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article imageReview: ‘Salmon in the Sea’ — Is farmed salmon a threat to wild salmon? Special

By Igor I. Solar     May 19, 2014 in Food
Campbell River - A recent segment of CBS’ “60 Minutes” focuses on the positive and adverse aspects of salmon farming, potential threats of this activity to wild salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest, and comparative facets of salmon products for the consumer.
For several years the farming of salmon in net-cages has been a subject of controversy especially where there are wild populations of salmon. Concurrently, the introduction of salmonid species outside their natural range, such as in waters of the southern hemisphere (New Zealand, Chile), has prompted concerns from environmental advocates who perceive threats of the exotic species to native ecosystems.
Among the main objections to the production of salmon in cages are the use of pharmaceutical compounds to maintain the health of farmed fish cultured at high densities, the possible transmission of diseases of farmed fish to wild fish, and the risk of genetic contamination of alien species to wild populations, where they exist.
The issue was recently addressed in a segment of the CBS television program "60 Minutes" in which Dr. Sunjay Gupta, special correspondent on health-related issues, outlined his
Farming of juvenile salmon.
Farming of juvenile salmon.
observations as a result of a visit to a fish farm of Marine Harvest in Campbell River, BC. Additionally, in the middle of the magnificent mountain and marine scenery of the British Columbia coastline, Gupta discusses the subject in conversation with Alexandra Morton, a tenacious opponent to commercial salmon farming. Gupta also talks with an Alaskan salmon fisherman on salmon ranching activities in Alaska, and with Brian Wallace, senior counsel to the “Cohen Commission of Inquiry”, which investigated the severe decline of the sockeye salmon run in the Fraser River in 2009.
The “60 Minutes” segment entitled "Salmon in the Sea" lasts 13 minutes and was broadcast on May 11, 2014 (first video above). The overall presentation is well-balanced and analyzes the production of farmed salmon in the Pacific Northwest in an objective manner.
Speaking to Gupta on one of the floats of a fish farm, Ian Roberts, communications manager for Campbell River-based Marine Harvest-Canada says: "We farm everything we eat. All our vegetables are farmed. All our meats are farmed. The ocean is the last place where we hunted and gathered. The problem is there is seven billion of us now on this planet. And the oceans can't give us any more fish. We owe it to our oceans to make sure that we're providing an alternate to just capturing the last wild fish."
Later in the segment, Alexandra Morton assesses what happened in Chile in 2007-2009 with the infectious salmon anemia virus (ISAv) epidemic, which impacted salmon production with devastating social and economic consequences, and speculates on what might happen in BC: "They could not believe (in Chile) how many fish it killed. It caused $2 billion of damage. But they don't have wild salmon. Nobody knows what's gonna happen here. This salmon farming experiment, this is the only place it's going on amongst abundant wild salmon. Here we are risking everything on this coast."
Workers handle farmed salmon in a processing plant.
Workers handle farmed salmon in a processing plant.
File photo: Farm-raised salmon fillets at a processing plant.
File photo: Farm-raised salmon fillets at a processing plant.
Gupta also talks with Alaska fisherman George Eliason who supports the decision taken by the Alaska government twenty-five years ago banning salmon farming out of concern that the farming industry could potentially harm the lucrative wild salmon fishery.
"We've got a great fishery up there now. Why take the chance? Why even try it?" says Eliason.
The CBS - 60 Minutes segment on farmed salmon ends with Sunjay Gupta asking very direct questions to Cohen Commission’s Brian Wallace. In a quick dialogue in which Gupta pressed Wallace about the possibility of diseases in cultured salmon affecting wild salmon, Wallace appears delivering imprecise and somewhat evasive statements:
Brian Wallace: This is a very complex subject. Somebody said, you know, ‘This is not rocket scientist – science’, it's much more complicated than that.
Sanjay Gupta: So we do not know that the virus is not here, and we do not know if it is here?
BW: I think that's correct.
SG: It sounds like until the virus actually gets out of these farms and into the wild population that's gonna establish the risk.
WB: That's one way to establish it.
SG: That sounds like it'd be too late.
BW: I hope not.
In a short video entitled "Wild-caught or farmed? The diner's dilemma" that supplements the information provided by the "Salmon in the Sea" segment of 60 Minutes (second video above), Sunjay Gupta discusses comparative aspects of quality and safety of wild and farmed salmon regarding content of omega-3 fatty acids, pollutants, fat, and the presence of carotenoid pigments in the flesh. After analyzing the issue in simple terms, Gupta concludes that the differences between wild and farmed salmon are minimal and are mostly related to price, wild-caught salmon being more expensive than farmed salmon.
The issue of farmed vs wild-caught salmon in connection with organoleptic characteristics and the potential of farmed salmon being a risk to the Pacific Northwest's wild salmon stocks is a highly controversial matter. What is your take on this subject? Please leave a comment below.
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