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Salmon, The Farming

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Table of contents

  1. Farmed Versus Wild: The Basics
  2. Animal Welfare and Fish Husbandry
  3. Possible Contaminants Found in Farmed Salmon
  4. Farmed Salmon’s Effects on the Commercial Fishing Industry
  5. Argued Benefits of Farmed Over Wild

My favorite meal is a meal that my mom has made for me and my family for as long as I can remember; it consists of grilled teriyaki salmon, steamed broccoli, white rice, and blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream. The most significant part of this meal is the salmon, because my dad was a commercial fisherman in Alaska while I was growing up. My family spent almost every summer in Kodiak, Alaska at dad’s setnet sight up until I was around ten years old. Since my dad fished salmon for a living, we used to eat salmon almost every night and it is still one of my favorite foods and something my mom makes for dinner regularly. While this dinner may not be anything fancy or out of the ordinary, it’s a meal that reminds me of home and my childhood and one that I always look forward to eating with my family. I also have a special connection with this meal because it reminds me of the summers I spent in Alaska and the process that my dad went through to catch and prepare the fish that we ate. Those memories make salmon particularly important and sentimental to me and my family.

Because this meal is one of my favorites and something that I eat a lot, I wanted to know more about the ingredients of it, including the nutritious, economic, and environmental aspects of them, so that I could better understand how this meal affects not only me, but the people around me and the planet itself. In order to understand if I would consider this meal a “good” choice to eat, I examined the center dish and the most significant to my family, salmon. I inquired on the ethical and environmental obligations of salmon, so that I could make an informed decision regarding the impact of this meal.

Farmed Versus Wild: The Basics

The first topic I wanted to research was the differences between farmed and wild salmon and the environmental impacts of both of them. My parents have always been extremely pro wild salmon, because they believe that it tastes better and is better for the environment, as well as a more humane way to catch fish. However, according to Alex Trent, an executive director for the industry group Salmon of the Americas, more than 90 percent of the fresh salmon eaten in this country is farmed, with sales growing by 10 percent to 20 percent a year. (Kolata) This statistic made me think that if so many people in our country are eating farmed salmon, there must be reasons for why we would choose to expand salmon farming, instead of continue fishing salmon from natural waters, and I wanted to know more about the pros and cons of both methods of fishing.

One significant reason that people choose farmed salmon over wild is because of the extremely large and growing population on Earth. With over 7 billion people on this planet, many of them without access to wild salmon, farmed salmon absolutely makes sense to adjust to our society’s needs. However, considering our planet’s population, I still ask the question if it is justifiable to replace wild salmon with farmed salmon all over the globe. From personal experiences, I have developed a preference and a sort of obligation towards wild salmon, so it is hard for me to imagine purchasing and consuming farmed instead. However, despite my preferred method of salmon fishing, I know that there are valid reasons for choosing farmed instead, and I wanted to look into those reasons in more depth and also investigate the cons of both methods as well. Before I could make an informed, moral decision about whether or not I am comfortable with consuming wild or farmed salmon, I had to investigate the distinct pros and cons of both types of fish.

Animal Welfare and Fish Husbandry

When researching farmed salmon, one of the key topics that I kept encountering was animal welfare and whether or not farming animals merely for our own needs is morally legitimate. An article discussing sustainable aquaculture, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, informed its readers about the moral obligations of “animal husbandry”, meaning the cultivation and production of animals, or in this article, of salmon (Olsen et. al, 1-4). The authors of this document state that they support the claim that the welfare of fish should be given serious moral considerations, and even though researchers are not in consensus about how fish react to being caught, that they should be given the benefit of the doubt and treated humanely (12). ”Even from a more egoistic standpoint, we could argue for a fair treatment of animals. If we inflict suffering upon animals, we violate human dignity and may contribute to the development of a crueler society” (Olsen, et. al) The authors argue this point when discussing animal welfare to communicate that we all should be concerned with the suffering of animals, whether it affects us directly or not. Though this article frequently talks about the ethical issues with farming salmon, the authors are not actually against this practice, but rather would see it done in a more humane and sustainable way. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, sustainability is defined as

. . . the management and conservation of the natural resources base, and the orientation of technological and institutional change in such a manner as to ensure the attainment and continued satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations. Such sustainable development in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors conserves land, water, plant and animal genetic resources, is environmentally non-degrading, technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable (13).

