David Suzuki: Salmon farming may be a good idea after all

It would be a shame if we could never eat salmon again. On the Pacific Coast, salmon has been an important food source and a cultural icon throughout history. Salmon is a healthy, delicious, and versatile source of nutrition. But many wild salmon populations are in trouble and could be facing the same fate as East Coast cod stocks.

Is the answer to raise salmon on farms? The controversy over farmed versus wild salmon has been ongoing in B.C. since the first salmon farms were built in the early 1980s. A growing body of evidence has shown that fish farms that use open-net pens in the ocean can harm wild stocks. Some of the dangers include escaped farmed fish—which are mostly Atlantic salmon—competing with the five species of wild Pacific salmon, pollution from the farms harming the areas where salmon live and migrate, and lice infestations threatening the very survival of some stocks. It’s a trade-off that doesn’t make much sense.

It would be ideal if we could move these farms and protect our wild stocks to ensure they provide us with food well into the future. But wild salmon face many other threats, including overfishing, habitat loss, and climate change, and we don’t yet understand all the factors contributing to their decline.

Farming may be our only option—and new technology offers some hope that we can continue to have our salmon and eat it too. Raising salmon in a way that eliminates interaction with the environments where wild salmon live has long been suggested as a way to overcome the worst effects of farming fish. Despite resistance from some people in the fish-farming industry and government, who argue that contained farming is too expensive, closed-containment salmon farming is becoming a reality.

Early attempts at salmon farming that keeps the farmed fish separate from the wild environment were mostly experimental or too small to be commercially viable. But now a Washington State company, Domsea Farms, is raising sufficient quantities of coho salmon for Canadian grocery chain Overwaitea Food Group to offer the company’s SweetSpring salmon in its 124 stores in Western Canada. The salmon are raised inland in tanks with freshwater, leading to a ranking by SeaChoice and Seafood Watch as a consumer “best choice”. (Overwaitea has committed with SeaChoice to a long-term plan to eventually offer only sustainable seafood in its stores, and this is a great step.)

The technology is still new, though, and farming salmon, no matter how it is done, comes with challenges. One of the biggest is that salmon is a carnivorous fish—it requires other marine resources as feed. In this case, the fish are given feed that includes ingredients made from plants and fish-processing byproducts, thus reducing the need to use other fish species. Recent research has also looked at using insects in fish feed.

Inland fish farms must also discharge used water, but water from these operations is treated to comply with environmental regulations. Recirculation systems are also being developed to reduce the amount of effluent from the fish farms.

The other issues include disease control and energy consumption. The most serious disease-related issues appear to have been addressed at the Domsea farm, in part by using clean water and constantly monitoring the fish, as well as ensuring that disease has no way of spreading to wild populations.

These systems can also use a lot of energy. But this is an easier problem to address than the many problems associated with open-net farms. Improvements in technology have helped make the closed farms more energy-efficient, and increased reliance on clean-energy sources will further reduce the environmental impact.

The industry still has a way to go before it can create a large supply of fresh salmon, but the fact that retailers are getting on board will help spur consumer demand and make the industry more viable. If this helps to resolve the problems associated with ocean-based salmon farming while taking the pressure off wild stocks and ensuring that people still have access to this great food, we’ll all benefit.

Maybe the big question is, “How does it taste?” Robert Clark of Vancouver’s C Restaurant, which offers inland farmed coho from B.C.’s Swift Aquaculture on its menu, says that, like Atlantic farmed salmon, it has a somewhat lighter, less fishy taste than wild salmon.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.




Apr 27, 2010 at 9:15pm

The ocean waters near Chile are being raped and pillaged to help produce feed pellets for farmed salmon. It takes 3-5 pounds of fatty fish such as sardines to produce 1 pound of farmed salmon - that is known as net loss of protein. Given that salmon are carnivores farming salmon makes as much sense as farming tigers.

At one time the David Suzuki Foundation used to call it like it is - now they are all about finding "market-based" solutions that are acceptable to big industry and governments of all political stripes while real environmental solutions are shoved to the back of the line because they are politically unpalatable.

Time to go back to your roots guys.


