Today the Washington Post ran an article in their Food section lauding advances in the salmon farming industry. Their message? Farmed salmon are a good choice.
We’re here to set the record straight: farmed salmon are not a sustainable seafood choice, and they’re not good for the oceans. If you want to be a responsible seafood eater, therefore, you should not eat farmed salmon.
When you eat farmed salmon, you’re really eating another fish called the jack mackerel, or any number of other wild fish being fed to salmon. Salmon are carnivores, and wild salmon hunt and eat other fish. To simulate a wild diet, farmed salmon are fed a stomach-turning mixture of fish meal (ground up fish) and fish oil, plus protein substitutes. To make their fish food, salmon farmers use smaller, little-known species like jack mackerel, sardines, and anchovies. The problem is that many of these species, especially jack mackerel, are dangerously overfished.
Even if the ratio of wild fish to farmed fish it 1 to 1, you are still eating a pound of jack mackerel or another wild species—which are likely in trouble—when you eat your farmed salmon. And because the ratio is really 3 to 1 for most of Chile, you are likely eating 3 pounds of jack mackerel or other fish when you and your friends and family dig in to your pound of farmed salmon. The jack mackerel fishery is in very bad shape, and a responsible eater can’t feel good about that choice. Buying three pounds of fish and then throwing two away later would be crazy, but salmon farming operates under the same logic.
It’s fair to say that salmon farming is better than it used to be, but it used to be horrendous. Even the best farms still pollute their waters with parasiticides, chemicals, and fish feces. The Chilean farmed salmon industry uses over 300,000 kilograms of antibiotics a year, causing bacterial resistances that affect fish, the environment, and human beings. In Chile, home to the article’s much lauded Verlasso fish farm, the majority of farms are located in pristine, deep-water fjords off of Patagonia, where even a minimal footprint could irreparably damage the ecosystem.
It’s not time to feel good about farmed salmon. Feeding one fish to another is inherently wasteful and inefficient, and the smart choice is to abandon salmon farming for something more sensible: making wild fish stocks more abundant by using science-based fishery management. The jack mackerel, anchovies, and sardines that we grind up and feed to farmed salmon worldwide are delicious fish, so why not eat them instead?
Oceana is working to implement science-based fishery management all over the world. As long as they’re managed properly, wild seafood can provide a healthy seafood meal a day for a billion people. Consumers can still eat healthy, wild fish, and our ocean waters can stay free of the chemicals, feces, and parasites that come with salmon farms. But this won’t happen if we keep on grinding our wild fish stocks up to turn them into faux, er farmed salmon (or to feed them to pigs and other livestock, but that’s another story).
We think that makes good sense, and we hope you agree.
And will someone please tell the Washington Post’s tasting panel to include jack mackerel, anchovies or sardines the next time when they do another taste test? After, all that’s what the tasters are actually eating. Plus they are delicious, and don’t have sea lice!