The Ins and Outs of What You Need To Know When Choosing Your Salmon
Salmon is one of the most popular fish to consume around the globe and here in Australia more farmed salmon is produced than any other species of seafood and we eat tens of thousands of tonnes of it a year. But interestingly, consumers are often unaware the salmon they are eating is not wild, but actually from factory aquaculture farms in Tasmania; bred in trays, raised in cramped tanks and dyed pink with chemicals. This big business is worth an estimated 700 million dollars and is dominated by three main companies, Tassal, Huon and Petuna. With wild salmon populations rapidly declining past recovery points, due to habitat loss, climatic shifts and relentless overfishing due to consumer demand, it is easy to think that fish farming is the answer. Yet the fundamental concerns with farming many seafood species — including salmon — are;
What they consume
The environmental impact
Aquaculture doesn't take the pressure off wild fisheries because these species of fish eat other fish, requiring more wild-caught fish in feed than they produce. To raise one kilo of Tasmanian salmon as many as four kilograms of wild fish need to be caught. "In order to feed the salmon to grow them you need to catch a lot of wild fish and, each year, millions of tonnes of smaller fish like anchovy and sardine are removed from the sea in order to be fed to the salmon," says the Australian Marine Conservation Society. The number of wild fish used to feed the salmon has decreased slightly, with the three main suppliers using Australia's largest fish feed company Skretting who offer a concoction of wild fish, compressed chicken feathers, animal offcuts, lamb, beef, organs, blood and of course the chemical pigment astaxanthin to artificially colour the salmon's flesh.
In addition to these ingredients, since as many as 50,000 salmon are farmed inside each pen, stopping diseases from spreading in these tight confines with excessive amounts of waste produced is a constant battle and requires the fish to be fed tones of antibiotics — just like land-based factory farmed animals.
Speaking as a Naturopath, this feed concoction is not natural, nor healthy for the fish to consume — that then we consume. Basically, unhealthy diet and conditions make for unhealthy fish. Plus, this fish feed, waste and antibiotics ends up not only in the fish, and ultimately us, but also in our water ways. In the past year alone 21,000 tonnes of fish feed landed up in the Tasmanian Macquarie harbour.
Four Corners recently did one of their incredibly informative reports, Big Fish, on what has been going on inside the Tasmanian Salmon Industry and I encourage you to watch the program — especially if you consume salmon in Australia.
In the report, we see that Tassel is planning to expand with 28 huge ocean cages, filled with hundreds of thousands of fish year round in the pristine Okehampton Bay, which happens to be opposite the world heritage site, Maria Island. Understandably, there is great nervousness that tonnes of fish waste and sediment set to be generated by Tassal's Okehampton Bay farm could end up drifting there. People also believe they will eventually move into unspoilt waters of Mercury Passage as they continue to grow....and despite them claiming they will not, in the report, Four Corners presents them with a copy of their heads of agreement that indicates that is a possibility for down the track.
Due to what has happened just last year, these fears are justified. In May 2015 around 85,000 thousand salmon suffocated to death — on one day — in Macquarie Harbour, when the oxygen levels suddenly plummeted following a storm. Not mentioning the animal welfare crisis, this mass death created massive areas of waste on the sea floor.
The other salmon farm companies, Petunia and Huon, both believe that Tassal has showed complete disregard for environmental and fish health warning signs. While Tassal carries the stamps of approval from both the ASC and WWF, Four Corners shed light on the unusual circumstances in which Tassal pays WWF almost a quarter of a million dollars every year — plus bonus performance payments — to be able to use the panda logo and another quarter of a millions dollars every year to cover the costs of its ASC accreditation. Paying for logos isn't new, but the issue becomes accentuated when it isn't transparent.
Hearing circumstances like this, I am nervous that WWF is becoming like the Heart Foundation Tick, where if you pay enough, you are given the logo — regardless of what you are selling. When the public trusts these logos, I believe it is incredibly misleading for consumers trying their best to make informed choices where their food is coming from and for their health.
It was discovered that Tassal tracked all of Four Corners movements and without their knowledge, interviews and interactions with others were being recorded and shared with Tassal. Surely these are actions of a company that is not wanting to be completely transparent about something?
WHAT ABOUT BUYING WILD SALMON?
If you are a consumer and not wanting to support the aquaculture industry due to it being either a personal health choice or because of the environmental impact, then what is the alternative? Firstly know that all non-tinned salmon sold in Australia is farmed other than the 100% wild sockeye salmon from The Canadian Way. Yes, that means your salmon sandwiches you buy on the go, the salmon sushi and the salmon you buy from the fish shop for yourself and the majority of restaurants - all intensively-farmed.
The Canadian Way are the only brand that sells wild salmon in Australia that have not been fed anything unnatural or forced to live in unhygienic or cramped spaces.
Yet taking away the notion of our appetite, wild salmon are incredible fish that are born in fresh water, migrate to the sea, and return to freshwater to reproduce, while sustaining everything from orca whales to coastal wolves. With so many people in the world, it isn't possible for us to all eat wild-caught salmon — it is already on the brink. My question is then, do we need to eat salmon at all? If you must eat seafood, there are other local, smaller fish available, and ultimately, we don't even need to eat fish, we can obtain our omega 3 and 6 from algae oil and no harm is done...