Monday,27 August,2012 14:22:51
Organized anti-salmon farming NGOs are taking on salmon farming and New Zealand is in the crosshairs along with two Canadian provinces.
There have always been individuals and groups who are opposed to the concept of farming fish. This opposition runs the gamut from those who have specific issues to those that want the practice banned entirely. Salmon farming is a mature industry with the majority of the farms owned and operated by large vertically integrated companies. The industry has responded to criticisms that were legitimate and practices have been impacted because of this. This constructive criticism is unfortunately only a tiny component of the spectrum. A lot of criticism is unfounded; some is based on poor-quality science that lends itself to jumping to conclusions and some of it is deliberate distortion of the facts by cherry-picking data. It has become a witch-hunt where campaigns are being waged to eradicate salmon farming or regulate it to the point where it becomes too costly.
Many years ago, fishermen, upset with the thought that people were farming salmon and that these fish would compete against them, would be seen with bumper stickers that stated “Real fish don’t eat pellets.” Their concerns turned out to be overblown. Regular consumption of seafood is nutritionally a best practice. Countries that eat seafood on a consistent basis have longer life expectancies than those that don’t. Moreover, there is nowhere near enough seafood in the oceans to feed a burgeoning world population. This is why aquaculture has grown as quickly as it has and why it will continue to do so well into the foreseeable future.
Human activities impact the environment. In fact, we are still finding new ways that our activities have impacted the environment and I am sure we will continue to find more as our tools for detecting issues become even more sensitive. Trillions of gallons of sewage, industrial wastes and agricultural runoff enters the world’s oceans, rivers and lakes annually. This is a serious problem and a tragedy for humanity. We are now seeing many dead zones that are a result of a catastrophic disruption causing detrimental ecosystem shifts. The impact on many fragile ecosystems will quite likely impact many fisheries.
Aquaculture requires clean water. Any sustainable and responsible business model recognizes this. Salmon farming, with few exceptions, is practiced sustainably. If farms choose to ignore well-understood tools for ensuring this they do so at their own economic peril. There is a strong selection pressure against them. Aquaculture is agriculture in the water. As with land-based agribusiness, it does have an impact on the environment. This impact is at the core of the anti-salmon farming and aquaculture interests. If for whatever reason management practices impact the immediate environment around the farm in a manner that impacts the ability of them to produce their fish they lose money and eventually go broke.
A contentious issue that is constantly being brought up by NGOs in their battle to displace salmon farms is the potential for diseases in farmed animals to impact the wild animals. These pathogens did not come from nowhere. With few, if any exceptions, they all originated in the wild. Since net pens are open to the environment, the potential for these pathogens to come in contact with farmed fish is a real risk (and vice versa), although just how significant is far from certain and likely dependent on a host of variables. As with the type of environmental impacts that come from adding organic matter largely in the form of fecal material to the proximate net-pen environment, properly sited cages allow for significant and immediate dilution. Control of disease is of foremost concern to salmon farmers and indeed to aquaculturists everywhere. Vaccination has been very successful in mitigating the impact of many of the diseases that impacted farmed salmon and will continue to do so as more vaccines are developed.
Both fecal material and infectious agents enter the environment from the endogenous populations of marine animals. Farming is not adding anything to the environment that was not already there. Compared with the addition of the aforementioned trillions of gallons, surely, one would think, that there are more pressing issues that need to be focused aggressively on solving rather than targeting largely responsible corporations as being sources of problems that would pale in comparison to this wholesale pollution of the world's aquatic ecosystems.
Before I find myself inundated with comments, I want to make it clear that what I am saying is that responsible salmon farmers have a vested interest in ensuring that their management practices cause the least amount of environmental disruption possible and that when farmers fail to heed this they do so at their own risk. We would all be served better if concerted efforts were focused on lessening and eliminating the massive amounts of pollutants that enter aquatic ecosystems simply as a result of our day-to-day activities and stopped trying to scapegoat responsible industries that are feeding the multitude of mouths that humans seem unable to stop producing.