Misinformation With Your Coffee?


Steven Hedlund

Published on
June 12, 2008

In his June 9 New York Times op-ed piece "Sardines With Your Bagel?" Taras Grescoe, author of "Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood," states his case for passing on salmon, America's No. 2 fish in terms of per capita consumption. Unreasonably high king salmon prices, the unprecedented closure of the California and Oregon salmon fisheries and an environmentally unfriendly global salmon-farming industry impelled Grescoe to seek out fish low on the food chain, like sardines, and swear off salmon this year.

But doing so only punishes well-managed salmon fisheries and environmentally responsible salmon farms.

Sure, king salmon prices were off the charts when the Copper River fishery unofficially kicked off Alaska's summer salmon season in mid-May, when fresh fillets retailed for $40 a pound or more. But now that the season is in full swing, king salmon is much more affordable, wholesaling for $10 to $12 a pound.

If king salmon is out of consumers' price range, there are four other Pacific salmon species to choose from, which Grescoe fails to adequately explain.

As unfortunate as the collapse of the Sacramento River salmon population is, the West Coast salmon fishery is relatively small. Alaska represents 90 to 95 percent of North America's wild salmon harvest, and no Alaska salmon are endangered. The state's 2008 salmon catch is projected to eclipse 137 million fish, which would be down from a near-record 212 million fish last year but would rank as the 17th largest harvest since 1900, proof the fishery is well managed and sustainable.

There's plenty of farmed Atlantic salmon to go around, too. But Grescoe deems the species an unhealthy alternative to wild salmon due to the use of the "pesticide" emamectin benzoate in salmon feed and an unsustainably high feed conversion ratio, among other reasons.

But the Salmon of the Americas trade organization - which harped on the Times' for its March 27 story "Salmon Virus Indicts Chile's Fishing Methods" - points out that emamectin benzoate is not a pesticide and is approved for use in the United States and that Grescoe's food conversion ratio (4 pounds of feed fish to produce 1 pound of salmon) is inaccurate.

Let's hope when they sat down with a cup of coffee to read Monday's edition that the Times' 1.1 million readers took Grescoe's misguided column, which was surely written to boost sales of his book, with a grain of salt.

Best regards,
Steven Hedlund
Associate Editor
SeaFood Business

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