Environment

Read the facts on these 8 common Myths about Salmon Farming and the Environment

MYTH #1 -Consumers are doing the environment a favour by eating wild salmon and boycotting farmed salmon. The Facts
 
MYTH #2 -Wild salmon are on their way to extinction thanks to sea lice (parasites) from surrounding salmon farms in British Columbia's Broughton Archipelago and other areas. The Facts

MYTH #3 -Farmed Atlantic salmon are escaping from salmon farms and colonizing local BC rivers, threatening to displace native stocks of wild salmon. The Facts

MYTH #4 -It takes 3-5 kilograms of wild fish, such as herring and anchovy, to make the feed necessary to produce one kilogram of farmed salmon. The result is a net loss of edible animal protein worldwide. The Facts
 
MYTH #5 -Open net cages are environmentally destructive, allowing both farmed salmon and their effluent to escape into the ocean. Land-based fish farms or closed containment systems are the solution. The Facts
 
MYTH #6 -Fish waste released by salmon farms in BC is harmful to the ocean environment and is equivalent in impact to the raw sewage from a city of 500,000 inhabitants. The Facts
 
MYTH #7 -10 million sockeye salmon from the Fraser River disappeared in 2009 because of sea lice and disease generated from salmon farms in Okisollo Channel (branded by activists as "Wild Salmon Narrows") and these salmon farms need to be permanently shut down. The Facts
 
MYTH #8 - Salmon in British Columbia have Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA). The Facts

MYTH #1

Consumers are doing the environment a favour by eating wild salmon and boycotting farmed salmon.

The Facts:

Common sense (backed up by science) tells us this is an absurd proposition: How does eating wild salmon help to save them? The answer: It doesn’t. On the other hand, supporting the salmon farming (aquaculture) industry can help take pressure off wild salmon stocks.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that by 2030 global fish consumption will reach 160 million metric tonnes. But the amount of wild fish available for human consumption on a sustainable basis will be no more than 100 million tonnes. The future shortfall in supply will have to come from sustainable aquaculture.

One reason Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has been able to reduce catches of some endangered wild salmon runs is that consumers now have a year-round supply of fresh farmed salmon, thus a reduced demand for wild salmon.

It is important to distinguish between what is good for the wild salmon fishery (catch more salmon) and what is good for the wild salmon (conservation).

Governments worldwide now recognize the potential for sustainable aquaculture and believe it will provide income and employment to rural communities and a valuable and healthy source of protein for consumption.

MYTH #2

 Wild salmon are on their way to extinction thanks to sea lice (parasites) from surrounding salmon farms in British Columbia's Broughton Archipelago and other areas.

The Facts:

Sea lice are small, naturally occurring  organisms that attach themselves to the outside of marine fish, both farmed and wild. They don't harm the fish unless their numbers reach critical mass. They have existed for tens of thousands of years, prior to the arrival of salmon farming on the BC coast. DFO Fact Sheet.  Farmed salmon initially receive sea lice from these natural wild sources.

Over the past decade, activists have made many predictions of salmon extinction - they have said sea lice from salmon farms are killing juvenile pink salmon. Not only does scientific literature strongly disagree with this accusation - so do the fish. The fall of 2009 and 2010 saw some of the best years for pink salmon returning to British Columbia rivers. Of course, activists have been silent on this good news.

Instead, activists are now suggesting that sea lice may have changed their taste from pink salmon to the more delicious sockeye salmon and that sea lice from salmon farms are responsible for the loss of sockeye that should have returned to the Fraser River in the fall of 2009. Of course, there is no scientific evidence to prove these claims (see Myth #7).

The fact is, every year BC salmon farmers carefully manage sea lice levels on their fish  - especially during those times of the year when small wild salmon may be at risk from sea lice.  And because all salmon species migrate from river to ocean at the same time of year (spring and early summer), all wild salmon are safe to travel past salmon farms regardless of species.

Brian Harvey prepared Science and Sea Lice: What do We Know?  for the Pacific Salmon Forum in 2008. It provides a comprehensive overview of critical scientific papers related to sea lice and its interaction with wild and farm-raised salmon.

To view pink salmon returns to the Broughton Archipelago area from 1952 to 2009, click here.

