Just say no to ‘certified organic’ farmed salmon

Fish farms on the BC coast threaten wild salmonSPECIAL TO THE VANCOUVER SUN

August 12, 2010

British Columbia farmed salmon could carry a “certified organic” label if federal aquaculture boosters have their way. The proposal by the Canadian General Standards Board and organic aquaculture working group at Fisheries and Oceans Canada to give the organic stamp of approval to B.C.-farmed salmon raised in open net-pens is nothing short of Orwellian.

Among the many practices that should be considered antithetical to the spirit and intent of organic certification, the fish farm industry in B.C. relies on the application of the agricultural drug Slice to their “salmon feedlots” in order to address chronic sea lice outbreaks.

Emamectin benzoate is the active ingredient in Slice, which is administered in feed. The use of Slice in farmed salmon is a concern to scientists such as Dr. David Carpenter, a professor at the Environmental Health and
Toxicology Division at the University of Albany in New York.

Carpenter has said “emamectin is one of a class of drugs known to block a major inhibitory neural transmitter in the brain. Animal studies have demonstrated exposure to this chemical during development causes changes in behaviour and growth as well as pathological changes in the brain.”

Little is known about the long-term impact of Slice on other aquatic life.

Mounting evidence indicates that Slice may negatively affect crustaceans (krill, shrimp etc.). Canadian ecotoxicology research scientist Les Burridge, has written that “chemicals used to control infestations of sea
lice on cultured salmon have a potential for impacting non-target organisms, particularly other Crustacea. Investigations have focused on lethal impacts, but observations made during these experiments indicate potential for ecologically important sub-lethal impacts.”

University of Victoria researcher John Volpe has related how “fish farms are run feedlot-style and as with similar land-based operations, rely on drugs to maintain a healthy population. The inadvertent breeding of ‘superbugs’ or drug-resistant bacteria is promoted in this way, and the potentially devastating long-term ramifications of such practices are only now becoming fully appreciated.”

In addition to Slice, B.C. salmon farms utilize colourants, fungicides and disinfectants in the course of production. Salmon farms are the marine equivalent of industrial agricultural feedlots and have been located in some of the wildest ecosystems in the world. The significant impact from open net-pen fish farms on the benthic environment alone is cause for serious concern.

Wild salmon throughout B.C. are under pressure from a number of factors, including habitat destruction from clearcut logging and urban development, overfishing, pollution run-off, changing ocean conditions as a result of
climate change, consequences from hatchery and enhancement programs and fisheries mismanagement.

In addition, there are the continuing threats from the aquaculture industry: disease, parasites, non-native fish escapes, antibiotics, pesticides, chemicals and fecal waste from salmon farms are among the impacts facing
wild stocks in B.C.

In 2002, a collapse of more than three million pink salmon on B.C.’s central coast was linked to parasites from adjacent fish farms. In Europe, salmon farms are believed to have put the brown trout on the endangered species list.

Raincoast Conservation biologist Michael Price is investigating what role fish farms might have played in the 2009 collapse of Fraser River sockeye salmon in which some nine million fish went missing.

According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), organic agriculture is based on four principles, one of which is the principle of ecology. IFOAM states that “this principle roots organic agriculture within living ecological systems … for example, in the case of crops, this is the living soil; for animals it is the farm ecosystem; for fish and marine organisms, the aquatic environment.” IFOAM further explains that “organic agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.”

Promoters of the aquaculture industry are counting on health-conscious consumers flocking to farmed salmon once it is certified organic. But those consumers might want to think again. Take some pellets with fish meal
produced from fish stocks at the base of the food chain in the southern hemisphere’s oceans, add a dash of pink chemical pigments, sprinkle with antibiotics, decorate with a startling array of bacteria and viruses, glaze
with PCBs, and you have your average farmed salmon filet from your grocer or local restaurant.

Chris Genovali is the executive director of Raincoast Conservation.

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