Just How Fresh is that FARM FRESH Salmon?


When I was a kid I remember teachers and newscasters and parents and “grownups” talking about a bright new future full of possibilities.  In the “modern world” there would be all sorts of wonderful solutions to all of the terrible problems facing mankind.


I heard talk of the “Jet Pack”…small portable jets that we could attach to our backs and fly around.  Wow…what a great idea!  Then there was the ever present discussion of how robots would make everything so much easier in the future…from washing our clothes, to cooking and serving our food, to performing highly intricate detail oriented operations on machines and people. Solar power would be harnessed and we’d have a cheap, natural non-polluting energy source. How would mankind feed the burgeoning populations in both the West and the Third World?  Mariculture!  By utilizing the boundless seas,  we could farm and raise massive amounts of different seafoods to feed the hungry people of the world on a sustainable and highly nutritious food.  Or not????



Years roll by,  The Jet pack never happened, though I hear they have been working on that for military use. Robotics? It’s in the works and will hopefully continue to be a boon to worlds of mechanics and medicine…that is of course if we are not invaded by a horde of rogue microscopic nano machines.  Ugghhh scary thought indeed! Solar power is available if you are young enough and rich enough to amortize it over your lifetime.  Too bad they didn’t take that seriously back in the 1970’s.  By now we might have had real workable solar solutions.  I’ll predict that this will be happening on a much larger scale in the next 20-30 years,  Not sure if I’ll be around to see it but I think it will have to happen as climate change becomes an even greater threat.


That leaves Mariculture or as it is commonly referred to these days as “Aquaculture”.


Fish Farm from atop the Junk

Fish Farm from atop the Junk (Photo credit: denthewise)



What a marvelous concept.  We can farm bony fish,  we can farm shell fish, we can grow highly nutritious seaweeds…and we can  feed the hungry people  all over the world.  And we can do it in an inexpensive and sustainable way.  Well that’s what most of us thought.  When I first saw farm raised salmon on the shelves of the grocery store I thought to myself…”hmmmm this is a great leap forward!  We can protect the wild stocks, raise as much as needed without depleting the ocean’s resources and provide a high protein food source to everyone!”


Not quite.


In the ensuing years I have been hearing the other side of the story.  Fish farmers in the proverbial chase for profits have been following a very unsustainable modus operandi that actually negates all of the wonderful supposed benefits of the Aquaculture model.


Fish Farms near Taitung, Taiwan

Fish Farms near Taitung, Taiwan (Photo credit: Arthur Chapman)


In December of 1999,  nearly 15 years ago,  Craig Emerson writing on the ProQuest web site  had this to say about the state of Aquaculture at that time.


“Whether as an economic windfall for developing countries, or as one of the most environmentally-destructive food industries, aquaculture has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism as the world tries to supply food for a population exceeding six billion. Aquaculture, the farming of aquatic organisms such as fish, molluscs, crustaceans and plants, is the fastest growing food production sector in the world1, but its sustainability is not assured. Pollution, destruction of sensitive coastal habitats, threats to aquatic biodiversity and significant socio-economic costs must be balanced against the substantial benefits. Aquaculture has great potential for food production and the alleviation of poverty for people living in coastal areas, many of who are among the poorest in the world. A balance between food security and the environmental costs of production must be attained.”


English: Salmon farm in the archipelago of Fin...

English: Salmon farm in the archipelago of Finland Deutsch: Lachsfarm im finnischen Schärengebiet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


It is obvious that even then the practices and methods of the world’s fish farmers were coming under heavy scutiny and quite a bit of criticism. Mr. Emerson continued with the following facts.


“For over 3,000 years, fish have been farmed in China, a country that continues to dominate the industry by producing 83% of the world’s aquaculture output2. Other key producers include India (6%), Philippines (4%), Indonesia (3%), Republic of Korea (2%), and Bangladesh (1%), a list overwhelmingly concentrated in the developing world. Everything from sea cucumbers to sea horses is farmed, but the vast majority of production is carp, accounting for ~50% of aquaculture production measured as weight or value. The remaining top cultured species include kelp, oysters, shrimp and salmon. Salmon mariculture is often in the news, but the fish farming industry is concentrated inland, with over 15 million tonnes of fish produced in freshwater systems compared to 9.7 million tonnes produced at sea. The remaining 1.6 million tonnes is produced in brackishwater ponds. Seaweed farming accounts for another 7.7 million tonnes”.


