by Marion Nestle
Oct 2 2012

My quick visit to a salmon farm in Norway: a brief report

I’m just back from a trip sponsored by the Norwegian Seafood Council, whose job it is to promote sales of farmed fish from Norway.  The Council takes great pride in the quality of Norwegian fish farming.

I wrote about the dilemmas of fish farming in What to Eat, but I had never been to one.  I went because I wanted to see a fish farm for myself, and this one was about 400 miles north of the Arctic Circle, near Tromsø.

The principal argument for fish farming is that wild fish are being fished out and will soon disappear.  As the argument goes, if we want fish, farming is how we will have to get them (there is also a pro-farming argument about omega-3 fatty acids, but let’s not go there right now).

Before I left on this trip, I was sent a letter from an anti-farming advocate detailing all of the arguments against fish farming.  This is worth a read (or see the Fish Farming Dilemma chapter in What to Eat).

We were taken to see a farm with 12 nets:

FIsh farm near Skjervoy, Norway

We went out to one of the nets to have a look.

This farm is managed from a control room on a boat, and monitored by computers that measure water conditions, currents, feed, and other factors.

A camera is placed in the nets about half way down looking up at the fish.  This monitors the amount of feed.  If the camera sees feed, it’s time to stop.

We were taken to the plant where the fish are harvested.

This particular plant produces salmon for the Japanese sushi and sashimi markets.  It was pristine.  The fish are harvested under conditions that ought to satisfy any humane society.

Overall, we saw none of the disease and pollution problems that I had expected to see.  Norway tightly regulates fish farming in quantity and quality.  The farms looked well managed, and the fish looked healthy.  The farm tests extensively for contaminating heavy metals and pathogens, reports no lice, and vaccinates young fish against disease.

The fresh salmon looked pink (because they are fed dye), streaked with fat (they are well fed), and had a nice light taste, but one quite different from that of wild Alaskan salmon.

The one set of questions left unanswered had to do with what the salmon are fed (we asked for and have been promised this information).

I came home with a handful of salmon feed pellets.  They look like dog food but feel greasy and smell fishy.

Therein lies the dilemma.  To get salmon or any other farmed fish to taste like fish, it is necessary to supplement their corn and soybean rations with fish meal and fish oil obtained from wild fish stocks, thereby further depleting ocean fish.

If we must have fish farming, it looked to me as though Norway was doing it well.  Elsewhere?  I have no idea.

Should we have fish farming?  I see it as a dilemma.

As always, I await your thoughts.

Addition, October 5: Elyssa Altman, writer of the blog, PoorMansFeast.com, was also on this trip.  Her report of it is more detailed than mine and addresses many of the questions asked in the comments.

 

 

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Mr. Conley, we’re in agreement that this ‘discussion’ is pointless.

  • http://www.aquacomgroup.com Dave Conley

    Marion, what happened to the previous 29 comments?

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  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Dave Conley, look for link that says “Older comments”. Dr. Nestle uses paged commenting.

  • http://www.aquacomgroup.com Dave Conley

    For the people that prefer wild Alaskan salmon, you should be aware that they are not truly wild but start their lives in hatcheries and are fed the same feeds as farmed salmon. The difference is that the “wild salmon’ are released from their pens to forage for food rather than be fed throughout their lives. The ‘wild salmon’ are captured when they come back to their release point near the end of their life cycle.

    I know some may not want to read about it but here is a good website that discusses the many issues around the so-called “wild salmon’ in Alaska: http://alaskasalmonranching.wordpress.com/

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Dave Conley, I can’t believe anyone would write such hogwash at this site.

    ‘For the people that prefer wild Alaskan salmon, you should be aware that they are not truly wild but start their lives in hatcheries and are fed the same feeds as farmed salmon. The difference is that the “wild salmon’ are released from their pens to forage for food rather than be fed throughout their lives. The ‘wild salmon’ are captured when they come back to their release point near the end of their life cycle.’

    Bilge water.

  • http://www.aquacomgroup.com Dave Conley

    Regarding a previous post about sea lice and use of toxic chemicals, just thought some of you may like to know that research on biological control has been ongoing for several years: New promise in sea lice-eating lumpfish http://www.forskningsradet.no/en/Newsarticle/New_promise_in_sea_liceeating_lumpfish/1253979450537

    In Scotland, the focus of the Guardian article discussed previously, we have this news: Wrasse reach Scottish cages http://www.fishnewseu.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9100:wrasse-reach-scottish-cages&catid=45:scottish&Itemid=54

  • http://www.aquacomgroup.com Dave Conley

    Re Alaskan ‘wild salmon’, see:
    Alaska Salmon Enhancement: A Successful Program for Hatchery and Wild Stocks http://www.lib.noaa.gov/retiredsites/japan/aquaculture/proceedings/report30/heard.htm

    Alaska Salmon Fisheries Enhancement Program;
    2010 Annual Report http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/FedAidPDFs/FMR11-04.pdf
    2011 Annual Report http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/FedAidpdfs/FMR12-04

  • http://www.aquacomgroup.com Dave Conley

    A report by the WorldFish Center – Blue Frontiers: Managing the environmental costs of aquaculture – has some interesting data, discussion and conclusions that some readers may find interesting, and challenging to their current assumptions and beliefs: http://www.worldfishcenter.org/sites/default/files/report.pdf

    For more info about the WorldFish Center and its focus on reducing poverty and hunger by improving fisheries and aquaculture, see http://www.worldfishcenter.org/

  • http://www.aquacomgroup.com Dave Conley

    “At the rate of world population growth, to maintain at least the current level of aquatic food consumption per capita, the world will need an additional 23 million tons of such foods in 2020. This will come from aquaculture (FAO, 2012).

