Is Farm-Raised Salmon Sustainable?

by Mark Lovett on January 30, 2010

As we strive to create a more sustainable world, managing the food chain is one of the most important subjects we deal with. In the case of seafood, harvesting wild fish using industrial style fishing methods has resulted in depleted fisheries. Raising fish in commercial farms has become a popular alternative, but the practice is now criticized by many environmentalists.

In a surprise move, Target recently announced that it has eliminated all farmed salmon from its fresh, frozen, and smoked seafood offerings in Target stores nationwide and further stated that salmon sold under Target owned brands will now be wild-caught Alaskan salmon.

“Target strives to be a responsible steward of the environment, while also providing our guests with the highest-quality food choices,” said Greg Duppler, senior vice president, merchandising, Target. “Our guests now have an array of sustainable seafood choices at great prices.”

This news comes on the heals of a Pew Environment Group report, Pew Cautions Against Unregulated Fish Farms in U.S. Federal Waters, issued last November which raised concerns about the creation of fish farms in U.S. waters without proper Federal regulation.

“The recent escapes of tens of thousands of farmed salmon from the pens in several primary producing countries serve a grim reminder that the environmental impacts of salmon farming remain to be addressed,” said Gerald Leape, senior officer at the Pew Environment Group.

“These massive escapes also reinforce the point that any open ocean aquaculture legislation approved by Congress must have strong mandatory standards that prevent environmental impacts by farms that are built in U.S. waters.”

Photo by: Alexandra Morton, Science News

Few people have ever heard of fish lice, but this ScienceNews article, Predators Zoom in on Lice-Infested Salmon, is an eye-opener to the problem.

Not only do the lice suck the lifeblood from the young fish, but the wounds are also an open door for harmful bacteria and viruses. Previous research suggests that juvenile mortality linked to lice-infested farms can be as high as 95 percent, says Martin Krkošek of the University of Washington in Seattle.

Farmed Salmon Issues

Oceana posted this article in 2008, 4 Reasons to Avoid Farmed Salmon, with four key points.

  1. It’s bad for wild salmon. Approximately three million farmed salmon escape from their pens each year, jeopardizing endangered wild salmon populations with genetic dilution.
  2. It spreads disease. The crowded conditions of salmon farming pens provide ideal conditions for the outbreak of parasites and disease, such as infectious salmon anemia, which caused the collapse of the industry in 2007. The diseases are often transferred to the wild salmon as they swim past the caged salmon. As a result of the overcrowding and potential for disease transfer, the industry uses high doses of pesticides and antibiotics on the fish, including the quinolone family of antibiotics, which are meant for use only in humans.
  3. It’s wasteful. Carnivorous farmed salmon consume wild caught fish for food, competing directly with humans and other fish species for this diminishing resource. In Chile, it can take 8 kilograms of fish from the world’s oceans to produce 1 kilogram of farmed salmon. Some of the fisheries that feed salmon — anchoveta, sardines, jack mackerel — are now becoming over-exploited as a result, which has consequences for the entire ocean food chain.
  4. It’s bad for your health. Farmed salmon contains high concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other dangerous contaminants, and the widespread use of antibiotics and pesticides may lead to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. (Plus, It is dyed “salmon” color because its natural color would be grey from it’s artificial diet.)

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What are your thoughts on farm-raised salmon – is this a sustainable practice?

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Lanny Grant October 2, 2010 at 5:43 am

New study released yesterday shows that aquaculture is vital to keeping the fishery alive in Alaska. Over 1/3 is hatchery salmon.

So, given the concerns above – fish meal conversion, salmon color and genetic risk – all riskier with hatchery fish than farmed fish – where is the concern from Target? There are many more hatchery fish swimming about in our oceans than farmed fish – hatchery salmon that are eating, screwing and pooping (not necessarily in that order I’m sure).

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GlobalPatriot July 13, 2010 at 11:28 pm

It is quite sad that our oceans can no longer support demand from a population increasing in both numbers and affluence. Farmed fish may be required to feed us, which means we need to do a better job at it.

