Polluted Fish from Fish Farms: A Health Danger
- a danger to your Health

A series of articles from around the world
  1. Fish Farms Become Feedlots of the Sea
  2. Whales Don't Eat Farm Salmon - Why Should We?
  3. Farm salmon is now most contaminated food on shelf
  4. Fish farming pollution is up by 100%
  5. Sea cage fish farming: an evaluation of environmental and public health aspects
  6. References

1. Fish Farms Become Feedlots of the Sea

Like cattle pens, the salmon operations bring product to market cheaply.
But harm to ocean life and possibly human health has experts worried.

By Kenneth R. Weiss Los Angeles Times
December 9 2002

PORT McNEILL, Canada -- If you bought a salmon filet in the supermarket recently or ordered one in a restaurant, chances are it was born in a plastic tray here, or a place just like it. Instead of streaking through the ocean or leaping up rocky streams, it spent three years like a marine couch potato, circling lazily in pens, fattening up on pellets of salmon chow. It was vaccinated as a small fry to survive the diseases that race through these oceanic feedlots, acres of net-covered pens tethered offshore. It was likely dosed with antibiotics to ward off infection or fed pesticides to shed a beard of bloodsucking sea lice. For that rich, pink hue, the fish was given a steady diet of synthetic pigment. Without it, the flesh of these caged salmon would be an unappetizing, pale gray. While many chefs and seafood lovers snub the feedlot variety as inferior to wild salmon, fish farming is booming.

What was once a seasonal delicacy now is sometimes as cheap as chicken and available year-round. Now, the hidden costs of mass-producing these once-wild fish are coming into focus. Begun in Norway in the late 1960s, salmon farming has spread rapidly to cold-water inlets around the globe. Ninety-one salmon farms now operate in British Columbian waters.

The number is expected to reach 200 or more in the next decade. Industrial fish farming raises many of the same concerns about chemicals and pollutants that are associated with feedlot cattle and factory chicken farms. So far, however, government scientists worry less about the effects of antibiotics, pesticides and artificial dyes on human health than they do about damage to the marine environment. "They're like floating pig farms," said Daniel Pauly, professor of fisheries at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. "They consume a tremendous amount of highly concentrated protein pellets and they make a terrific mess." Fish wastes and uneaten feed smother the sea floor beneath these farms, generating bacteria that consume oxygen vital to shellfish and other bottom-dwelling sea creatures. Disease and parasites, which would normally exist in relatively low levels in fish scattered around the oceans, can run rampant in densely packed fish farms. Pesticides fed to the fish and toxic copper sulfate used to keep nets free of algae are building up in sea-floor sediments. Antibiotics have created resistant strains of disease that infect both wild and domesticated fish. Clouds of sea lice, incubated by captive fish on farms, swarm wild salmon as they swim past on their migration to the ocean.

Of all the concerns, the biggest turns out to be a problem fish farms were supposed to help alleviate: the depletion of marine life from over-fishing.. These fish farms contribute to the problem because the captive salmon must be fed. Salmon are carnivores and, unlike vegetarian catfish that are fed grain on farms, they need to eat fish to bulk up fast and remain healthy. It takes about 2.4 pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon, according to Rosamond L. Naylor, an agricultural economist at Stanford's Center for Environmental Science and Policy. That means grinding up a lot of sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring and other fish to produce the oil and meal compressed into pellets of salmon chow. "We are not taking strain off wild fisheries. We are adding to it," Naylor said. "This cannot be sustained forever." In British Columbia, the industry, under pressure from environmentalists, marine scientists and local newspapers, is taking steps to mitigate some of the ecological problems. "We have made some mistakes in the past and we acknowledge them," said Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Assn. "We feel the industry is sustainable, if well-managed, and we have a code of practices that is followed by all of our member companies."

Nearly 30 farms are preparing to move to less ecologically fragile areas, under orders from Canadian authorities. Some farms have installed underwater video cameras to detect when fish quit feeding, so workers can stop scattering food pellets. Many farms are switching to sturdier nets to stop fish from escaping and keep out marauding sea lions, which are shot if they penetrate the perimeter. The industry now recognizes that it will soon be pushing the limits of the ocean. "There will come a time when our industry will use more of the fish oil and fish meal than is available," said Odd Grydeland, an executive at Heritage Salmon in British Columbia. "Our biggest challenge is to find substitute grains for fish meal and fish oil." Farm-raised salmon now dominates West Coast markets, arriving daily from Canada and Chile. About 80% of the salmon grown in British Columbia goes to markets from Seattle to Los Angeles. The salmon industry took off so fast in British Columbia in the 1980s that the provincial government, worried about the environmental toll, imposed a ban in 1995 on any new farms.

