives in fish farms before escaping into the ocean and being caught as “wild.”

Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation, Alaska

Salmon ranching is not unique to Alaska. Canada (B.C.), Japan and Russia all have “wild” salmon being reared in net pens but each country has different size programs.

Salmon farming in B.C. has been vilified by a handful of very vocal people who are good at getting their opinions into the media. Alaskan salmon ranching has some opponents, or at least people who would like the industry to be more transparent, but it does not face the same scrutiny and negative publicity directed at salmon farming.

As with most issues relating to the ocean, the source of salmon for our dinner plates is not a simple choice of wild or farmed. Wild Alaskan salmon is not all truly wild and farmed salmon is not the enemy of the ocean.

Alaskan salmon is plentiful and flavourful; the same is true for farmed salmon, which is available fresh and affordable all year round. Discounting one source of salmon because of marketing campaigns instead of doing careful research means that you could be missing out on a great product.

Many people have examined and protested the issues of salmon farming in B.C. and around the world but there seems to be some silence surrounding Alaska and it’s hatchery programs.  There is some controversy about how effective hatcheries are at helping wild populations of salmon and some of the potential negative impacts of hatcheries.

Part 2: Hatchery Fish are not Wild
Part 3: Profits First!

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2012 in Series

 

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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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