My Turn: Wild salmon are more nutritious and safer

Posted: Sunday, February 11, 2001

I am a local commercial fisherman in Juneau and I've been following the recent comments about how some people would prefer farmed salmon over locally caught wild salmon and their reasons for their choice. I've come across two published articles related to farmed salmon and I'd like to share some of this information with those who believe farmed fish is a cheap substitute replacing Alaska's wild salmon on their dinner tables.

You have all heard of the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and their roles in maintaining health. But what about the origin of the salmon? Is it wild or farmed? Why bother about its origin as long as it looks and tastes like salmon?

Wild salmon feed on live organisms in the ocean such as plankton, krill and algae. They are rich in protein and low in saturated fat. A study carried out in the Netherlands found that wild salmon are a better source of omega-3 fatty acids than farmed salmon. Farmed salmon not only are poor sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but also pose risks to human health upon consumption.

The problem starts with the farming system. The salmon in fish farms are hatched in metal tanks and raised in sea pens. The crowding of fish creates stressful conditions that inevitably lead to disease outbreaks. To combat the diseases, antibiotic drugs are given to the fish.

The application of antibiotics in the farming industry began in 1991 when the farmed Atlantic salmon were struck with a disease called furuculosis. Two years later a second batch of fish was infected with the disease and it spread from one farm to another.

The antibiotics that were used extensively on farmed salmon led to the evolution of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs." Although humans are not infected by the same bugs that attack salmon, they can pass along their genes. By eating farmed salmon, humans can pick up the antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Foreign fish farms have few regulations to monitor industry on the amount and type of drugs and hormones they can use. With production being their driving force, the overuse of antibiotics and hormones is a real concern. The repeated use of these drugs has led to diseases fully resistant to a few types of antibiotics. This unregulated overuse of drugs concerns scientists because it reduces the pool of antibiotics available for human medicine.

According to marine researcher Alexandra Morton, farm salmon flesh is gray and must be chemically colored to fool us into believing we are eating a real salmon. Besides vaccines and hormones, paints, dyes and other chemicals are used to produce farmed salmon.

Although the farming industry has argued that the risk to human health was minimal, a 1994 study published in Diseases of Aquatic Organisms found that over 75 percent of the farmed fish contained antibiotics.

Researchers also found that the bacteria beneath farmed salmon pens have become antibiotic resistant. An article published in the Journal of American Medical Association states that some of these fish are contaminated with industrial effluents and toxins, many of which are known to increase the risk of cancer.

I, too, had concerns when I found out that the tour ships were dumping gray water in Icy Straits, but I am confident that the new monitoring of the industry will eliminate the dumping. You have to remember farmed salmon spend their entire life in a toxic environment.

At this time I will not get into the concerns I have regarding the number of these farmed fish escaping their pens in British Columbia and mixing with our wild stock but it should be a concern to all user groups: sport, subsistence, charter and commercial.

I will not begin to tell anybody what product to buy, though I hope this information will be helpful when you do make your choice. I am confident that our wild Alaskan salmon will prove to be the healthier product for your dollar.

Tim Grussendorf operates the fishing vessel Christi Sea.

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