Apr 28, 2010 at 1:29am

Barf, read the article. We are going to rape and pillage Northern B.C. for black flies, mash them up and feed the fly-mash to Atlantic Salmon.

"In this case, the fish are given feed that includes ingredients made from plants and fish-processing byproducts, thus reducing the need to use other fish species. Recent research has also looked at using insects in fish feed."


Apr 28, 2010 at 9:14am

Right barf - because we don't want solutions, we just want to keep shouting. Let's put our black hoods on and go break some megacorp windows. That will change things!


Apr 28, 2010 at 1:41pm

"It would be a shame if we could never eat salmon again."

To who, the salmon? The ocean?

The environment needs serious help and we're focusing on making sure we can eat as many fish as we want? We don't need to eat salmon--certainly not as much as we do, anyway.

By the way, the David Suzuki Foundation gets money from the EnCana Corporation, a world leader in natural gas production and oil sands. Some environmentalists.

Travis Lupick

Apr 28, 2010 at 2:03pm

It should be noted that contrary to the remarks of "Canaduck", there is no evidence that the David Suzuki Foundation currently receives financial assistance from EnCana Corporation.

While EnCanada was listed as a donor in past Foundation financial reports, the Suzuki Foundation's <a href="http://www.davidsuzuki.org/publications/downloads/2009/DSF_AR-08-09.pdf"... annual report</a> (the most-recent) does not make any mention of EnCana as a donor.

Travis Lupick
The Georgia Straight

Oh David...

Apr 28, 2010 at 4:05pm

Dear Mr. Suzuki;

Let me be clear - I support farming fish to take pressure of wild stocks.

But you have always said that salmon shouldn't be farmed because they eat fish. Why the change? Is it because the Packard Foundation says farmed Coho from Washington are good (not based on science but protectionism by the way)? Not a coincidence that the Packards are one of your biggest funders is it?

So, just like you conveniently ignore that Alaska salmon are mainly ranched and consume more fish than BC farmed salmon (based on your funders wishes again), you now conveniently forget what you've said again.

Give me an H.Y.P.O.C.R.I.T....what ya got...SUZUKI!!

Travis Lupick

Apr 28, 2010 at 4:12pm

It should also be noted that contrary to the remarks of "Oh David...", the David and Lucile Packard Foundation is not one of the largest financial contributors to the Suzuki Foundation.

Again, according to the Suzuki Foundation's <a href="http://www.davidsuzuki.org/publications/downloads/2009/DSF_AR-08-09.pdf"... annual report</a>, in the most-recent years for which financial information is available, the Packard Foundation gave the Suzuki Foundation less than $10,000, which isn't enough money to put the Packards within three pages of the Suzuki Foundation's most-generous donors.

Travis Lupick
The Georgia Straight


Apr 28, 2010 at 7:20pm

And how do we spin James Hoggan, avowed BC Liberal supporter & major donor? Who just happens to be Chairman of David Suzuki Foundation and started the blog DeSmogBlog.com. and who also happens to be "Hoggan PR", a professional spinmiester.

Well, of course, that means we have nothing to worry about, as we can now trust DSF, the BC Liberals and James Hoggan.

The truth of the matter is that if someone or some group spends all their time trying to show us how green they are, you can be sure they are trying to hide something. Being green, once you cut thru all the spin, is about common sense approaches to life and not being wasteful.

DSF, BC Liberals and James Hoggan have likely all been successful in their green efforts because they have done a great job at spinning us until we saw them as green.


Apr 28, 2010 at 10:22pm

How clean is the "Clean Energy Act"? How many run of river projects can a salmon swim? I expect a lot more silence from the DSF on this BCLiberal agenda driven issue once again.


Apr 28, 2010 at 11:02pm

readgood - when farmed salmon are fed food pellet made from black flies and plants and when they are out of the ocean, then I will support farmed salmon. However we know that 99.9999% of fish farm pellets are not made from black flies, we also know that when the food pellets move from protein-based to plant-based it changes the way the farmed fish taste (in other word customers don't like the taste) which is why wild fisheries are relied very heavily upon for food pellets.