October 24, 2013
Because the demand for salmon continues to grow and exceeds the capacity that wild fisheries can supply on a sustained basis, the Aquarium recognizes that the only way to meet this demand and protect wild stocks is to balance well-managed wild-caught salmon with responsibly farmed salmon. While the Aquarium supports responsibly farmed salmon, it is important to note that not all farmed salmon is equal. The Aquarium’s Seafood for the Future (SFF) program has approved two producers in British Columbia, Canada: Grieg Seafood’s Skuna Bay brand (Grieg) and Marine Harvest Canada (Marine Harvest). Earlier this year, SFF released a comprehensive report analyzing their operations using the most current scientific data from a diverse pool of sources. Based on the data, SFF determined that Grieg and Marine Harvest are producing salmon responsibly. The Aquarium and SFF will continue to promote them so long as they demonstrate that they are committed to farming responsibly. Both producers are certified by the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices and are members of the Global Salmon Initiative in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It should also be noted that a marine netpen salmon producer in Chile was just awarded a “Yellow Good Alternative” ranking by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.
Environmental concerns regarding salmon farming include the impact on local salmon populations and the environment. The industry has grown and improved over the last four decades. Research has shown that escapes and environmental impacts resulting from fish waste and chemical inputs tend to be localized and are of minimal concern. Because Atlantic salmon is domesticated, it has not successfully established populations in the Pacific, and improved husbandry practices have greatly reduced the amount of pollutants and allow the ocean to naturally filter and clean these areas. Feed resources can be an issue, but the composition of the feed has greatly improved across the industry to minimize impacts on wild fish stocks. Both Marine Harvest and Grieg have committed to sourcing their feed products from responsible sources.
Disease is the most concerning of the issues of marine netpen salmon aquaculture, but there is no conclusive evidence that directly links salmon farms to the occurrence of disease in wild salmon populations, and the majority of the research on salmon aquaculture indicates that improved regulation, husbandry, siting, and farming practices have minimized the occurrence of disease on salmon farms. Both Grieg and Marine Harvest have protocols in place to reduce the risk of infecting wild populations in the event that a disease is detected.
Salmon, including farmed salmon, is among the healthiest of animal proteins. Because feed is highly controlled for farmed salmon, the amount of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids can actually be higher in farmed salmon. Conversely, the amounts of harmful contaminants such as PCBs and Mercury can also be controlled and minimized to some degree. Recent studies have shown that farmed salmon in British Columbia have smaller amounts of these contaminants than some of their wild counterparts. The levels found in both wild and farmed are well below FDA health guidelines and are a healthy seafood choice.
Among the complex issues analyzed in the SFF report were marine mammal deaths at the salmon farms. This happens either because of accidental drowning after becoming trapped in the nets or the euthanasia of an animal after repeated interactions have deemed it as a safety threat. This issue is not unique to salmon farms. Some of the best managed fisheries in the United States and arguably the world that are ranked as a “Green Best Choice” option by some of the top seafood advisory programs also have interactions with marine mammals that result in death. Any marine mammal mortality due to human-related activities is significant, and the Aquarium does not take this issue lightly. It is our firm belief that in order to address this issue, Aquarium and SFF staff members must work with the farms that are committed to doing everything possible to prevent marine mammal deaths to ensure improvement. Marine Harvest and Grieg have implemented stringent best management practices to further reduce their impacts on marine mammals. Since partnering with SFF, both companies have shown significant improvement. And we will continue to work with them to ensure they do everything possible to prevent future marine mammal deaths.
SFF is a nonprofit program that relies on fees charged to its partners and outside funding and sponsorships to maintain and further its efforts to promote healthy and responsible seafood. Any funds and sponsorships given to the program are clearly stated and enforced to have no bearing on the scientific decision-making process on issues of sustainability for SFF. All sponsors that are approved partners must continue to meet the strict standards and criteria of the program or the approval and sponsorship will be terminated.
Farmed salmon is a complex issue with a lot of conflicting information from many different sources. The Aquarium is committed to using the best science available to determine its positions and policies. To learn more about SFF’s responsible salmon producer partners, go to seafoodforthefuture.org.