As a certified fish pathologist, I’m continually surprised at the way news reports on Atlantic salmon and their focus on the biased fears of the “Wild Fish Conservancy.” Editors then bury important facts deep in the articles.
Fact 1: Atlantic salmon have never successfully established themselves in any Washington river system even after millions of eggs and fish were intentionally introduced numerous times from 1904 to 1991.
Fact 2: Atlantic salmon are considered a superior trophy fish to people living near their home waters of the North Atlantic. Additionally, fishermen here are thrilled for the opportunity to fish for and catch escaped fish. The idea that they could somehow take over the Pacific Northwest is without foundation because this species could be easily removed from our rivers with a simple and very popular “overfishing” program.
Fact 3: Salmon farms provide desperately needed jobs in rural communities and support families working for multiple businesses that supply equipment, expertise and healthy food for these fish.
Fact 4: Just like all other farmed animals (such as chickens, pigs and cattle), salmon are vaccinated when they are young and then carefully monitored to ensure this a healthy food choice.
People like to say “Fish farms could hurt our wild salmon and farmed salmon are not safe to eat.” This naïve view ignores several key facts. First of all, although some nonnative introduced species have clearly caused ecological problems, there is no evidence this is true of Atlantic salmon. Secondly, critics of fish farms ignore the substantial negative consequences of many commercial fishing operations targeting wild fish. These include wasted, unintentionally caught bycatch (including threatened fish species) and destruction of the ocean floor ecosystem. Finally, there is no validity to the notion that North American farmed salmon are less healthy to eat than wild fish. PCB levels, for example, are correlated with high fat content of the fish. Farmed salmon frequently have lower levels than some of the highly prized and fatty wild salmon such as Copper River salmon. More importantly, no salmon studies have ever found dangerous levels of PCBs in any salmon, farmed or wild.
We all benefit from locally farmed fish, because without it, the cost of wild salmon would likely jump substantially and poaching of wild fish would increase to meet that demand. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has conducted exhaustive studies of the potential impact of Atlantic salmon introductions in Washington. Their conclusion: “the evidence strongly indicates that Atlantic salmon aquaculture poses little risk to native salmon and non-salmon species.” Please, let’s all take a chill pill and relax over a tasty plate of Atlantic salmon knowing that food produced locally is good for the environment by reducing our carbon footprint and supporting rural communities.
David B. Powell
Ph.D. Fisheries and certified fish pathologist
Vice president, ProFishent, Inc.