The industry responded by stuffing, on average, twice as many fish into each farm. Today, farms typically put 50,000 to 90,000 fish in a pen 100 feet by 100 feet. A single farm can grow 400,000 fish. Others raise a million or more. The moratorium on new farms was lifted in September by the provincial government after voters elected a pro-business slate of lawmakers and administrators. As a result, 10 to 15 farms are expected to open each year over the next decade. Five international companies - three of them based in Norway - control most of the existing farms. Nearly all are situated around Vancouver Island, which begins outside Seattle's Puget Sound and extends up the coast for 300 miles. It's a lightly populated place of stunning beauty. Cedar, hemlock and Douglas fir grow right down to the high-water mark. Massive tides flush rich blue-green waters through the archipelago of islands, straits, bays and inlets, nurturing five types of wild salmon.

These, in turn, attract seals, sea lions, white-sided dolphins and the world's best known pods of killer whales. Residents rely on boats and seaplanes to reach surrounding islands that host many of the farms. Each farm is a cluster of pens, often interconnected by metal walkways and tethered offshore by a lattice of steel cables, floats and weights. In the midst of this idyllic setting, signs of strain on the marine environment are bubbling to the surface much the way diseases and parasites, incubated in European salmon farms, fouled the fiords of Norway and the lochs of Scotland. In Norway, parasites have so devastated wild fish that the government poisoned all aquatic life in dozens of rivers and streams in an effort to re-boot the ecological system. "The Norwegian companies are transferring the same operations here that have been used in Europe," said Pauly, the fisheries professor. "So we can infer that every mistake that has been done in Norway and Scotland will be replicated here."

Dale Blackburn, vice president of West Coast operations for Norwegian-based Stolt Sea Farm, said his staff works very closely with its counterparts in Norway. But, he said, "It's ridiculous to think we don't learn from our mistakes and transfer technology blindly." Still, more than a dozen farms in British Columbia have been stricken by infectious hematopoietic necrosis, a virus that attacks the kidneys and spleen of fish. Jeanine Siemens, manager of a Stolt farm, said, "It was really hard for me and the crew" to oversee the killing of 900,000 young salmon last August because of a viral outbreak. "We had a boat pumping dead fish every day," she said. "It took a couple of weeks. But it was the best decision.

You are at risk of infecting other farms." Farms are typically required to bury the dead in landfills to protect wild marine life and the environment. But Grieg Seafood recently got an emergency permit from the Canadian government to dump in the Pacific 900 tons of salmon killed by a toxic algae bloom. The emergency? The weight of the dead fish threatened to sink the entire farm. About 1 million live Atlantic salmon - favored by farmers because they grow fast and can be packed in tight quarters - have escaped through holes in nets and storm-wrecked farms in the Pacific Northwest. Biologists fear these invaders will out-compete Pacific salmon and trout for food and territory, hastening the demise of the native fish. An Atlantic salmon takeover could knock nature's balance out of whack and turn a healthy, diverse marine habitat into one dominated by a single invasive species. Preserving diversity is essential, biologists say, because multiple species of salmon have a better chance of surviving than just one. John Volpe, a fisheries ecologist at the University of Alberta, has been swimming rivers with snorkel and mask to document the spread of Atlantic salmon and their offspring. "In the majority of rivers, I find Atlantic salmon," Volpe said. "We know they are out there; we just don't know how many, or what to do about them." His research focuses on how Atlantic salmon can colonize, if given a chance.

It has terrified the U.S. neighbors to the north. Alaskan officials banned fish farms in 1990 to protect their wild fishery. So they don't take kindly to British Columbian farms creeping toward their southern border. Although native Pacific salmon are rare and endangered in the Lower 48, Alaska's salmon fisheries are so healthy they have earned the Marine Stewardship Council's eco-label as "sustainable." The council's labels are designed to guide consumers to species that are not being overharvested. Recently, the prospect of genetically modified salmon that can grow six times faster than normal fish has heightened anxiety. Aqua Bounty Farms Inc., of Waltham, Mass., is seeking U.S. and Canadian approval to alter genes to produce a growth hormone that could shave a year off the usual 2½ to three years it takes to raise a market-size fish. Commercial fishermen and other critics fear that these "frankenfish" will escape and pose an even greater danger to native species than do the Atlantic salmon. "Nobody can predict just what that means for our wild salmon," Alaska Gov..