This definition is important, because sustainability is a topic that is challenging to define and come to a consensus about, especially when it relates to animal welfare, since everyone possesses varying views about the issue. Olsen and the other authors of this article agree with the UN’s definition, with the addition of animal needs along with human needs (13). The journal article goes onto discuss ways in which we can ensure sustainability in fish farming, by focusing on animal production systems, breeding approaches, sources for feed ingredients, and genetic engineering strategies, and the possible ways that fish farming may be altered in the future. In regards to my favorite meal and the information that I’d like to discover about it, this article gave me a much better understanding of salmon farming, including how it’s done, the moral, ethical, and environmental impacts, and how it relates to animal welfare. After researching farmed salmon, I still believe that wild salmon is a better choice. However, I’m now more informed on the reasons for farming salmon, including practicality, feeding our growing population, and cost effectiveness, and I think that if some alterations are made to the process, farming salmon may be an adequate solution to feeding the increasing number of people within our country and our planet.

Possible Contaminants Found in Farmed Salmon

Upon further inquiry of wild versus farmed salmon, I identified another concern that needed to be addressed: the presence of potentially harmful contaminants often found in farmed salmon. The New York Times Journal of Science published the largest study that had ever been done in 2004 that looked at the amount of contaminants found in both wild and farmed salmon found over a sevenfold difference in levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. The concentration of PCBs in farmed salmon was over 55 times higher than the tolerance level set by the Food and Drug Administration. PCB’s are a family of chemical compounds that were once used as coolants and lubricants and in the production of plastics and paints, but were banned in the 1970’s by the Environmental Protection Agency, due to studies finding them to be possible carcinogens. The author of this journal article states that the PCBs found in the farmed fish was acquired through their food, particularly the fish oil present in it. Another smaller study was done on this subject by the Environmental Working Group that tested ten farmed salmon bought from the supermarket for PCBs. The group concluded that the PCB levels were so high that people should eat farmed salmon no more than once a month (Kolata). However, in contrast to these studies, Dr. Michael Gallo, of the Cancer Institute at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said PCB’s were mixtures, some could cause cancer in laboratory rodents and that some of the cancer-causing PCBs are blocked by others that do not cause cancer. Dr. Gallo did not receive any money from the fish or chemical industry, and he argues that so far there is no solid proof that PCBs are carcinogenic (Kolata). A consensus has still not been reached regarding the carcinogenic properties of PCBs and there are still many scientists and researchers with opposing opinions about it, so it is difficult for me to make a decision on whether or not I want to continue eating farmed salmon. After reading about these studies and research, I still stand by my initial opinion that I prefer to consume wild salmon. Though my opinion is based mostly on the moral and environmental implications of salmon, this information about PCBs supports my initial thoughts. PCBs may not be proven to be carcinogenic, but I would still like to avoid eating a higher level than what is recommended by the FDA. After reading these various studies and opinions, I would agree with the statement given by an environmental advocacy group that farmed salmon should not be consumed more than once a month.

Farmed Salmon’s Effects on the Commercial Fishing Industry

Another possible concern about farmed salmon is that salmon farming is plunging the commercial fishing industry in the Pacific Northwest. Though this may not affect all consumers, the decline of commercial fishing directly affects many members of my friends and family. In a journal article, written by Ashley Dean at Stanford University, Rosamond L. Naylor, the fellow of Julie Wrigley Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Center for Environmental Science and Policy, noted that the weakening of the wild salmon industry is seen particularly in Alaska, where 10 percent of the workforce is employed through this industry (Dean). Naylor elaborates on this issue and states that; “Wild salmon capture historically has played an important economic role by providing employment and incomes to a vast number of Native American and non-native communities along the coast” (Naylor qtd in Dean). Dean also discusses that competition from salmon farms in Chile, Norway, the United Kingdom, and other countries have reduced Alaska’s share in the global fishing market from 40 to 50 percent to just 20 percent as of the year 2000 and that, because of this, the state has had to provide commercial fishermen with a series of financial relief programs. (Dean) The farmed salmon industry is causing severe damage to the commercial fishing industry and is responsible for many of those who are apart of wild salmon fishing to lose their jobs or suffer harsh setbacks.

Along with the devastating economic impact that the farmed fishing industry has on commercial fishing, there is also significant ecological threats from farmed salmon that are being posed on wild salmon. Dean describes farmed salmon as being raised in pens built along the shore, making them particularly susceptible to diseases and parasites, such as sea lice, which can be detrimental to wild salmon (Dean). An article titled, “Salmon Aquaculture in the Pacific Northwest: A Global Industry,” published in Environment Magazine, states that an even more concerning risk to wild salmon is the escape of farmed salmon from net pen facilities, and also adds that over a million fish have escaped from farms in Washington and British Columbia during that past decade (Naylor et al qtd in Dean). The authors go on to say that the escaped fish are capable of living and reproducing in the wild and competing for food and habitat with wild salmon populations (Dean). To learn more about the threats of escaped farmed salmon, I visited the full version of this article in Environment magazine and learned that salmon farms periodically lose thousands to tens of thousands of fish at one time due to storms, marine mammal predation, and human error. However, even more salmon are suspected to escape due to chronic low level leakage than from large-scale events (Naylor et al). Farmed salmon escaping into wild salmon habitats can cause a variety of detrimental effects on the wild salmon’s habitat and ultimately on the wild salmon industry. Farmed salmon can spread fatal diseases and parasites to the wild fish population as well as deprive them of their food supply and takeover their habitat, causing alarming decreases in the population size of wild fish. These unexpected and significant declines in the populations makes fishing wild salmon to be unpredictable and often not a reliable and sufficient source of income and is quickly taking a toll on the commercial fishing industry.

