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Fish Farm Foul 

by Paul K. Haeder & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & Y & lt;/span & ou don't have to be a barefoot PETA activist to question just how sustainable salmon aqua-farming is. In our own state, wild salmon stocks collapsed dramatically over the past century -- some are perilously close to extinction -- and yet we've decided to have the salmon as the icon on our commemorative U.S. quarter. The term "schizoid" might be applied to the Pacific Northwest's approach to the salmon issue.


And it's a Medusa of a topic, from blocked waterways to more water for those agricultural "crops in the desert"; from non-point pollution contaminating smolt and fingerlings, to habitat destruction caused by development and logging.


And let's not forget that lightning rod question: to breach or not to breach those four Snake River dams.


Now we have some bizarre Madison Avenue doublespeak with the new labeling system for the very salmon that ends up in Spokane's kitchens: "naturally raised" versus "farm-raised." One British Columbia company, whose fish are penned up in the waters of Clayoquot Sound, calls itself "Creative Salmon." This small company raises genetically homogenous Chinook in floating sea pens, causing all sorts of problems with the marine ecosystems of Clayoquot Sound.


Creative Salmon tries to portray its salmon as natural; ludicrously, they want an organic label slapped on for good measure. The company's floating pens, maybe 100 square feet by 50 feet deep, hold thousands of salmon each, with a harvest period of 15 months to force the eventual outcome of a 10-pound Chinook product.


The ratio of protein gained to protein used (these are carnivores, mind you) to get an aqua-cultured fish to table is unsustainable in itself -- three to six pounds of fishmeal for the equivalent of one pound of flesh from a farm-raised fish.


Add up all the externalized costs to us, the public taxpayer, to clean up or manage the ecosystems where these salmon farms are sited, and, well, that "naturally raised" label is a double-edged fish knife.


While Creative Salmon touts its fish as free of the chemical cocktail most salmon farmers use -- anti-parasitics to kill sea lice caused by unnaturally high numbers of fish in a confined place; anti-foulants to kill barnacles and mussels that deposit themselves on the nets; antibiotics to treat infectious diseases; artificial dyes to tint the flesh pink -- the company still has problems with fish escapes.


And with the effluent of uneaten fishmeal and the feces of 250,000 fish -- just for this small outfit's 30 pens. Imagine hundreds of larger "farms" mucking up the bays' dynamic and balanced ecosystems.





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & ustainability is about biological footprints, environmental equity, regulating consumption and intergovernmental/multi-agency strategic planning. Farming salmon involves huge harvests of herring, sardines, mackerel and the like to produce the feed to create tonnages of fish flesh. Aqua-farming is already sucking up to 75 percent of the world's fish oil stocks; by 2010, we're looking at 90 percent of fish oil going to the aqua-farming industry.


The fishmeal challenge has even pushed some in the fish farming industry to want to experiment with feeding salmon chicken byproducts or genetically engineered vegetables.


So here's the conundrum -- 20 years ago, salmon was a delicacy, eaten by the well-heeled consumer only at certain times of the year. Now, however, with advanced technology spurred by relatively cheap fuel, more boats are catching more fish. And huge aqua-farming operations along the cold coasts of British Columbia, Chile, Scotland and Norway are changing the demand for salmon: We can get the flesh year-round, so now there's year-round demand.


Wild salmon is supposedly managed at a sustainable level in Canada and Alaska. Now, enter Wal-Mart, whose stated goal is to be the largest seller of wild salmon on earth.


Say goodbye to wild Coho and sockeye if that happens.


To put this all into a global perspective, consider that world population currently exceeds 6.5 billion people, and by 2050 will reach 9 billion. In 1970, globally we consumed 4 percent of our seafood from aquaculture sources; now we are at 32 percent of all seafood flesh from aqua-farming. It's a $56 billion-a-year industry.


Roz Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford, has traveled the world and studied how farmed fish impact wild fish, how rotting food and dead salmon and feces from salmon farms pollute waterways. Many of her findings point to major problems with aqua-farming.


Naylor does, however, commend aqua-farming ventures that are making a lighter impact on the environment. Creative Salmon has done some things to mitigate its operation's impact, she says -- compared to other British Columbia outfits.


But the bottom line is that our seafood consumption patterns are not sustainable. While I've seen many types of aqua-farming operations in Latin America -- some good, mostly bad -- the most dramatic impact of Americans' seafood addiction hit me while I was in Southeast Asia in the 1990s.


More than 26,000 industrial shrimp aqua-farms operate in Thailand alone. Americans might love those all-you-can-eat shrimp-fests, but it comes at a price -- huge swaths of dead zones all along Thailand's coast. Where effective subsistence fishers could survive formerly with hard work and dignity, Thais now have been cut off from a cultural and communal sustainable life process to end up toiling at uninspiring, hot and repetitive jobs in shrimp processing plants.


Given all of these global justice and sustainability imbalances, my advice is to skip the industrially produced salmon, whether it's "naturally raised" or not. Be willing to pay more for wild salmon from the Copper River and elsewhere when it's available. Then let the marine fisheries experts and international organizations manage what stocks of other species we have left.





For a list of endangered fish species, go to www.mbayaq.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp.

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