A Tale of Two Salmon

If the seafood industry is truly serious about sustainability, about putting the Earth before earnings sheets, then folks like Kenny Belov deserve their say. You don't have to agree with him; I don't subscribe to his views in totality, but an exchange of conflicting ideas and ideals is part of the greening and weaning process nearly every industry is undergoing during the current climate and energy crises. With seafood, perhaps no debate is more passionate than wild-versus-farmed salmon, two important supplies often pitted against one another.

Belov is general manager and co-owner of "Fish.", a restaurant and retail market in Sausalito, Calif. He's a staunch supporter of wild salmon and the local fishermen he says are struggling to survive amid historic West Coast fishery closures. His business is committed to selling and serving only wild salmon, as well as locally harvested produce and other ingredients.

And Belov's eco-devotion is growing. He recently formed a coalition called Fish Or Cut Bait (www.focb.org) that urges consumers to support the wild salmon industry and aims to educate them about the drawbacks of salmon farms.

"It is documented that anywhere there are salmon farms, the wild salmon populations are suffering," Belov told me last week after the group's "Farm-Free Salmon Pledge" first made waves on SeafoodSource.com. Seven restaurants have signed on and Belov hopes more will chew on wild salmon and eschew the farmed variety.

"The amount of wild [fish] that is used to grow salmon is depleting the oceans of feed for wild salmon and all other species down the line," he adds. "It uses more energy to produce 1 pound of farmed salmon than it's worth. Without the oceans, we're done. To mess with them more than we already have is dangerous."

Belov's arguments and goals are widely shared among the environmental community. Promoting scientifically based catch quotas and seeking biofuel alternatives to power fishing vessels are indeed worthy efforts.

But I disagree with his belief that there's no place for salmon farms in the oceans and that the growing popularity and relative affordability of farmed salmon is the greatest threat to fishermen's livelihoods. There's room for both farmed and wild salmon in the marketplace, and each is marketed differently. Availability of salmon from well-managed fisheries and responsible farms gives consumers choice, which is something we should be careful not to limit.

"Once consumers are convinced that farms are OK, you will see the demand for wild product go down strictly because of price points," Belov says. "We used to eat salmon in season, and once it was over, it was gone [from menus]. I believe in seasonal cuisine."

I do agree with Belov when he calls for increased education about food--starting with kids--that goes beyond the Food Pyramid. Food production, he says, should be part of every school's curriculum. "As a parent, I know that children have an enormous influence on their parents," he says.

Our understanding of sustainability is just beginning. Hopefully, by the time Belov's children grow up, the conversation will be collaborative, and not combative.


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