Nineteen years ago, I read the June 21st article in the Economist, headed with this challenging and half-amusing title: ‘Sewerage with your salmon, sir?’ I have never forgotten it. Some articles fall on fertile ground! I had, mistakenly, thought that farmed salmon was a good food choice. After reading this article (about salmon ‘farms’ in Scotland), I learnt a lot about farmed salmon. I also learnt it was cruel.
‘Salmon are kept at higher densities than battery hens. Packed in cages of up to 70m in diameter, holding up to 500,000 fish, they are fattened on a diet of the rendered remains of small fish. Anti-bacterial chemicals are used to ward off sea lice and other parasites. Colouring agents are included in their pellet food because, deprived of its natural diet of krill and shrimp, the flesh of a farmed salmon looks an uninviting shade of grey. Roche sells a colouring agent, called Salmofan, which allows salmon farmers to choose the exact shade of pink they like for their fish.’
That was just the beginning of my education about farmed salmon. The excreta from the fish falls to the bottom of the fiords where, in certain weather conditions, it is stirred up into the pens and eaten by the fish. The pollution affects the wild fish and resultant levels of parasites (lice) are unacceptable (and the lice jump onto the wild salmon). The same story is found in Canada and north-western USA.
Since writing for this Covid-19 diary, I have noticed that any of my posts that feature food and cooking gets more ‘likes’. Food is popular! I believe this reflects our current anxiety about what we are eating. Are we keeping healthy? Are we looking after our immune systems? When the virus invades us, will we have the physical resources to survive it? Especially if you ‘suffer’ from the co-morbidly of age, your health is a matter of extra concern.
Eating less meat, more fish, more vegetables, is discussed. Getting enough sleep, enough exercise is also promoted. We are trying.
Can you add to this a concern about how our food is produced? How is it farmed? Are our meat chickens raised in cages? Do we need to drink cow’s milk? Do we need to eat veal? Should we include more vegetarian meals in our at-home cooking?
Along this line of thought, I decided I would check on the latest news about salmon farming in Scotland. Surely, in the 19 years since ‘Sewerage with your salmon, sir?’ the situation would have improved in the fiords of Scotland.
No! They have not!
Production of salmon has increased since 2001 from 127,000 tonnes to 189,000 tonnes in 2017.
This article explains that wild salmon numbers are at their lowest levels since records began – experts talk about a ‘crisis’. Lice numbers on wild fish are at epidemic levels. Effectively, the fish gets eaten alive …. Severe injuries are found on the farmed salmon and apparently the inspectors have trouble recording this!
‘Marine ecologist Dr Sally Campbell says: “I think most people who choose salmon off their supermarket shelves have no idea of the waste that’s going into our marine environment as a result of that. And they would be appalled.”
Every year about 9.5 million fish die in the salmon farms, about 20% of the total.
Disease, parasites and even chemicals designed to treat them can all prove fatal.’
If you have read this far, I should apologise in bringing you this bad news when you already have enough going on.
Why worry about fish, you might ask. Do not worry – just check out the guides and buy accordingly.
Meanwhile, I should think twice about eating our local Tasmanian farmed salmon (which has been a favourite). It’s easy to get advice on what ‘sustainable-stock’ fish I should eat. Keep away from the top predators: marlin, sailfish, tuna, farmed salmon. Keep away from fish that are caught with a huge bycatch.
I am pleased to say that the crabs and southern calamari that I used to catch on our Yorke Peninsula are deemed sustainable. In Australia they have generous bag-limits for crabs and calamari.
Now summer is approaching, I shall have to go fishing again.