Tony Knowles said. "We do see it as a threat." Canadian commercial fishermen, initially supportive of salmon farms, have grown increasingly hostile. They were stunned in August when their nets came up nearly empty during the first day of the wild pink salmon season in the Broughton Archipelago at the northeast end of Vancouver Island. "There should have been millions of pinks, but there were fewer than anyone can remember," said Calvin Siider, a salmon gill-netter. "We can't prove that sea lice caused it. But common sense tells you something, if they are covered by sea lice as babies, and they don't come back as adults." Alexandra Morton, an independent biologist and critic of salmon farms, began examining sea lice in 2001 when a fishermen brought her two baby pink salmon covered with them. Collecting more than 700 baby pink salmon around farms, she found that 78% were covered with a fatal load of sea lice, which burrow into fish and feed on skin, mucous and blood. Juvenile salmon she netted farther from the farms were largely lice-free. Bud Graham, British Columbia's assistant deputy minister of agriculture, food and fisheries, called this a "unique phenomenon." "We have not seen that before. We really don't understand it," he said. "We've not had sea lice problems in our waters, compared to Scotland and Ireland.." Salmon farmers point out that the sea louse exists in the wild. Their captive fish are unlikely hosts, the farmers say, because at the first sign of an outbreak, they add the pesticide emamectin benzoate to the feed. Under Canadian rules, farmers must halt the use of pesticides 25 days before harvest to make sure all residues are flushed from the fish. If that's done, officials said, pesticides should pose no danger to consumers.

European health officials have debated whether there is any human health risk from synthetic pigment added to the feed to give farmed salmon their pink hue. In the wild, salmon absorb carotenoid from eating pink krill. On the farm, they get canthaxanthin manufactured by Hoffman-La Roche. The pharmaceutical company distributes its trademarked SalmoFan, similar to paint store swatches, so fish farmers can choose among various shades. Europeans are suspicious of canthaxanthin, which was linked to retinal damage in people when taken as a sunless tanning pill. The British banned its use as a tanning agent, but it's still available in the United States. As for its use in animal feed, the European Commission scientific committee on animal nutrition issued a warning about the pigment and urged the industry to find an alternative. But in response, the British Food Standards Agency took the position that normal consumption of salmon poses no health risk. No government has banned the pigment from animal feed. Scientists in the United States are far more concerned about a pair of preliminary studies - one in British Columbia and one in Great Britain - that showed farmed salmon accumulate more cancer-causing PCBs and toxic dioxins than wild salmon.

Scientists in the U.S. are trying to determine the extent of the contamination in salmon and what levels are safe for human consumption. The culprit appears to be the salmon feed, which contains higher concentrations of fish oil - extracted from sardines, anchovies and other ground-up fish - than wild salmon normally consume. Man-made contaminants, PCBs and dioxins make their way into the ocean and are absorbed by marine life. The pollutants accumulate in fat that is distilled into the concentrated fish oil, which, in turn, is a prime ingredient of the salmon feed. Farmed salmon are far fattier than their wild cousins, although they do not contain as much of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

The industry complains that environmental activists have misinterpreted the contaminant studies, needlessly frightening consumers. "The concern is that people will stop eating fish," said Walling, of the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Assn. "Salmon is a healthy food choice. Our Canadian government says this is a safe food." Environmentalists in British Columbia and Scotland recently launched campaigns urging consumers to boycott farmed salmon until the industry changes many of its practices. At the least, they want the farms to switch to solid-walled pens with catch basins to isolate farmed fish - and their diseases, pests and waste - from the environment. The ideal solution, they say, is to have the farmed stock raised in landlocked tanks. Protests notwithstanding, the industry is expected to get a lot bigger. Demand for seafood is rising and will double by 2040, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization. Nearly half the world's wild fisheries are exhausted from over-fishing, thus much of the supply will likely come from farmed seafood. "Aquaculture is here to stay," said Rebecca Goldburg, a biologist who co-authored a report on the industry for the Pew Oceans Commission. "The challenge is to ensure that this young industry grows in a sustainable manner and does not cause serious ecological damage." -- You don't stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.

Amigo Cantisano Organic Ag Advisors Aeolia Organics Felix Gillet Institute (The FGI) P.O. Box 942 No. San Juan, CA 95960 530-292-3619 office 530-292-3688 fax http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-me-salmon9dec09.story

2. Whales Don't Eat Farm Salmon
Why Should We?

by Alexandra Morton

As I scanned the horizon looking for whales, a strange steel structure slipped passed my field of view. Closer scrutiny revealed floating pens used to raise salmon. It was a fish farm. Good idea, I thought to myself, raise domestic salmon for us and leave the wild ones for the whales. But I was wrong. In a few short years the farms multiplied and the whales vanished. Wild salmon populations crashed and the pristine waters of the Broughton Archipelago turned red. Another ecosystem was dying.

