Saturday, June 11, 2005

Canning our salmon

A few years ago, then-Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho) made headlines when she dismissed salmon-recovery efforts by saying: "How can salmon be endangered when you can buy them in cans in supermarkets?"

The Bush administration, it appears, is intent on making just that kind of wingnut vision into our all-too-stark reality.

The P-I's sterling environment reporter, Robert McClure, reported the other day that the Bush administration plans to massively expand salmon farming in offshore waters of the Pacific:
Calling fish farming a potential boon for consumers and the economy, the Bush administration yesterday proposed to massively expand the practice to waters as far as 200 miles offshore.

Supporters in Washington, including a state senator who advocates for fish farmers, urged Congress to bless the idea. They said a likely result -- if fish-culturing methods can be perfected -- would be a cheap source of ocean-grown delights, such as black cod, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Critics answered that the aquaculture build-up is a get-rich-quick scheme destined to leave taxpayers subsidizing an industry that would pollute the ocean, serve up substandard fish and, ultimately, center its economic activity in Third World nations.

It's important to take note of what environmentalists are saying, because it's entirely accurate -- and, if anything, understated:
Environmentalists and commercial fishermen say the legislation is too broad and gives the Department of Commerce, the parent agency of the Fisheries Service, total discretion on environmental regulations.

"Any time you have a confined feedlot operation, you're going to have disease and pathogens and parasites, so you're always medicating for your weakest animal -- whereas in nature, that animal would die and become part of the food chain," said Anne Mosness, a Bellingham-based crusader for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a national research and advocacy group.

"It's the equivalent of having a hog farm in a city park flushing its wastes into the street," she said.

Mosness, who fished for salmon in Alaska for 28 years, worries that producing enough salmon in fish farms will give politicians an excuse to discontinue environmental-protection efforts designed to make Northwest rivers more welcoming to salmon.

In essence, the presence of gigantic fish farms will supposedly relieve pressure to ensure the survival of wild salmon stocks, as a federal judge just ordered the administration to do. (No doubt he was merely an "activist" judge.)

So now Americans won't have to worry about endangered salmon. Hey, they can get it right from the can!

Er, well, and pay no mind to what you're getting in that can.

Most of you probably already know that when you buy farmed salmon, that nice "pink" color is faked. It would be naturally grey except for the dye they feed the fish:
Another difference in farmed salmon: their flesh would be light grey if they weren't fed ad additive to give them their salmon colour. Farmers can pick the colour they want their fish to be from a 'SalmoFan,' something that resemble a collection of paint chips.

And, when it comes to eating them, farmed salmon have notably higher levels of toxins contained in their meat. Oh, and did we mention that they're high in delicious and nutritious PCBs too? In addition, the live fish are constantly fed a chemical diet of antibiotics (more per pound, in fact, than any other kind of livestock).

As it happens, those antibiotics are spread openly to the open sea, since some 75 percent of it, spread into the pens, actually escapes. This introduces into the wild marine environment new strains of resistant diseases that can devastate whole populations, both farmed and wild.

That's not all they're spreading into the wild. The salmon pens are also spreading sea lice and other diseases to wild salmon.

And then there are the farmed salmon themselves, which often escape, usually in larger numbers than the industry will admit. These are Atlantic salmon, an alien species. They are also notoriously aggressive toward the salmonids of other species -- that is, they selectively pursue and eat them. (This is probably why, in the Atlantic, there is only one species of salmon, compared to the five species that naturally prowl the Pacific.) And, in the wild, these Atlantic salmon have begun to breed and displace the wild Pacific salmon stocks.

Worst of all, the salmon farms are driving traditional fishermen out of business -- and destroying native salmon stocks.

It's looking as if it's only a matter of time before you won't be able to buy wild salmon in the stores anymore, for anything other than exorbitant prices (see, for a preview of this, the ridiculous gouging that now occurs for Copper River salmon). And all those jobs that used to hum out of the Fishermen's Terminal just a couple of miles from my home -- especially the North Pacific fleet -- will be gone, replaced by a relative handful of jobs running the cages at offshore farms.

Once upon a time, conservatives were supposed to be about preserving our traditions. The bottom line now is profits, at the expense of everything else. Not least, at the expense of our natural environment and our health.

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