Do we really need farmed salmon?

There is probably no other farmed fish species that divides opinions as much as salmon. Can a new label guarantee for “sustainability” and convince sceptics about the need for farmed salmon?

I could make this post simple and refer my readers to the article published a month ago by Ted Danson and Andrew Sharpless. However, that would not only be cheap but I believe that the topic requires some more consideration. Besides, we should also provide some room for the “other part of the opinions”, reflected for example in a critical reply to above mentioned article[1] or all those who enjoy some smoked salmon and champagne for breakfast, what probably makes them feel being more important than Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt together.

Considering that there has been enough propaganda about the bad farming practises for salmon in many countries as much as about the fact that the industry is largely dominated by one not very charming mogul, I don’t need to go into details as regards those subjects. What’s more, it is as an article published by The Washington Post correctly says; most farms have improved their practices over the last 10 years or so.

Yet, there is an issue that gives enough to talk over and over again: feed and feed conversion ratio[2]. The most important message here is that whatever you read is probably an underestimation or intentionally misleading figure. When farmers claim (as described in above article) that their FCR was one to one or two to one, then this is only partly true, because first, you don’t eat the whole salmon (means from an entire salmon we only eat about 50-60%) and second, the feed they talk about is dried fish and not fresh product. Hence to compare properly you either have to compare fresh fish equivalence being fed or dry your salmon before comparing. You will find that it needs at least five kilogram of other fish for “producing” one kilogram of salmon!

Having that in mind we can move over to the ethical aspects of salmon farming. Whereas farming animals for food production is as such a very unethical and questionable practise, it gets totally pervert in discussed case if you consider that these animals basically only serve to convert other fish such as anchovies, sardines and mackerels into another form of fish. Do we really need that? How do you justify growing animals crowded together in a cage where they can hardly move and only exist to eat, shit and then being killed to be eaten?
How would you feel if we kept teachers in a cage, fed them and let them educate our children but without giving them any other freedom? They might be more efficient, because they could only focus on teaching. The same could be done with IT technicians or any other worker. Imagine how efficient that would be!
Growing fish only to transfer fish into another form of fish is the superlative of what Marx called “alienation” (origin: Entfremdung). It’s a complete perversion and abuse of nature.

Now, I’m sure that some might want to justify exactly that by referring to some nutritional facts. For example Omega-3, which has become so popular that one is tempted to add it even to potato crisps or the cigarettes people are no longer allowed to smoke, only to make them healthy too. My position is this: whoever has been a vegetarian for many years will know that it’s easily possible to survive without all those “healthy” and/or “essential” animal fats and acids. Besides, humanity has lived for thousands of years without even knowing about the existence of Omega-3, not to mention that many societies have probably never eaten one single filet of fish. And for all those that insist: how about bioaccumulation of toxins?
The message to take away, though, is: a) it’s likely more healthy and definitely more sustainable to eat “the salmon feed” anchovies, sardines and mackerels directly, and b) there are many alternatives of fish and other marine species that make sense to farm, for example Tilapia and Pangasius, which can be raised on an almost vegetarian diet, or filter feeders such as clams.

Considering all that, it’s very questionable to hear Rachel Mutter claim that “eating farmed salmon is pretty much imperative”. That is totally nonsense. If anything, then avoiding farmed salmon should be imperative! It’s obvious that if we ate the five kilograms of anchovies and mackerels instead of the one kilogram of salmon, then we could definitely feed more people.[4]

Of course, some people might still prefer to nibble on their salmon while feeling like a king/queen rather than sharing some mackerel with those that are starving because of no longer having latter. So be it, it’s their right to do that. However, the assumption that farmed (and fed with other fish) salmon was or would ever be sustainable is wrong and can definitely be rejected.

[1] Sorry, only accessible for subscribers

[2] The ratio of feed used to produce one entity of final product, also called FCR. A FCR of 5 (or 5:1) means you need 5kg feed to produce 1kg of salmon.

[3] Sorry, only accessible for subscribers

[4] I must add that there is of course the option to feed salmon with substitutes instead of the fish. However, knowing that it will likely be some “genetically engineered” substance or feed from other questionable sources, we might definitely conclude that farmed salmon is not a reasonable food source.


About blaubear

Born in 1973 in a small village in rural Switzerland and into a society largely dominated by cows (not only was the human population of one-hundred-and-forty outnumbered by them, but politics driven by unreasonable subsidies for diary products) I was connected with nature from early age on. Observing nature on one hand and the deficiencies of a dysfunctional Swiss agricultural policy with farmers that had lost connection to the land that provided their income on the other, I soon started to question society and the meaning of life. Suffering also under a farcical public education I developed curiosity to discover on my own. That was how I soon learned that little of what I had been taught was true. Skepticism and interaction with people from for me new cultures fostered my interest for the world and eagerness to leave a life shaped by federalistic layman-ship. At the age of twenty-three I hit the road for the first time, an event that later translated into passion. Traveling between cultures has since become part of my life. At the age of thirty-three I finally realized my dream and did a degree in Environmental Engineering from which I graduated in 2009, only to leave Switzerland once more for my "real home" Spain. Unfortunately, the stay was a short one: a couple of months later I was offered a job in Southeast Asia, where I worked and also lived (with some interruptions, e.g. I live in Melbourne since late 2012) ever since. Having worked for a Japanese company earlier in my life, I soon felt captured again by Asian culture and thinking which makes a lovely contrast to my European heritage. My journey through different countries and cultures has taught me that regardless of how different our thinking and values are, no matter what approaches we take, we all can learn from each other. And if we are open enough to see the common instead of pointing out the differences, then we have a chance to live in harmony and peace: Life is all about integration, not exclusion! It's an old wisdom that "knowledge is power", as such I never get tired of being around new people, having interesting talks, and reading lots of good books. I hope that my blog can contribute to the conversation.
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3 Responses to Do we really need farmed salmon?

  1. Glad your thinking about this issues, but… In our view none of the reasons for not consuming farmed salmon are really germane. For example, even if it required zero pounds of fish feed to bring a farmed salmon to market, we Still would not participate in the farmed salmon culture, because farmed salmon would Still be bad for wild fish.
    As consumers, every time we purchase a wild-caught fish, we are placing real, measurable value on wild salmon and the ecosystems they require in order to thrive. The wild salmon life cycle includes the orcas, seals, sea lions, bears, eagles, osprey, foxes and countless other animals that feed on them. It also includes the forests these salmon nurture when they return to their natal streams and are turned into fertilizer by the bears and other animals that eat them. Healthy runs of wild salmon ensure that indigenous people have food in their larders – just as they have for generations past and will have for generations to come. Wild salmon mean that a guy or gal with a boat and a net can still go out and make an honest living.
    And what does a plate of farmed salmon represent? Some mega-food/agricultural business – very likely Norwegian based – overnutrifying nearshore waters, filling those same waters with toxins to keep their farmed fish disease free and sea louse free, and an industry that routinely refuses to allow inspection of their facilities, and are Invariably found in violation of laws and codes when enforcement officials do elbow their way in. Salmon farms are not sustainable. Meanwhile, they are devaluing wild fish and everything wild fish are necessary for.
    Some forms of aquaculture are fine. Salmon are not among them. Farmed salmon are, truly, the deadliest catch.

  2. Pingback: Some facts about pangasius (basa, swai, Asian catfish) you should know | Ideas for a greener environment, a fairer society and a future driven by sustainability

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