I am a killer whale researcher. In 1984, I found the perfect place to study whales year round – an intricate cluster of islands called the Broughton Archipelago, on the west coast of Canada. I moved here fourteen years ago with my three-year-old son to begin the fascinating process of understanding whale communication. First I lived on a boat, then a floating house, and now a tiny homestead surrounded by my vegetable gardens. My research broke new ground as I spent my life watching orca as they slept, foraged and played.

Then in 1993, the salmon farms began broadcasting very loud sounds underwater to repel seals. Although the sounds cause them pain, the seals continue attacking the sluggish domestic fish. The orca, however, who do not consider farm salmon edible, are repelled by the wall of noise. Acoustic harassment devices are becoming popular with salmon farmers around the world, forcing whales out of increasingly large areas of essential coastal habitat. "Dispersing" whales violates the Canadian Fisheries Act, but I have been unable to inspire the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to uphold its own Act. My research ground to a halt when the whales departed.

Whales are not the only species impacted by salmon farms. Many B.C. fish farmers are Norwegian and they insist on farming their own Atlantic salmon. This movement of salmon between oceans is considered by many experts to be "biological insanity". DFO ex-director-general Pat Chamut has stated that the spread of new diseases was "guaranteed" if Atlantic salmon were brought into B.C. Unfortunately, he caved in to industry demands and approved huge imports of Atlantic salmon anyway.

In 1991, the first diseased Atlantics arrived in the Broughton and their oozing sores spread rapidly to coho returning to a nearby enhancement hatchery. Disease-free during the previous ten years, the hatchery lost most of its brood stock that fall to the disease, called furunculosis. Two years later, a second batch of disease-infected Atlantics arrived. Although the fish were again in pens, the bacteria spread 19 kilometres through prime wild chinook salmon habitat, to infect another farm. This strain was resistant to all antibiotics approved for salmon farming and so erythromycin was administered. Erythromycin was previously banned for use in fish destined for human consumption. Nothing was done to protect wild fish and that fall the chinook population crashed and coho were dying again, this time infected with an antibiotic-resistant bacteria. DFO insisted the wild and farm epidemics were completely unrelated.

Prawn fishers came to me reporting that prawns vanished near salmon farms. The sea floor beneath salmon farms becomes heaped with rotting faeces, uneaten food, chemicals, antibiotics and toxic anti-fouling paint. This massive, rotting mound consumes all available oxygen, creating an anaerobic environment where nothing can survive, except antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Alarmed by the apparent impact of the farms, I sent out 9,000 pages of letters to government, scientists, media, fishers and others, trying to inspire someone to bring these farms under control, but I was ignored. In 1994 we saw our first toxic algae bloom as the waste pouring out of the farms fed a deadly organism called Heterosigma. No one dared get wet as the crimson stain spread. While Japanese research reports toxic blooms are common near fish farms, DFO said the bloom was unrelated to the exponential increase in farm sites.

While most fish farm impact is underwater, the gunfire of farmers killing seals, sea lions, otters, herons, and even porpoise worries visitors and residents alike. They are afraid of being shot. Firing high powered rifles over the water is outlawed because bullets skip unimpeded for long distances, however an exception has been made for this industry.

Who are these farmers and why are they allowed to defy Canadian laws and threaten human health? They are multinational corporations such as Weston Foods and Stolt-Nielsen, a chemical tanker corporation. The top four companies report annual sales of over $1 billion, of which salmon farming is only a small percentage. Stolt reported a loss of $12.8 million on their sea farms in 1994, but still managed a profit of over $7 million that year.

I am a reluctant witness to the crushing corporate footprint. This archipelago is dying beneath a phantom organism so large that most of its weight is supported half a planet away. In nature, life exists within ecosystems, but the big corporations have escaped this essential limit to growth. They are unaffected when one natural system collapses, as they are feeding off several simultaneously. These ecosystems form a continuous fabric of life over the earth's surface.

Massive food production techniques can have deadly consequences. Antibiotics used extensively to farm salmon, stimulate evolution of uncontrollable "super-bugs". Farm salmon are fed animal by-products from organisms they do not eat, such as chickens, even though "mad-cow disease" made clear the deadly consequences of reorganizing the food chain. Farm salmon flesh is grey and must be chemically coloured to fool us into believing we are eating a real salmon. Pesticides, hormones, vaccines, toxic net paints and other chemicals are all used to produce salmon in violation of natural laws. Additionally, it takes four pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farm fish, a doomed equation for a planet facing food shortages.