UPDATE (December 2010): A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that sea lice from salmon farms were not the cause of the decline in pink salmon in the Broughton Archipelago in 2002. At the same time, activist and salmon farming critic Alexandra Morton quietly published this study (on demand of the Pacific Salmon Forum) which concludes "the survival of the pink salmon cohort was not statistically different from a reference region without salmon farms". Ms. Morton has not promoted these results. 

MYTH #3

Farmed Atlantic salmon are escaping from salmon farms and colonizing local BC rivers, threatening to displace native stocks of wild salmon.

The Facts:

 There is no risk of Atlantic salmon breeding with Pacific salmon as the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) is of both a different genus and species than its Pacific friend. The activist scenario of Atlantic salmon taking over BC waters to the detriment of local salmon species has not occurred. Researchers point out that multiple attempts at establishing sea-going populations of Atlantic salmon outside its native range can be traced back to the mid-19th century, such as in Tasmania in 1864.  Since then, many attempts have been made to establish naturalized sea-run and land-locked populations in South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Columbia, India, Indonesia, Japan and Western North America. All have ended in failure.

From 1905 to 1935, some 8.5 million Atlantic salmon were deliberately placed into 60 different lakes and rivers in BC in an intentional effort to establish Atlantic salmon in the BC wild. These transplants occurred primarily on Vancouver Island, as well as in the Alberni District, the lower Fraser River and Skeena River drainages, and in some interior lakes and streams.

Today they and their offspring are nowhere to be found; the attempt was futile. Judging from this and many other failed attempts to transplant Atlantic salmon in other parts of the world it is highly unlikely that they will ever become established in the wild.

In 2001, 55 different river systems in BC were surveyed by trained First Nations crews looking for Atlantic salmon. 280 kilometers (about 166 miles) of streams were examined, and over 389,000 salmon were found- none of them was an offspring of spawning Atlantic salmon. Two fish of the 389,000 found were adult Atlantic salmon.

Salmon farmers know it's in their best interest not to allow their salmon to escape. Salmon farming in BC has made huge changes over the last two decades to ensure the risk of escape is reduced. As salmon farmers have steadily increased their investments in state-of-the-art net cages and equipment, the incidence of escapes has been drastically reduced.

MYTH #4

It takes 3-5 kilograms of wild fish, such as herring and anchovy, to make the feed necessary to produce one kilogram of farmed salmon. The result is a net loss of edible animal protein worldwide.

The Facts:

The myth that people are losing valuable animal protein worldwide because it is being used for fish feed relies on the assumption that had this feed not gone to fish, it would have gone to humans. The assumption is false, based on where the feed components come from. The fishmeal fed to farmed salmon is made from trimmings originating in fish processing plants, from fish that are not suitable for human consumption, and from fish that humans do not desire to eat.

If demand existed for direct human consumption of the fish used to make fishmeal, it is likely the fish would be delivered to those markets. Fish used directly for human consumption is always more valuable than fish used for meal.

Historically the Peruvian anchovy and Chilean mackerel fisheries – where a significant percentage of fish feed is derived – could not find a suitable market for their product in any form other than as fishmeal for animal feed.

The fish used for fishmeal production are caught in sustainably managed fisheries. The Chilean anchovy fishery, for example, is one of the world’s most highly regulated.

In September 2009 the International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organization (IFFO) responded to incorrect information regarding “wild fish feeding farmed fish”.

Farmed fish grow very efficiently compared to other farmed animals because they don’t need to use energy to counteract gravity as land animals do. In addition, they are cold-blooded and therefore don’t need to expend energy to stay warm. By comparison, chickens and pigs - which are also fed large quantities of fishmeal - grow less efficiently than do salmon. If activists were sincere about the need to conserve “animal protein worldwide” they would be highlighting chicken and pig farming, not fish farming.

Calculations based on the actual conversion of fish meal to farmed salmon indicate that it actually takes 1.2 – 1.5 kilograms of wild fish to produce 1 kilogram of farmed salmon, not the 3 – 5 kilograms claimed by activists. Interestingly, it takes more wild fish to produce hatchery salmon (see ‘What is Salmon Ranching’) than it does to produce a farm-raised salmon (see ‘What is Salmon Farming’).

MYTH #5

Open net cages are environmentally destructive, allowing both farmed salmon and their effluent to escape into the ocean. Land-based fish farms or closed containment systems are the solution.