While this effects of farmed salmon on the wild salmon industry is not something that all salmon consumers will take into consideration, it is something that I am definitely concerned with, since the decline in wild salmon is a threat to many people that my family and I care about. Having lived in Alaska and growing up in a family who made their living off of commercial fishing, I think that it is crucial that I do my part in supporting this industry. The next time that I am choosing between farmed or wild salmon, the effects that my choices have on the commercial fishing industry will definitely play a role in my decision.

Argued Benefits of Farmed Over Wild

While there are many potential risks of farmed salmon, there are also benefits to this practice that can be argued. For example, farmed fish are more predictable in terms of supply and price and can sometimes be better quality by the time they reach the consumer than wild salmon. In the eyes of the consumer, aspects like price, quality, supply, and efficiency are crucial when it comes to selecting what fish to buy. While these pros of buying farmed salmon are legitimate, there is also significant reasons to still support the wild salmon industry over farmed. As mentioned earlier, farmed salmon are more susceptible to parasites and diseases. Even if those parasites and diseases are not spread to wild salmon populations, they can still cause significant drops in populations of farmed fish, especially because these fish live in such close quarters. According to Michael Tlusty, a researcher for the New England Aquarium, if a disease or parasite is spread in a fish farm, it is likely to take out a large portion of the fish within the farm, causing unpredictability in price and availability to consumers (Tlusty, 9). In regards to the quality of wild versus farmed salmon, while some may argue that farmed provides more nutrients than wild salmon, there is very little evidence to support this claim. The majority of research and studies done on this topic show that the nutritional value of both fish hardly differ (10). Along with the comparable nutritional value, there is also the concern of high levels of contaminants within farmed fish (10). Even if there was a slight increase in nutrients, I think that the risk of possible carcinogens in farmed fish would outweigh it. According to Kristian Saguin, a researcher at the University of the Philippines, farmed fishing and commercial fishing must exist together in order to ensure the best quality of fish for everyone around the world (Saguin, 3). I would agree with this statement the most, because while I prefer wild over farmed, this paper has also convinced me to consider the benefits of farmed salmon and the necessity for it in certain areas.

Aside from the evidence and research to support the consumption of wild fish over farmed, there is also the ethical implications associated with this decision. Even after considering the possibilities of higher predictability, quality, or lower prices, I still stick with my initial preference for wild salmon, for fact-based, but also moral reasons. In my opinion, the lack of regard for animal welfare and the damage that is done to the commercial fishing industry that is seen in farming fishing are the most convincing arguments for consuming wild salmon over farmed. While the benefits of salmon farming can certainly be argued and I believe that salmon farming can become a more ethical practice if improvements are made, I would still refute the notion that farmed salmon is a better choice than wild.

While I was researching information about this topic, I was frequently reminded of the summers I spent in Kodiak at my dad’s fishing site. I continued to think back to him bringing home fresh salmon and convincing me to help him skin and gut the fish. Although I was never very fond of this process and I enjoyed helping my mom with cooking the salmon much more, I think that the experience of catching and preparing my own food is an important memory that many people nowadays never experience. I may have not thought much about it at the time, but knowing that the fish I ate lived a free life in an open ocean makes me feel more ethically comfortable, meaning I am able to enjoy it more and feel content about my choice of food. While I still believe that farmed salmon has its place in our society, since there are so many people on this earth to feed, I think that the practice should not take over the traditional style of wild salmon fishing and that it should be used only when necessary and with the utmost precautions. With some alterations to salmon farming practices and shifting the focus back to wild salmon, I think that there can be a balance between the two styles, so that everyone can have access to fresh fish and feel good about where it came from. However, as long as I live in an area where fresh, wild fish is available, I would much rather consume it and help support the industry that I was raised around. Researching this topic and writing this paper has changed my relationship with my favorite meal significantly. This meal is still my favorite and I still believe that it is a good meal to eat, but now I can make that statement with more evidence and validity, at least in regards to the salmon. This essay made me think back to the summers of my childhood and to rediscover my relationship with this meal and why I find salmon to be such a crucial part. I plan to still consume salmon regularly, but now I will consider more strongly what it is I’m supporting when I choose between farmed or wild salmon. My relationship with my favorite meal is now based on my ethical obligations, as well as evidence and sufficient reasons to support what I believe.

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