What is the answer? Eat wild salmon. Salmon farming is a corporate darling here in the Pacific Northwest. If farm fish can replace wild fish in the market, wild salmon habitat will be auctioned off. Wild salmon need more than politicians can afford to give them. They require functioning ecosystems – the same ones the wealthiest powers on earth are hungrily vying for. Learn from the whales: Farm salmon is not food.

Alexandra Morton is a whale researcher based in Simoom Sound, B.C.

Sundayherald, 2002 10 20
By Rob Edwards, Environment Editor

3. Farm salmon is now most contaminated food on shelf

Farmed salmon is the most contaminated food sold by British supermarkets, according to a new analysis by government advisors.

Among 100 different worst-case examples of fruit, vegetables, meat and other foodstuffs polluted by pesticides over the past five years, salmon comes out bottom. Every sample of farmed salmon in the batch tested by scientists was found to contain at least three toxic chemicals.

The revelation comes as the Scottish salmon-farming industry faces its biggest, and potentially most damaging, nationwide protest to date. Millions of salmon, fed and reared in cages at the 350 fish farms around Scotland's coastline, are sold throughout the UK. Virtually all fresh salmon sold in British supermarkets is farmed.

On Saturday, protesters are planning to picket supermarkets in up to 100 towns and cities across the country, urging shoppers not to buy farmed salmon. The protests will cover all the big-name supermarkets such as Tesco, Safeway, Sainsbury's, Asda and the Co-op.

The day of action is being led by Bruce Sandison, a well-known angler from Sutherland, who chairs the newly formed Salmon Farm Protest Group. Last week the group launched its website, encouraging people to join in the protest on October 26.

'I am greatly concerned by the failure of supermarkets to warn customers that some farm salmon might contain life-threatening levels of dioxins, DDT residues and other harmful substances,' Sandison said.

'A decade of deceit, obfuscation and deception on the part of successive Scottish administrations has led to this public protest. The only way to save Scotland's remaining West Highlands and Islands wild salmon and sea-trout from extinction, caused by fish farm disease and pollution, is to explain to consumers why they shouldn't buy fake fish in their supermarkets.'

The new analysis of pesticide contamination was carried out by the government's Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment. The committee's 18 experts were asked to investigate the health implications of mixtures of different chemicals in food because of growing concern over possible 'cocktail effects'.

Their report, published last week, listed all the 'worst-case occurrences of pesticide residues' in all the food sampled by scientists between 1997 and 2001. Salmon was the only food in which every sample, from a batch tested in 1997, contained three pesticides: DDT, dieldrin and hexachlorobenzene.

The committee accepted that evidence was limited and that some chemical interactions may be unpredictable, but concluded that there was 'only a very small risk to human health of the 'cocktail effect' of pesticides'. But this has been attacked as complacent by environmentalists.

'Farmed salmon is the worst of the worst of all foodstuffs tested for DDT, dieldrin and other cancer-causing chemicals . It is a contaminated product' said Don Staniford, the author of a major critique of the salmon farming industry.

The salmon-farming industry argued that DDT and dieldrin, which have long been banned in most of the world, are pollutants present in most food. Staniford pointed out, however, that farmed salmon are much more contaminated than wild salmon.

The latest pesticide survey by government scientists lends some support to Staniford's view. Only 25 of 105 samples of imported, canned, wild salmon bought in Britain between April and December last year contained DDT. By contrast 59 out of 60 samples of fresh farmed salmon in 2001 contained the pesticide.

Staniford claimed that this is why supermarkets are reluctant to label salmon as farmed or wild. Farmed fish are 'cheap and nasty', he said. 'Since wild salmon contains far fewer toxins, consumers should 'go wild' if eating salmon.'

The 2001 survey also detected hexa chloro benzene in 23 samples of farmed salmon and chlordane in 11 samples, as well as pesticides in two samples of organic salmon. Contaminated salmon were sold at all the major supermarket chains, though most of the samples came from Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Safeway (see panel).

Pollutants concentrate in farmed salmon because they are fed fish pellets and oils that are themselves contaminated. The salmon-farming industry is experimenting with alternative foods, such as plant oils and proteins. 'However, it remains the case that the benefits of eating oily fish, such as salmon, for its Omega-3 essential fatty acids, far outweigh any risk and are valuable for a range of health conditions including protecting against heart disease,' said Dr John Webster, technical adviser with Scottish Quality Salmon.