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Chris Clark July 13, 2010 at 5:49 am

It's a very hot topic with lots of debate to go around. My issue isn't that farmed, hatchery raised, ranched, or genetically altered is (necessarily) a bad practice. It's a cover for the fact that our wild stocks are depleting rapidly (for many reasons). I wrote a blog post about it earlier today as well. http://proguidefinders.com/robo-salmon-somethin

Thanks for your perspective G.P.

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Daniel Brett March 8, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Interesting post. I’m a Fulbright scholar researching the issues associated with the international salmon industry, and have found that the benefits of “wild” salmon over farmed is frequently overstated. I encourage you to learn about and contribute to my research here: http://salmonsurvey.questionpro.com.

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Daniel Brett March 8, 2010 at 10:21 am

Interesting post. I’m a Fulbright scholar researching the issues associated with the international salmon industry, and have found that the benefits of “wild” salmon over farmed is frequently overstated. I encourage you to learn about and contribute to my research here: http://salmonsurvey.questionpro.com.

Reply

thepinkpeppercorn February 7, 2010 at 8:17 am

Eww. That is my honest reaction! I’ve watched and read so many things about fishing now, it is hard to eat any fish at all. Especially when there is hardly any left, with whole fishing areas left devastated.
.-= thepinkpeppercorn´s last blog ..Blog Aid for Haiti – A COOKBOOK! =-.

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Global Patriot February 7, 2010 at 9:05 am

It is extremely sad to see a wild fishery collapse due to overfishing…not a good thing for an expanding population.

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thepinkpeppercorn February 7, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Eww. That is my honest reaction! I’ve watched and read so many things about fishing now, it is hard to eat any fish at all. Especially when there is hardly any left, with whole fishing areas left devastated.
.-= thepinkpeppercorn´s last blog ..Blog Aid for Haiti – A COOKBOOK! =-.

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GlobalPatriot February 7, 2010 at 5:05 pm

It is extremely sad to see a wild fishery collapse due to overfishing…not a good thing for an expanding population.

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Alex Radway February 2, 2010 at 9:09 pm

This just sounds crazy – 8KG of fish to produce 1KG of salmon (echoes of grains and meat production – I’m not a veggie, so I’m not speaking from a pedestal)…I think us humans are completely barmy!
.-= Alex Radway´s last blog ..Plymouth artists light up 45 Southside =-.

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GlobalPatriot February 5, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Such 8 to 1 ratios serve to highlight the fact that it will be nearly impossible to feed large quantities of meat and fish to the predicted 9 billion people on this planet come 2050.

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Alex Radway February 2, 2010 at 1:09 pm

This just sounds crazy – 8KG of fish to produce 1KG of salmon (echoes of grains and meat production – I’m not a veggie, so I’m not speaking from a pedestal)…I think us humans are completely barmy!
.-= Alex Radway´s last blog ..Plymouth artists light up 45 Southside =-.

Reply

Global Patriot February 5, 2010 at 9:14 am

Such 8 to 1 ratios serve to highlight the fact that it will be nearly impossible to feed large quantities of meat and fish to the predicted 9 billion people on this planet come 2050.

Reply

Salmon Ranching February 1, 2010 at 5:30 pm

One really needs to look at salmon aquaculture as a whole. Salmon farming is just one way to raise salmon – there are others, such as salmon ranching. http://alaskasalmonranching.wordpress.com/what-is-salmon-ranching/

It is not a farmed vs wild argument anymore because no region on the planet harvests only wild salmon – they all utilize farming methods to keep up with demand. The question is – how to provide a healthy protein (salmon) to a growing and more demanding population. When one compares two productions methods (salmon farming vs salmon ranching) you may find salmon ranching probably has a greater impact on your points #1 #2 and #3 (point #4 is a complete fallacy – all salmon is very healthy for you), for the simple reason that billions of salmon are released into the ocean to compete with wild, natural salmon.

