Salmon farming has always had that Sorcerer’s Apprentice, if-you-play-with-Mother-Nature-no-good-will-come-of-it, feel. And now that fish farms are suspected of spreading lethal infectious salmon anemia to wild salmon off the coast of British Columbia there are calls to move salmon farms inland (where they would likely impact the inland ecosystem), or simply ban them altogether.
Beyond the inevitable environmental impact industrial fish farming is bound to have, no matter where it exists, salmon farming is also extraordinarily inefficient. Daniel Pauly, a fisheries biologist at the University of British Columbia, laid it out for the NYT’s Green blog:
“Aquaculture of carnivores is hopeless and extremely wasteful,” said Dr. Pauly, who supports such a ban. The farmed fish are fed with species that people could consume, he said, so it ends up contributing to human demand for the wild stocks of other species.
For every pound of salmon produced, five pounds of wild fish are needed, usually in the form of anchovies, sardines, or mackerel. “It’s like feeding tigers a ton of livestock to get tiger meat,” says Alex Muñoz Wilson, the vice president in Chile for the nonprofit ocean conservation group Oceana.
Many of these feed fish are species that people could eat, Mr. Muñoz said. A decade ago in Chile, the annual mackerel catch was around four million tons, he said. Today, only about 200,000 tons are harvested annually, he said, although the salmon farms are only partly responsible.
“I think in the long run, salmon aquaculture creates more problems than benefits,” Mr. Muñoz said.
Salmon is a food fetishist’s fish (yes, it tastes great and is good for you), and humans are either depleting wild stocks, or threatening them with industrial farming practices, to gorge on it. It’s a perfect example of a cultural habit whose true costs are not paid by consumers. And an example of how human desires and industry relentlessly impact and overwhelm ecosystems around the globe. But, hey, who cares? We gotta eat salmon.