The industry group has also furiously condemned next weekend's protest as 'yet another ill-informed attempt to damage the livelihoods of thousands of people in Scotland in order to pursue an out-dated vendetta.' It represents farmers producing 65% of Scotland's caged salmon.

In a statement, Scottish Quality Salmon claimed that every 'fact' in a leaflet produced by the Farm Salmon Protest Group was wrong. 'We are all in favour of reasoned debate and discussion, but this group has adopted such a malicious view of salmon farming with no regard for progress or achievements that it serves no useful purpose,' said SQS chief executive, Brian Simpson.

The reaction of one of the protesters' other targets, Tesco, was more relaxed. 'People are entitled to express their opinion,' said a spokesman for the supermarket chain.

'Our suppliers follow strict codes of practice to ensure that the food produced is safe and of high quality. It is also important that it is produced with minimum harm to the environment and with a high regard for animal welfare.'

4. Fish farming pollution is up by 100%
Opponents cite 'damning' figures but industry dismisses impact as 'minute'

By Rob Edwards, Environment Editor
Sundayherald 18 May 2003

The number of incidents in which fish farms have polluted rivers and lochs has doubled in the last year, according to new figures from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).

The sharp rise in leaks, mishaps and complaints undermines claims by fish farmers that they are cleaning up their act. And it poses a problem for the incoming Scottish Executive, which has just backed an expansion of the aquaculture industry.

For anti-fish farm campaigners, though, the new figures are proof that pollution is getting worse. 'Salmon farms are a malignant cancer on the coast of Scotland and ought to be ripped out as a matter of urgency,' declared Don Staniford, of the Salmon Farm Protest Group.

Since 1996, there have been a total of 51 pollution incidents at fish farms. In every year until 2002, the number of incidents has been between five and seven. But in 2002-03, it leapt to 13.

Concentrated in the northwest, the incidents included leaks of fish sewage, fungi and oil. According to Sepa, one of the worst incidents, on the Morvern peninsula by the Sound of Mull in September, resulted in 'sewage fungus blanketing the River Rannoch'.

At Loch Erisort on the Isle of Lewis in August there were 'decaying salmon' floating in the loch after a net allegedly burst. While on the River Ailort, west of Fort William, in December, there were 'prominent fungal growths' and 'scum deposits'.

Incidents in previous years included 'grease heavily coating cages' in Loch Hourn, Knoydart; 'blood water leaking into the harbour' at Portree, Skye; and reports of sea lochs being 'turned red' near Tarbert, Harris. In November 2001, at Wharry Burn, Dunblane, there was a complaint about 'green foam' caused by the use of a cancer-causing chemical, malachite green, to clean fish cages.

The list of incidents and their descriptions was provided on request by Sepa to Staniford, an award-winning critic of the fish farm industry. 'The increasing scale of pollution incidents blows out of the water the claim that salmon farmers have cleaned up their act,' he said.

'Far from doing this, Scottish salmon farmers are redoubling their efforts to foul their own nest. These damning figures expose the industry's contempt for both the marine and freshwater environment.'

The events recorded were only the tip of the iceberg, Staniford argued. 'Incidents are so numerous that Sepa has lost track of them all and is now having difficulty in stemming the tide of pollution from factory fish farms,' he claimed.

'To tackle the problems posed by contaminated waste, toxic chemicals and illegal discharges of dead and diseased fish, Sepa must be given the resources to visit salmon farms more than once a year and carry out more random spot checks.'

Sepa said that it was not possible to attribute the increase in pollution incidents to one particular cause because the numbers were determined by a variety of factors. It also stressed that the information was not a complete historical record.

'Scotland has one of the toughest regulatory regimes for fish farming in Europe and we are continually improving our approach to this industry,' said a Sepa spokesman. 'Obviously, Sepa treats any breach of consent seriously, and we have a range of options for dealing with incidents, ranging from informal discussion to reports for the procurator fiscal.'

In the new partnership deal for government over the next four years, agreed last week by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, fish farming was given an unexpected boost. A promise was made to reduce the number of regulatory agencies that currently oversee the industry.

And the agreement said: 'We will support the growth of an aquaculture industry in salmon, other fin-fish and shellfish that is sustainable, diverse and competitive.'

This has been warmly welcomed by Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS), which represents most of the fish-farming industry. It argues that the industry has a tiny effect on the Scottish environment.

'The Sepa annual report reveals that fish farming has a minute impact on water pollution incidents -- representing less than 0.5% of the near 2000 incidents during 2001-2002,' said SQS chief executive, Brian Simpson.