If we are really concerned about sustainability, then perhaps we should be boycotting Target’s move to support salmon ranching in Alaska.

Reply

Global Patriot February 5, 2010 at 9:24 am

Thanks for the information on salmon ranching vs. farming. The process of releasing into the wild is a different paradigm from being raised solely in a confined environment. Here’s an interesting quote from the site you linked to above:

“In 2008, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported that 146 million salmon were commercially harvested. Of this, 60 million salmon were identified as ocean ranched. Therefore, in 2008, ocean ranched salmon represented over 41% of the commercial catch in Alaska.”

Reply

Salmon Ranching February 2, 2010 at 1:30 am

One really needs to look at salmon aquaculture as a whole. Salmon farming is just one way to raise salmon – there are others, such as salmon ranching. http://alaskasalmonranching.wordpress.com/what-is-salmon-ranching/

It is not a farmed vs wild argument anymore because no region on the planet harvests only wild salmon – they all utilize farming methods to keep up with demand. The question is – how to provide a healthy protein (salmon) to a growing and more demanding population. When one compares two productions methods (salmon farming vs salmon ranching) you may find salmon ranching probably has a greater impact on your points #1 #2 and #3 (point #4 is a complete fallacy – all salmon is very healthy for you), for the simple reason that billions of salmon are released into the ocean to compete with wild, natural salmon.

If we are really concerned about sustainability, then perhaps we should be boycotting Target’s move to support salmon ranching in Alaska.

Reply

GlobalPatriot February 5, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Thanks for the information on salmon ranching vs. farming. The process of releasing into the wild is a different paradigm from being raised solely in a confined environment. Here’s an interesting quote from the site you linked to above:

“In 2008, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported that 146 million salmon were commercially harvested. Of this, 60 million salmon were identified as ocean ranched. Therefore, in 2008, ocean ranched salmon represented over 41% of the commercial catch in Alaska.”

Reply

Bethany February 1, 2010 at 1:26 am

What an eye-opener. I really had no idea about any of this. I’ve definitely been put off. Thanks for sharing and will help spread the word.
.-= Bethany´s last blog ..Valentine’s Day Dinner-Grilled Halloumi Cheese With Zaa’tar & Red Bell Pepper Coulis =-.

Reply

Global Patriot February 1, 2010 at 6:24 am

I’m hoping that with enough publicity the industry will wage a campaign to rectify this situation and begin using sustainable practices.

Reply

Bethany February 1, 2010 at 9:26 am

What an eye-opener. I really had no idea about any of this. I’ve definitely been put off. Thanks for sharing and will help spread the word.
.-= Bethany´s last blog ..Valentine’s Day Dinner-Grilled Halloumi Cheese With Zaa’tar & Red Bell Pepper Coulis =-.

Reply

GlobalPatriot February 1, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I’m hoping that with enough publicity the industry will wage a campaign to rectify this situation and begin using sustainable practices.

Reply

Katie January 31, 2010 at 11:37 pm

This makes me really happy to be vegetarian! I had no idea about fish lice. I’m emailing this article out to a few people right now…!
.-= Katie´s last blog ..Fit for a Goddess: Crazy Delicious ‘Gimme More’ Minestrone Soup =-.

Reply

GlobalPatriot February 1, 2010 at 2:09 am

It was news to me too, and that’s in addition to the other problems that are found in many fish farms. Sad thing is, we can’t support the planet’s appetite with wild fish.

Reply

Katie January 31, 2010 at 3:37 pm

This makes me really happy to be vegetarian! I had no idea about fish lice. I’m emailing this article out to a few people right now…!
.-= Katie´s last blog ..Fit for a Goddess: Crazy Delicious ‘Gimme More’ Minestrone Soup =-.

Reply

Global Patriot January 31, 2010 at 6:09 pm

It was news to me too, and that’s in addition to the other problems that are found in many fish farms. Sad thing is, we can’t support the planet’s appetite with wild fish.

Reply

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