Don Staniford: Salmon farming should come with a serious health warning

Don Staniford: Salmon farming should come with a serious health warning

Don Staniford is a marine activist and Global Coordinator at Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture (GAAIA).

On 17th July 2013, Don gave a presentation at the National Geographic store in London, entitled ‘A Big Fish in a Little Pond’.

In it, Don explained why in his view, salmon farming has such serious negative effects – on the environment, on international communities, and on the sea life that is forced to live alongside it.

Here is a summary of Don’s talk.

 A Big Fish in a Little Pond

In 1970, we got just 5% of the world’s food fish from aquaculture (fish farming). That figure is now around 50%. Aquaculture now consumes some 80% of the world’s fish oil.

The farming of salmon, cod and tuna, far from being sustainable, is inherently unsustainable. We are literally draining the oceans of wild fish to feed to farmed fish.

The effect on local communities

In effect, we’re robbing
Pedro to pay Paul: We’re robbing people in Latin America, we’re robbing people off the coast of Africa.

Small fishermen are not able to catch enough fish anymore, because huge Norwegian feed ships are coming in and taking those stocks. Instead of the small wild fish going to human consumption (for example to feed starving people in Africa or Peru) it’s going to feed farmed salmon for a luxury market.

So, the farming of salmon is socially irresponsible. It has nothing to do with feeding the world’s poor, and everything to do with lining the pockets of big, predominantly Norwegian multinationals.

Super-size farms

We’re seeing bigger and bigger fish farms – cod farms, tuna farms and salmon farms. The average salmon farm is now around 2,000 tonnes; 50-100 years ago, it was just 50 or 100 tonnes.

And each of these super-size farms is discharging the waste equivalent of a town of 50,000 people.

The Five Fundamental Flaws

In brief, the Five Fundamental Flaws of sea cage fish farming run as follows:

  • Wastes (those produced by the farmed fish)
  • Escapes (farmed salmon are escaping the nets, breeding with wild salmon, diluting the gene pool and creating an ‘extinction vortex’)
  • Diseases (carried by farmed fish: Sea lice, ISA and Piscine Reovirus among others)
  • Chemicals (the toxic ‘marine pollutants’ used by the fish farmers)
  • Feed / Food (we’re draining the oceans – sea cage fish farming relies on the non-sustainable resource of small fish)

The effect on other species

There is another important, sixth issue: The interaction with marine mammals. As well as the dangers of being caught up in the farms’ nets, marine mammals like seals (Scotland) and sea lions (Chile) are being shot deliberately by fish farmers to protect their stocks.

And of course, fish farming impacts on other species as well: The bears and the orcas and the eagles who feed on and depend on wild salmon are being impacted by the declines we’re seeing in the wild fish population.

Diseases and parasites

To go into more detail about the problems with disease and wild fish: The wild fish swim past the farms, they get impacted by the diseases and the parasitic sea lice the farmed salmon are carrying (both of which thrive in the highly concentrated farmed environment), and they get decimated by these diseases and parasites.

In effect, a fish farm is a breeding pool – a reservoir – for infectious diseases and parasites.

There is also the serious impact they have on shellfish. The problematic sea lice are members of the crustacean family; so the chemicals designed to kill them will also kill wild crustaceans, like lobsters.

And sea lice are beginning to affect relatives of the wild salmon, too: There is evidence that in Wester Ross in Scotland, sea trout are now beginning to be, quite literally, eaten alive by the sea lice escaping from the farms there.

The welfare of farmed fish

Aquaculture has been around for millennia. It’s been practised by the Chinese, by the Romans, and in the middle of the rainforest. It’s nothing new.

What is new is that from around 1970 – with the advent of shrimp, prawn, salmon and tuna fish farming – a kind of factory fish farming developed.

This has had serious repercussions from a welfare point of view. Animal welfare organisations have calculated that each farmed salmon in this kind of farm has the equivalent of just a bathtub of water to swim around in.

This is a naturally migratory species, and it’s being effectively crammed into a small tank. It’s like cramming a golden eagle into a cage.

Salmon Farming Kills’

There is evidence that the farms are killing off the wild fish; and this is why there should be warning labels on farmed salmon, in the same way as there are on cigarette packets. This campaign – entitled ‘Salmon Farming Kills’ – is currently being tested in court.

Finally – yes, there are better ways to farm salmon. There’s something called ‘closed containment’ – enclosed fish farms, located either on land or in enclosed containers in the ocean.

In these cases, the wastes are better controlled and treated, and escapes into the wild salmon population become difficult or impossible.

However, this is still not good fishing practice; it’s just the lesser of two evils. Many issues – like what you feed the farmed fish, and the welfare problems created by such close and concentrated containment – still remain.

Don Staniford has set up a new NGO called Protect Wild Scotland – to campaign against salmon farming there.

He plans to work in Wester Ross in Scotland for the next five years. There are six salmon farms within 38 kilometres of his base there, and he will be campaigning to try to remove those six farms.

UPDATE: In the week following Don Staniford’s talk, his ‘Salmon Farming Kills’ campaign was ruled defamation on appeal by British Columbia’s Appeal Court.

Don Staniford had a gagging order placed on him, and was ordered to pay fish farmers Mainstream Canada $75,000.

He says he plans to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to hear an appeal. Find out more about the case here.



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