'Furthermore, a recent independent study, carried out by the Scottish Association for Marine Science and Napier University concluded that the area of seabed affected by aquaculture is insignificant in terms of the total coastal resource.'

He added: 'The Scottish salmon farming industry is the most tightly regulated aquaculture industry in Europe. The industry is scrutinised by 10 different statutory bodies and subject to more than 60 pieces of legislation.'

Environmentalists, however, are worried about the backing the industry has been given by the partnership agreement. 'Scotland's salmon farming industry is not currently sustainable,' said Dr Dan Barlow, head of research at Friends of the Earth Scotland.

'The fact that pollution incidents have doubled shows that any relaxation in regulation would be a retrograde step. Until the industry can prove that it can keep its house in order, then it should be kept on a very short leash indeed.' See also: The Salmon Farm Monitor

5. Sea cage fish farming:
an evaluation of environmental and public health aspects
(the five fundamental flaws of sea cage fish farming)

Excerpts from a paper presented by Don Staniford at the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries public hearing on ‘Aquaculture in the European Union: Present Situation and Future Prospects’, 1st October 2002: (1) (2) Obtain a full copy of the paper


Aquaculture is the fastest growing sector of the world food economy but has proceeded way in advance of adequate environmental and public health safeguards. As fish have become privatised, the last two decades have seen a fundamental shift away from ‘family’ towards ‘factory’ fish farming and a marked transition from a capture to a culture economy. In 1984 aquaculture accounted for only 8% of fisheries production leaping to ca. 30% in 2002 and in the coming decades aquaculture is predicted to overtake capture fisheries (Williams: 1996, Tacon and Forster: 2001, FEAP: 2002). The development of this ‘new’ industry (OECD: 1989) has caused severe environmental problems. Aquaculture is nothing new of course: the new development has been in the global expansion of intensive sea cage fish farming. As a ‘Forward Study of Community Aquaculture’ commissioned by the European Commission (EC) states:

"As the aquaculture industry has developed and has incorporated technological advances, it has moved from extensive to intensive systems. This intensification of production methods has been accompanied by an increase in the potential threat to the already precarious ecological equilibrium in our streams, reservoirs and oceans….Recently, this intensification of aquaculture production has led to the industry being regarded as one of the leading polluters of the aquatic environment" (MacAllister and Partners: 1999, p55)

The development of intensive sea cage fin-fish farming has therefore overshadowed and encroached upon shellfish farming areas and traditional inshore fisheries. Such is sea cage fish farming’s global reach that its demands on fish meal and fish oil is placing pressure on capture fisheries in the South Pacific, Africa, Asia and the Arctic.

Sea cage finfish farming in particular presents insurmountable problems in terms of mass escapes, GM fish, the spread of infectious diseases, parasite infestation, the reliance upon toxic chemicals, contamination of the seabed and the bio-accumulation of organochlorine pesticides such as dioxins and PCBs (Milewski: 2001, Staniford: 2002b). Nor is the problem restricted to Scottish salmon farming (SWCL: 1992, 1993, Ross: 1997, WWF: 2000, FoE: 2001a, Berry and Davison: 2001, Scottish Executive: 2002b, Scottish Parliament: 2002a); reports have also focussed on salmon farming in Ireland (O’Brien: 1989, O’Sullivan: 1989, Oliver and Colleran: 1990, Meldon: 1993), Norway (Ervik et al: 1997, DNM: 1999), Canada (Ellis: 1996, Milewski et al 1997, Sierra Legal Defense Fund: 1997), Chile (Claude et al: 2000) and the United States (Goldburg and Tripplett: 1997). More recently the expansion of tuna, sea bass and sea bream farming in the Mediterranean has received long overdue attention (MERAMED: 2002, Studela: 2002, WWF: 2002a). Sea cages have spread like a cancer around the European coastline. As Dr Sergei Tudela of WWF states:

"Intensive industrial scale aquaculture has become synonymous with pollution and destruction of the marine environment, conflicts with other resource users, and high levels of toxins in the fish produced. The spread of aquaculture, a cause of increasing concern and growing alarm, has been described as a cancer at the heart of the coastal environment" (Tudela: 2002)

That does not mean that all aquaculture operations are fatally flawed – shellfish farming is relatively environmentally benign compared with an intensive fin-fish farming industry that is reliant upon inputs of feed and chemicals and discharges contaminated wastes. In the UK, Scottish Natural Heritage noted the ‘marked incompatibility’ between the shellfish and fin-fish farming sectors (Fagan: 2001, SNH: 2001). Supporting the expansion of shellfish farming may therefore necessarily involve supporting a reduction in sea cage fish farming: it is a case of "either….or" not "both….and". The clash of cultures between fin-fish and shellfish farmers was seen last year when the Association of Scottish Salmon Growers voted for a moratorium on salmon farming (Ross and Holme: 2001). Far from criticising aquaculture per se, this paper highlights both the environmental and public health threats arising from sea cage fish farming focusing on five fundamental flaws of sea cage fish farming; namely wastes, escapes, diseases and parasites, chemicals and feed/food.

