Over exposed?

Editor’s note: SeaFood Business Associate Editor James Wright and SeafoodSource Contributing Editor Lindsey Partos are in Paris this week covering the Seafood Choices Alliance Seafood Summit.

Pure Salmon Campaign on Monday debuted its provocative and polished 23-minute film titled, “Farmed Salmon Exposed: The Global Reach of the Norwegian Salmon Farming Industry” at the Seafood Choices Alliance Seafood Summit in Paris. The film detailed reports of troubles in Norway’s farmed salmon industry; operations in Canada and Chile weren’t spared, either.

The film contained many of the messages one would expect from Pure Salmon Campaign and other environmental activist groups focused on carnivorous aquaculture — that farmed salmon displace wild stocks and harm sportfishing tourism; spread diseases and parasites within salmon farms and outward onto wild salmon runs; eat too much wild fish; and that the industry’s worst environmental and social problems will take many years to correct. It was an emotional and thought-provoking account, but its content was not surprising to those who follow the seafood industry.

What was somewhat surprising was who was in the audience. Consisting mainly of environmental NGOs, the inadequately sized room also contained executives from Norway-based Marine Harvest, the world’s largest producer of farmed salmon, as well a representative from EWOS, a leading fish feed manufacturer also based in Norway.

Petter Arneson, VP-feed and environment for Marine Harvest, who had seen the film previously at its autumn debut in Bergen, Norway, and had even shown it to his family, criticized its lack of dissenting opinion and for not mentioning the industry’s sustainability advancements in recent years, most notably since the 2006 merger of Marine Harvest, Fjord and Pan Fish.

“This [film] has nothing to do with the new Marine Harvest,” said Arneson, adding that the company is participating in the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogues initiated by the World Wildlife Fund and is reducing its dependence on fishmeal. (He and others strongly disagreed with the film’s contention that it takes 5 kilograms of wild fish resources to produce 1 kilogram of farmed salmon; they argue the ratio is less than 2:1 when factoring in the use of fish byproducts.)

Noted fisheries biologist Daniel Pauly — the keynote speaker for this year’s Seafood Summit — then asked if anyone in the room believed what Arneson was saying. His comments on Sunday — including that the world’s fisheries are nothing short of a Ponzi scheme as perpetrated by disgraced New York investor Bernie Madoff — stirred up the attendees and have since been the subject of countless conversations in the hallways, at dinner tables and at subsequent sessions. “It’s time to raise hell,” said Pauly in the film, and he wasn’t shy in sharing his opinions in this venue.

Speaking of conversations, a “progressive industry” is clearly tired of talking about farmed salmon’s toughest issues like sea lice and infectious salmon anemia, said Greenpeace oceans campaigner Casson Trenor, trumpeting U.S. retailer Target’s decision last week to phase out all farmed salmon products by year’s end from its 1,700-plus stores (he also noted that Target’s corporate stock jumped within hours of its announcement).

Seafood buyers like Target can choose to completely opt out and wait for the farmed salmon industry to make whatever improvements it deems as enough to resume purchases. Or, as Peter Redmond, VP of the Global Aquaculture Alliance pointed out, an influential seafood buyer could do more by staying in the game and affecting positive change. You can’t be part of the solution, he said, if you are not part of the process.

Should more dominos fall, would the farmed salmon industry have the funding it needs to make the necessary improvements? Are alternatives to the standard open-net pens, such as closed-containment facilities, a viable solution?

That’s another matter that will require a lot of discussion.

Thank you,
James Wright
Associate Editor
SeaFood Business

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