I would highly suggest that the reader review Mr. Emerson’s article as it breaks down all aspects of the many techniques being used and their consequences.  You can find the entire article here:  ( http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/aquacult/overview.php )


On the World Wildlife Fund website (http://wwf.panda.org) there is a critique of the fish farming industry entitled:  Marine Problems: Aquaculture.  The opening statement summarizes the situation succinctly.


“Farming of fish, shrimp, and shellfish is often is viewed – and marketed – as a way to take pressure off wild fisheries. But some types of aquaculture are actually increasing pressure on several already threatened marine species. Aquaculture is a huge industry, and the world’s fastest growing food sector. It’s worth a massive US$56 billion globally and provides one-third of the fish people consume. When done properly, some forms of aquaculture can indeed help take pressure off wild fisheries and provide needed income to coastal communities. However, as production rises, so too can aquaculture’s impacts on the environment and wild marine species, through:”



“The severity of these impacts depends upon the species being farmed. Oyster and clam farms, for example, have fewer impacts than shrimp and salmon farms, which in turn have fewer impacts than tuna farms. However, the detrimental impacts can be huge, and have even proven disastrous in some parts of the world. Impacts on local marine biodiversity can in turn cause problems for local communities that rely on marine resources for their livelihoods.”


English: Fish farm and floating building at No...

English: Fish farm and floating building at Norwegian Sea Farming Center ‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Oppdrettsanlegg og den flytende bygningen på Norsk Havbrukssenter i Toftsundet, Brønnøysund (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In particular,  fish that have escaped from salmon farms in some cases have carried various diseases to the wild populations putting an even greater strain on them.  In Norway,  the escaped farm fish have brought an infestation of sea lice to the wild populations.


The organization FOOD AND WATER WATCH (http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/fish/fish-farming/offshore/problems/)  had this to say about the situation with fish farming.  Here is their list of the 10 problems with fish farming as it currently operates.


1-Competing/Conflicting Interests


Open water aquaculture facilities could cause conflict of interest. Areas of current significant competing economic use or public value must be eliminated for consideration for open ocean aquaculture.


Politics and more politics! Not a huge problem in my opinion but a problem nonetheless.




Offshore aquaculture of finfish uses cages or pens. These containers, even if well engineered and built, will allow some fish escapes into the open ocean, due to various complications like severe weather, equipment failure or human error. In the case of net pens, predators may tear the enclosures. Escapement can affect native populations through disease and dilution of locally adaptive gene complexes, disrupt natural ecosystems and jeopardize the recovery of depleted or endangered species.


This is rather obvious and quite an ominous result of fish farming. Entire local waterfront areas can be degraded.


3-Growing Exotic / Mutated Species


Several problems are associated with aquaculture production of non-native species. While the use of local species in aquaculture presents less harmful impacts should escapement occur, often when cultured species reproduce in captivity, they or their offspring are different behaviorally or even genetically.


This is another frightening side effect of fish farming.  We could ultimately be breeding genetically inferior fish stocks that could irreparably harm the wild populations.


4-Growing Genetically Modified /Transgenic Organisms (GMOs)


Farm raised fish are bred for profit, thus, those that have certain marketable traits are the most desirable. Selecting and only breeding fish with advantageous characteristics (e.g. largest and fastest growers) is one means to alter genetic composition over time.


And does anyone really know what the effects of eating GMO live fish will be on human populations?  This same battle is going on right now between activists and Monsanto over GMO crops.


Habitat Impacts


5-Aquaculture requires construction of appropriate facilities and in some areas could include severe habitat impacts. Dredging, drilling and other sediment and bottom habitat disturbances, can cause displacement of ocean wildlife and other potentially significant ecological changes.