The Facts:

A closed containment system describes the use of a large, rigid tanks that contain fish. It’s located on land and not in the ocean environment. Despite research and field trials this potential technology remains unproven – showing neither economical nor environmental benefit. Closed containment systems are also not required to protect wild fish.

Aquaculture has historically used a form of closed containment system during the freshwater stage of fish development, a common practice that continues today. For approximately one-third of its life cycle, farmed fish are already raised in an enclosed environment in freshwater hatcheries.

For the remaining two-thirds of the fish’s life cycle, net pens utilize ocean tides to move water and provide fresh oxygen to the fish. For comparison, land-based farms would pump water and inject oxygen - requiring vast amounts of energy to do so . One would think that environmental activists would be trying to reduce energy consumption used to raise fish – not increase it.

Despite these common sense limitations to closed containment farming, BC salmon farmers are always looking to utilize new technologies that continue to provide a healthy and sustainable protein.

MYTH #6

Fish waste released by salmon farms in BC is harmful to the ocean environment and is equivalent in impact to the raw sewage from a city of 500,000 inhabitants.

The Facts:

It is not correct to compare fish waste with human sewage. The main reason for legitimate concern with human sewage is the spread of human disease. This is not a factor with fish waste. In fact, both human sewage and fish waste can be very valuable as fertilizer if they are used correctly.

In 2002, British Columbia authorities introduces new standards to regulate how the limited amounts of waste created on farms are managed. Stringent attention is paid to these regulations by BC salmon farmers.

Fish farms in BC are strategically placed so that ocean tides carry away the nutrients from fish waste and distribute them to the surrounding area. As long as the fish waste is not too concentrated, then it acts as a fertilizer for other marine life.

It is not surprising, therefore, that areas surrounding fish farms are abundant in all forms of sea life, including crabs, prawns and other marine species that thrive on the nutrients produced by the farms. Activists give the impression that there are “dead zones” around salmon farms. This can easily be proven untrue by direct observation.

As noted above, in the context of the ocean, fish waste equals nutrients. The ocean is where fish waste should be (for the benefit of the ecosystem) and must be. This is how nature re-circulates nutrients and there is nothing unnatural about the way farmed salmon contribute to this process.

MYTH #7

10 million sockeye salmon from the Fraser River disappeared in 2009 because of sea lice and disease generated from salmon farms in Okisollo Channel (branded by activists as "Wild Salmon Narrows") and these salmon farms need to be permanently shut down.

The Facts:

There is no science that suggests Fraser River sockeye are at risk from salmon farms. Why would activists suggest putting hundreds of British Columbians out of work based on zero fact?

One study by activist Alexandra Morton did find that juvenile sockeye salmon host sea lice. But this isn't news, as all juvenile Pacific salmon host sea lice with or without salmon farms. The study did not provide proof that salmon farms are a risk to wild sockeye salmon and even stated that due to small sample sizes (7 fish), no conclusion could be made. But true to activist behaviour; ignore fact, overstate risk and issue a press release titled "Fraser River sockeye may be at risk of sea lice infection from salmon farms".

A well-funded activist group called the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform has repeated this call for a "farm-free migratory path". Perhaps they should look at their own map, which clearly shows Discovery Passage and Johnstone Strait provides a salmon farm free corridor for salmon migration. Fisherman in the area know that salmon are most likely to migrate through Johnstone Strait.

Regardless of proof, and as noted in Myth #2, BC salmon farmers manage for sea lice during the spring out-migration of juvenile Pacific salmon (March-June) and ensure salmon farms are not a source of sea lice. 

The BC Salmon Farmers Association had participated in the  Fraser River Sockeye Judicial Inquiry which also put this myth to rest in its 2012 Final Report.

UPDATE (October 2010): The 2010 return of Fraser River sockeye has now returned to their spawning grounds. A whopping 30 million sockeye salmon have returned - a return not seen in over 100 years!! Click here to view a video that strikes back at those activists who have incorrectly predicted salmon extinction.

Myth #8

 Salmon in British Columbia have Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA).

The Facts:

No, they don’t. The laboratory that had mistakenly reported its premature findings has now lost its international accreditation. Additionally, the Canadian and U.S. governments have confirmed no evidence of ISA in wild or farm-raised salmon in the North Pacific region.