New book is a war against progress, not salmon farming

A new book that claims to have done a “deep dive” into global salmon farming has done little more than repeat erroneous claims and outdated information that can be found in a quick search of internet headlines and blog posts.

Salmon Wars is authored by Americans Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins. The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) and other partners have identified numerous errors and misrepresentations that call into question the author's conclusions.

“The authors' new book Salmon Wars and their associated media tour presents a glaringly flawed misrepresentation of a highly innovative aquaculture sector that provides essential employment and food to Canadians and the world,” says Timothy Kennedy, President and CEO of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance. “The authors have made no effort to tell the story of a sector that is constantly changing and improving its performance, instead relying on outdated studies and old anecdotes that bear little resemblance to today's business or salmon products.”

Over 14,500 Canadians help grow the country's number one seafood choice - salmon.

“At a time when climate change, food prices and food security are top of mind, consumers should be asking critical questions about their foods. This book failed to do that - instead just repeating the voice of anti-salmon farming campaigners and click-bait headlines seen over the past two decades.”

Globally, the demand for seafood is outpacing that of all other food. By 2050, it is expected the current demand for seafood will almost double. Salmon farming has significant positive impacts for Canada in creating economic development in coastal communities, providing a safe, secure and sustainable food supply, and serving healthy nutrition to Canadian families.

For the millions of Canadians who want and deserve the facts about their favourite seafood, here are 10 allegations from the authors that require correction:

FICTION: Salmon are crammed into cages: “twenty-seven full-sized salmon in a bathtub”.

FACT: Stocking density on the typical farm in Canada is between 2.5-4%. Stocking densities are kept low, so fish have room to swim, grow, and mimic natural schooling patterns. If we use the authors' analogy of the bathtub and apply the actual stocking density - which is between 25kg-40 kg/m3 - it would be one salmon per two bathtubs of water. To allege that stocking densities at salmon farms is equivalent to “27 fish in a bathtub” is simply wrong - a massive exaggeration.

FICTION: A yardstick was photographed 32 inches deep into “toxic sludge” below a farm.

FACT: While the image the authors refer to cannot be verified, the fact is a modern-day salmon farm would not be permitted to operate if organic matter (i.e. fish waste) were to settle to this depth. Much of the ocean bottom at depth is a thick muddy layer of decaying organic deposition, and is the reason why professional biologists do not use yardsticks to measure organic deposition around aquaculture sites.

Farmers know that pristine marine conditions are essential for high-quality salmon, which is why farms are properly located in areas that allow for the natural assimilation of organic fish waste, and feed pellets are closely monitored with underwater cameras.

FICTION: Farmed salmon are doused with pesticides and antibiotics.

FACT: Antibiotic use on salmon farms is far lower than that of any other agricultural animal producing industry in the world. In the rare instances when treatment is necessary, it is prescribed and overseen by licensed veterinarians under the oversight of government regulators.

FICTION: Farmed salmon contain dangerous levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other contaminants.

FACT: All foods contain trace levels of unwanted contaminants, and farm-raised salmon contain lower PCB levels than other common foods like beef, chicken, eggs, and butter. The trace amounts of PCBs in farm-raised salmon do not pose a threat to human health, and meet or exceed food safety and nutritional standards set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the World Health Organization - a conclusion supported by peer reviewed and published studies.

The 2004 study cited repeatedly by the authors has been heavily criticized for errors including flawed sampling, improper application of EPA guidelines, and failing to compare contaminant levels in salmon of the same species. But even that flawed study showed PCB levels well-below regulated levels.

FICTION: They normally site farms along wild salmon migration routes.

FACT: Salmon farms are located, by regulation, away from wild salmon rivers and other sensitive areas. Area Bay Management (ABM) as well as temporal management to limit potential interactions are key tools that farmers use. For some farms, site locations were selected decades ago, using information and technology available at that time. New sites are selected based on current science, knowledge and technology.

FICTION: Between 15 and 20 percent of all farmed salmon die before being harvested, while the average mortality rate of chickens is 5 percent.

FACT: The authors conveniently ignore the return rate of Atlantic salmon in the wild, which is as low as 5 percent . That means farm-raised salmon have a survival rate 17 times higher than wild salmon over the two-year period in which they are raised. Broiler chickens typically live for less than 2 months, making this an apples-to-oranges comparison at best.

FICTION: Farmed salmon spread sea lice to wild salmon, killing young wild salmon in large numbers.

FACT: Farm-raised salmon enter the ocean free of sea lice (a small ectoparasite found naturally on many marine fish) before receiving sea lice from wild sources. While salmon farms are recognized as a potential additional source of sea lice to wild salmonids, effective and regulated pest management on farms can reduce or eliminate this risk. For example, in British Columbia, salmon farms have not been found to influence levels of sea lice on wild fish, according to annual research that monitors the prevalence of sea lice on wild salmon near and away from salmon farms.

FICTION: Farmed salmon introduced Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) and Piscine Orthoreovirus (PRV) to wild sockeye salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

FACT: Neither ISA nor PRV were introduced to the Pacific Northwest from salmon farms. In 2011, tests conducted by government researchers concluded there were no cases of ISA in Pacific Northwest salmon. Cases of PRV in wild salmon predate the arrival of farm-raised salmon, with a 2015 study finding PRV in Pacific Northwest salmon as far back as the 1970s. PRV and ISA do not affect human health.

FICTION: Atlantic salmon escape and breed with the Pacific salmon.

FACT: Farm-raised Atlantic salmon are genetically distinct from wild Pacific salmon, making them extremely unlikely to interbreed. No cases of natural interbreeding have ever been recorded. Farmers are highly motivated to prevent their stock from escaping and today escape events are rare. If they do escape their enclosures, the domesticated animals are poorly suited to a wild environment and generally do not survive long enough to learn to seek prey.

FICTION: Like “Big Tobacco” and “Big Agribusiness,” “Big Fish” employs counter-science and public relations campaigns to undermine challenges.

FACT: Salmon farmers will correct misinformation and provide up to date information about their business. Salmon farmers are active participants in scientific studies specific to nutrition and ecology because it is their salmon and data that help power them, and because they are committed to collaboration with science experts and other professionals.

The authors claim any research that doesn't fit their narrative is tainted, biased, or guided by funding. On the flipside, any research that supports their narrative is presented as honest, trustworthy, and not guided by funding. Cherry picking science to support a narrative is not a best practice and Canadian salmon farmers will continue to consider all peer reviewed science and local traditional knowledge to help guide their operations.