    For the article this is taken from, see: Aquaculture more eco-friendly than other proteins http://www.seafoodsource.com/newsarticledetail.aspx?id=18076

  • Elliot Entis

    If I may, just a few observation’s regarding comments made in your report:

    1) “The fresh salmon looked pink (because they are fed dye), streaked with fat (they are well fed),…”

    All Atlantic salmon have a similar color because the “dye” that the farmed fish are fed is chemically identical to the coloration obtained by wild Atlantics from eating the animals they feed on. It is astaxanthin. In the wild this “dye” comes mainly from shrimp or krill. ” Astaxanthin is found in microalgae, yeast, salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, crayfish, crustaceans, and the feathers of some birds. It provides the red color of salmon meat and the red color of cooked shellfish.” (Wikopedia).Until a few years ago, salmon feed obtained the “dye” from one or more ocean sources. Now it is by and large produced from microalgae and other non-ocean depleting sources.

    2) “…and had a nice light taste, but one quite different from that of wild Alaskan salmon.”

    Quite true. Because they are a different species. If you want a valid comparison, try wild vs farmed Atlantic salmon. But that won’t work either because there is no commercial Atlantic fishery left due to overfishing ( and pehaps some ocean warming)

    2)” I came home with a handful of salmon feed pellets. They look like dog food but feel greasy and smell fishy.”

    Yes, that is correct, That is because salmon feed needs to contain similar ingredients to what salmon eat in the wild: other fish. They are middle to top predators.

    3)” Therein lies the dilemma. To get salmon or any other farmed fish to taste like fish, it is necessary to supplement their corn and soybean rations with fish meal and fish oil obtained from wild fish stocks, thereby further depleting ocean fish.”

    Well, I don’t believe it’s such a dilemma. In the wild, a salmon weighing 10 pounds has consumed 100 to 1000 pounds of other fish. As opposed to a farmed salmon that consumes 1.2 to 1.8 lbs of other fish to every pound it yields – and that ratio is improving over time. I am not making this up. There are numerous ways of validating this information if you choose. Farmed salmon eat far less wild fish per unit of yield than wild salmon. And the ratio of “sustainable” (veggies) feed to ocean products is changing for the better over time.
    On the other hand, to be fair, you could simply make the point that we should neither fish for nor farm any meat-eating species since then you would at least be comparing the impact of both on the number of other fish left in the ocean. Truthfully, though, I like salmon and am not willing to go veggie. I would rather trust that both economics and technology will continue to improve the sustainability of farming.

  • http://www.aquacomgroup.com Dave Conley

    For those interested in the comments previously made re the activist Don Staniford defamation suit, Mainstream Canada is appealing the judge’s decision.

    For a reasoned perspective you may wish to read this item posted today by Geoff Plant…Blog Profile: Geoff Plant, Lawyer, recovering politician and learner (Note: Geoff Plant is British Columbia’s former Attorney General). The whole post can be read at http://theplantrant.blogspot.ca/2012/10/theres-lot-of-hurt-caused-in-name-of.html but below is the concluding comment:

    Reflect again on Mr. Staniford’s statements, and ask yourself what it would be like to be an employee of Mainstream and its parent company, carrying on lawful businesses, companies which the trial judge said, “model the behavior of a responsible corporate citizen”. Mr. Staniford launches a highly public campaign. Its message, shouted from the rooftops, is that the product you make kills people. You are personally demeaned and ridiculed for appearing as a witness in court on behalf of your employer. What you learn is this: in our democracy, free speech is more valued than decency, fairness, self-respect, self-restraint, intellectual integrity, or responsibility. And when it comes to public debate, the law rewards the most outrageous and hurtful among us. It’s a harsh lesson, I think.

  • Bethune

    I was shocked to see this brief follow-up and a complete lack of query into the serious food and animal safety issues in conventional Norwegian aquaculture. With Norwegian regulators setting the level of dioxin and PCBs 15-time higher than that set for chicken, you have to at least wonder a little bit, on how that occurred when we know the toxic effects of these contaminants are the same regardless of which meat source it is consumed from. Thankfully vegetable oil replaces much fish oil in fish feed, but there again is a problem for Salmo salar, where the commercial feeds cause metastatic adenocarcinoma in these carnivorous fish. With no understanding of Norway’s role in setting increasing levels allow for contaminants in feed, and therefor US and EU consumer body burdens, or the illness the farmed salmon face themselves, it’s clear how you might consider Norway doing farmed salmon right.

    Ogne Øyehaug, BT Norge om Norsk Myndeheter.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=salmon%20adenocarcinoma%20feed

    Cancer Res. 2009 May 15;69(10):4355-62. Epub 2009 May 5.
    From chronic feed-induced intestinal inflammation to adenocarcinoma with metastases in salmonid fish.

  • http://www.vsrc.com.au Dan

    Freshly caught wild fish, nothing goes close. But if we want to eat fish regularly and at good prices we have to put up with farmed.

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  • bobmilne

    How do you feel now that the Staniford verdict has been appealed and overturned and he has been found guilty and ordered to pay $75 000 for defamation??