Another obvious problem.  We have been destroying the seashore for generations. Fish farming in it’s current state is a major contributor to ecological disturbances worldwide.




Cultured species are fed wild species. This is an inefficient use of wild fish. There are particular concerns that aquaculture operations may increasingly rely on natural food sources, such as krill, squid and other small coastal pelagic fish. These lower trophic level species are a crucial part of the marine ecosystem, serving as prey for marine mammals, birds and fish.


In an effort to save money in some places the nature of the food being fed to farmed fish borders on the horrific. Does anyone remember the Mad Cow scares of a few years ago?


7-Mitigation Plans for Hazards


A number of threats to wildlife and the environment can come from open water aquaculture. A facility should be prepared to address emergency situations, especially where immediate containment or clean-up are necessary.


Are the people doing fish farming sufficiently equipped to deal with the many potentially dangerous effects of their business?  Is there a disaster waiting to happen? Can you say BP?


9-Human Health Concerns


Studies indicate that farm-raised fish contain higher levels of chemical pollutants than wild fish, including PCBs, which are known carcinogens. This is due to higher concentrations in the fish feed.


All I can say is uggghhhhh.  Since these issues have been brought to my attention,  I buy wild salmon.


10-Water Pollution


Water pollution concerns include excess food; feces; cage materials; and, antibiotics/other cleaning/algal growth prohibiting chemicals. Water flowing out of an aquaculture facility can carry excessive nutrients, particulates, bacteria, other diseased organisms and polluting chemicals. These may harm surrounding habitats, cause algal blooms, poison ocean wildlife and other severe disturbances.


fishing farm

fishing farm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Does this need further explanation/clarification!? Having had been in the tropical fish import/export business for many years,  I became acutely aware of the challenges of creating a pristine environment in which the captive populations could thrive. I was dealing in a closed system.  The same problems face the farmers but their problems become part of the open ocean’s environment and  ecology impacting not only the wild creatures in the immediate areas,  but the human populations that inhabit the coastlines.


Further study and better techniques will be the answer to the problems facing Aquaculture in the 21st century.  I have high hopes a balanced responsible plan can be achieved. The upside is so great both financially and environmentally, that I trust that dedicated people will come up with the right answers.  After all,  aquarium hobbyists have shown amazing strides breeding and growing live corals in captivity!  Possibly some of that knowledge and no-how will be adapted to the industry of Aquaculture.  Then maybe we will see it’s full potential and benefits realized.



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8 Responses to Just How Fresh is that FARM FRESH Salmon?

  1. Thanks for Related Articles inclusion, a very robust and supported comment on Aquaculture! Great Read. We will tweet this for you! “It was called the Blue Revolution, now it is called the Green Revolution. Making the Blue Revolution Green.” Follow us for some current content on Aquaculture. We are just getting running but we hope to start pushing out comments with an economic, social and envi view on the cutting edge and future of science!

  2. Many forms of aquaculture are promising. Salmon farming is not among them. Cheap, unsustainably produced farmed salmon is hurting the value of wild-caught salmon. As wild salmon lose value, there is less incentive to keep the environs they require clean. Lose wild salmon, and we negatively impact the clean rivers, salmon forests and every animal in the food chain from orcas to eagles that depend on wild salmon. Oysters, talapia, rainbow trout and many other species are appropriate for farming. By contrast, salmon farms are a scourge and should be banned.

  3. Joanne F says:

    For those of us who eat primarily fish, as opposed to animal proteins, this news is so troubling. As if we don’t have enough to worry about with the rest of the food we eat! I am encouraged by your thoughts that this business can be “cleaned up”, especially as someone who was in the fish business. I hope you’re right. In the meantime, I wish the FDA would make labeling and inspections stricter, which of course would require additional taxpayer funds being used. In this negative gov’t spending environment, we know that idea would likely go over like a lead balloon. But since we are talking about the food supply, it should be of paramount importance.

  4. joeref says:

    labeling food is a no-brainer, but in times of brainless government anything is possible.

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