The Norwegian firm AquaCon has planned to build a $300 million land-based salmon farm on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay and plans to invest almost $1 billion to open three salmon farms on the Delmarva Peninsula by 2027.
The decision to move salmon farm to land-based facilities is to replace highly-questionable sea farms — there is increasing evidence that factory-farming salmon is no more healthy or humane than factory-farming pigs and chickens — and, is no longer be viable.
This is also to avoid some of the issues afflicting the aquaculture industry, like controlling disease outbreaks (and potentially sea pollution), because, once disease gets in, eradicating it from a confinement facility often costs tens of thousands of animal lives, sometimes millions, along with millions of dollars.
But it is also a fact that many thousands of farmed salmon are escaping the net and join wild shoal of fish, spreading their disease far and wide.
Scottish investigative writer Rob Edwards of The Ferret revealed a few days ago that “The amount of salmon killed by diseases and other problems at [conventional] fish farms has reached record levels, with death rates quadrupling over the last 18 years, according to an analysis of official figures... More than 25,770 metric tons of caged salmon died prematurely in 2019, higher than in any previous year. That equates to over ten million fish.” He continues: “The analysis also reveals that the mortality rate at fish farms has risen faster than salmon production over the years... In 2019, 13.5% of the annual harvest died prematurely, compared to 3.1% in 2002.”
“The main causes of deaths are said to have been viral, bacterial and fungal infections, along with algal blooms, and “treatment losses” from mistakes with chemicals or de-licing machines... Estimates of the numbers of fish who died stopped being routinely published in 2013, after the industry complained the information was commercially damaging. But based on previous years, 25,772 metric tons could represent between 10 and 20 million fish deaths, depending on their size.”
13.5% of the annual harvest died prematurely... That equates to over ten million fish.
Irresponsible farming methods are damaging its own industry and so data are no longer available so that they are not held accountable for their action...
What about changing farming methods so that the record can be set straight and less animals “destroyed” as a direct result of negligence and in the name of profit.
AquaCon executives claimed that “99.994% of the operation’s water will be reused,” which means that the same water will be reused indefinitely. They also claimed that “tiny microbes from the marine environment [would] remove dissolved waste from the water,” and that “The solid waste (sludge) created during salmon farming will be converted into energy in the form of fuel-grade methane,” and to maximise and diversify sources of income.
One of the main issue is overcrowded nets and the inevitable spread of (salmon) lice and fish swimming in its own waste. Current practices involve adding “cleaner fish” into the sea pens. But these fish have to cohabit with salmon and in a completely new habitat, which they often find difficult to adapt to, and so, have a poor chance of surviving long enough, being moved across the country, and as a direct result of disease and bad practice.
On average, 40% of the cleaner fish released in farms die — estimated to be around 24 million cleaner fish (2018), although the real figure is probably much higher.
One point is clear: Cleaner fish do not make a cleaner industry and sending fish to their death is not something that can be accepted, nor rewarded.
Cleaner fish do not make a cleaner industry.
It doesn't stop there. Fish farms are exhausting fish reserves all around the world to be used in salmon feeds and other fish farms.
And so, current feeds only contain a quarter of the fish content initially used.
This greatly impacts on the normal diet of salmon and as a result, have become as problematic as gain-fed cattle. The fat content of farm salmon has completely changed and is no longer rich in omega-3s like its wild cousins — swimming in the sea.
Because salmon are fed an obesogenic diet, they grow much too quick and fatter than they should, diseased and ready to die (or barely alive, if not dead) by the time they make it out of the water. Farm salmon is also routinely given antibiotics to control (or prevent) the risk of infection spreading. Questionable methods that have made millions of people shun out beef meet and likely to keep more people from eating farm salmon.
What can we do?
Plans from the Norwegian firm AquaCon may sound noble but they will not do anything to rectify the problem plaguing a poorly-regulated industry, and wills till contribute to worldwide problem. Too many fish are killed unjustifiably and will never make it to fish markets, instead they are thrown back at sea (dead), because they are not of the right size, age, or species. And we wonder why the sea are emptied of fish at an increasing pace each year.
Too many fish died in farms... Too many fish are produced... Too many fish are wasted all along the food chain... and supermarkets the biggest problem of them all, because they are the cause of this unjustifiable waste in the name of abundance and choice. Food waste from supermarkets is rocketing high, despite many chains of supermarket aiming to reduce it, but the truth remains... and it is at us — consumers — to steer the boat in the right direction. We have all the power we need. Our wallets are the biggest weapons of them all. And so by boycotting farm fish, then we will make multi-billion pounds companies capitulate and change their practice if they ever want to increase revenue.
For now, you can find wild sockeye salmon, much smaller than its cousins, which feeds exclusively on plankton and doesn't grow as big and as old. Another fact to consider if you are concerned about heavy metals (e.g. mercury) and the ever-increasing levels of persistent organic pollutants (like DDT, a pesticide that was released into the sea once banned)
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Olivier is a Michelin trained chef, a registered Naturopath and Nutritional Therapist, embracing fully his passion for good food and healthy eating.