When Salmon Go Wrong

Few things that we eat are as good or good for us as a nice piece of fresh, pink salmon pulled out of the cold, pristine waters of our northern oceans and rivers. Or at least, that's the image of this noble fish.

For wild salmon, the image is true -- but 80 percent of the salmon sold in U.S. markets and restaurants today comes from fish farms. More and more, these are corporate owned, industrialized operations that jam tens of thousands of salmon together in ocean pens, much as the infamous hog, poultry, and beef factories do on land. The top priority of these operations is quick profit, based on high volume and short-cuts on costs.

There's no free lunch, so the price of these quick profits is paid by others. Start with the fish. Jammed together, they suffer abrasions and diseases that have to be dealt with by dousing them with pesticides in the water and feeding them antibiotics. Many escape from their pens into the surrounding ocean, and since they've been artificially fattened, they are huge and able to decimate the stocks of wild salmon.

The environment pays, too. The toxics dumped in these factory pens contaminate the surrounding water, as does the enormous amount of fish waste -- a single pen produces more waste than a small city, and these outfits typically have 20 pens each.

Then there's us. The factory salmon grow huge, but they have twice the saturated fat of wild salmon and less of the fatty acids that make salmon good for us. They also bring more toxic contaminants to our tables, and -- get this -- they have to be artificially colored! While wild salmon get naturally pink from their diet of shrimp and krill, the factories feed their salmon a fishmeal that produces fast weight gain, but leaves them gray or khaki in color. So petro-chemicals are added to produce a made-to-order range of light pink to red coloring.

To help stop the damage being done by the salmon factories, call Environmental Defense: 212-505-2100

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