How Farm-Raised Salmon Are Turning Our Oceans Into Dangerous and Polluted Feedlots
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Like CAFOs, fish farms are incubators of disease, and one particular parasite is common -- sea lice. While sea lice are naturally occurring in the ocean and pose no threat to healthy, full-grown fish, they are deadly for juveniles. And unfortunately, British Columbia's salmon farms, infested with millions of sea lice, are sited right where juvenile salmon (or smolts) must pass through as they migrate out of rivers and streams to the ocean.
"It just takes a few sea lice to kill a smolt," said Kavanagh. "In a recent study published in Science it shows that reoccurring sea lice outbreaks killed up to 80 percent of wild pink salmon juveniles in some of the migrations streams with salmon farms present. The bottom line in BC is that wherever there are wild salmon, there should not be fish farms. Wild salmon are not just important for a healthy ecosystem in BC, coastal communities rely on them economically and they are culturally and spiritually important for the First Nations there."
Wild salmon help support populations of orcas, bald eagles and grizzly bears.
"This shows a blatant disregard for the natural ecosystem of the area," said Alexandra Morton, director of the Salmon Coast Field Station. "Preservation of wild salmon depends upon the relocation of open-net salmon farms."
British Columbia is not the only place in trouble. Sea lice are common wherever salmon are farmed, but there are other health issues, too. Chile was just about to overtake Norway as the largest farmed-salmon-producing country until disaster struck -- it was hit with an outbreak of infectious salmon anemia (ISA).
The New York Times reported in February:
When a devastating virus swept through Chile's farmed-salmon stocks last year, some of the industry's biggest players laid off thousands of workers, packed up operations and moved to unspoiled waters farther south along the Chilean coast. But the virus went with them.
Last month, the Chilean government began hashing out tougher measures to improve the sanitary and environmental conditions of the troubled industry. But producers expect still-deeper losses this year, as the virus continues to kill millions of fish slated for export to the United States and other countries.
The decimation of the salmon-farming industry in Chile caused economic and environmental backlash.
"Some say the industry is raising its fish in ways that court disaster, and producers are coming under new pressure to change their methods to preserve southern Chile's cobalt blue waters for tourists and other marine life," the New York Times reported in a 2008 story.
You Are What You Eat
Of course, if you've got unhealthy fish, what's a "farmer" to do? Well, if you follow the CAFO playbook, that means jack them full of all sorts of drugs.
It turns out that salmon feed is loaded with antibiotics and other chemicals, some of which are outlawed in the U.S. for threats to human and marine health.
"Intensive farming breaks natural laws of density, distribution biodiversity and survival of the fittest. Disease is nature's relentless response to overcrowding, and so the farmers have to resort to drugs," British Columbia's Raincoast Research Society reported. "Small bays which might support a few hundred salmon in intermittent bursts throughout the year, are now filled with up to 1 million to 2 million stationary salmon. This is the best thing to happen to fish pathogens on this coast since the glaciers receded.
"In such close proximity, the feces of the crowded fish pass over each other's gills. Because the fish are confined and unable to migrate, pathogens accumulate into a rich broth. Antibiotics can keep most farm salmon alive long enough to reach market size, but leave the fish contagious, shedding pathogens into marine currents."