The Five fundamental flaws of sea cage fish farming:

1) Wastes:

Open sea cage fish farming, be it tuna, sea bass or sea bream farming in the Mediterranean or salmon farming in Scotland, Ireland and Norway, discharges untreated wastes directly into the sea. Nor are aquaculture wastes an insignificant source of nutrients and wastes (Staniford: 2002b). The EC admits in its ‘Strategy for the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture’ that: "In areas with numerous farms, nutrient enrichment and the risk of eutrophication are significant issues" (EC: 2002c, p9). According to the Norwegian Directorate of Nature Management "in many countries, the aquaculture industry is the greatest source of human-created emissions of phosphorus and nitrogen" (DNM: 1999). WWF have estimated, for example (WWF Scotland: 2000), that Scottish salmon farms discharge the sewage waste equivalent of over 9 million people (Scotland’s population is 5.1 million). Both OSPAR and HELCOM have recently highlighted the problem of nitrogen and phosphorus discharges from both freshwater and marine farming operations into the North Sea and Baltic (OSPAR: 2001, HELCOM: 2001). In April 2000 the Norwegian State Pollution Control Agency admitted that salmon farms were "now major polluters" (ENDS: 2000). In the Mediterranean the EC is sponsoring research into cutting wastes due to problems with poor feed conversion in sea bass and sea bream farms (EC: 2002i).

The link between toxic algal blooms (and shellfish poisoning events such as DSP, ASP and PSP) and fish farm wastes is the subject of attention both in the Mediterranean and Scotland (Gowen and Ezzi: 1992, Berry: 1996, 1999, Davies: 2000, Navarro: 2000, Ruiz et al: 2001, MERAMED: 2002, Scottish Executive: 2002b). The Scottish Executive, for example, have hired Professor Smayda from the University of Rhode Island and Professor Rydberg from Stockholm University to investigate such a link (Staniford: 2002b). Research has also focussed on Scandinavia (Ackefors and Rosen: 1979, Ruokolahti: 1988, Aure and Stigebrant: 1990, Persson: 1991, Ronnberg et al: 1992, Braaten: 1992, Enell: 1995), Ireland (Gowen: 1990), Europe as a whole (Alabaster: 1982, Rosenthal et al: 1993, GESAMP: 1996, OSPAR: 2001) as well as other countries around the world (Nishimura: 1982, Black: 1993, ICES: 1999b, Martin: 2000, Arzul et al: 2001). An EU-funded project (AQUATOXSAL) in Latin America, conducted by French and German researchers, is also due to report later this year (Arzul et al: 1999, 2002, EC: 2002g).

The Dutch multinational Nutreco, the largest fish farming and fish feed company in the world, has long been involved in research looking at the link between eutrophication and fish feed (Talbot and Hole: 1994) but continues to discharge wastes directly into pristine coastal waters. EC-sponsored research has also highlighted the negative effects of waste loadings on fish health (EC: 2000f). And there are public health concerns surrounding shellfish poisoning events such as Amnesic, Diarrhetic and Paralytic Shellfish Posioning (ASP, DSP and PSP) related to salmon farms. For example, DSP affected mussels collected from salmon cages in Loch Seaforth in Scotland (Sandison: 2000) led to 49 people in two London restaurants being treated for "nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and feeling feverish" (Scoging and Bahl: 1998). The technology required for closed containment systems already exists (G3 Consulting: 2000) and is being commercially developed in Canada (Cutland: 2002) but it has not been adopted in Europe as farmers dismiss it as too expensive. The Commission’s latest proposals for "new waste collection systems under cages" represent the bare minimum (EC: 2002c) – indeed, Scottish research has existed for years (SEPA: 1998a). The suggestion that Council Directive 91/676/EEC (which "aims to reduce water pollution caused or induced by nitrates from agricultural sources, including the spreading or discharge of livestock effluents") "should be extended to include intensive fish farming" is a welcome one but not before time (EC: 2002c). In allowing sea cages to discharge contaminated wastes into the sea, however, countries are permitting farmers the free use of pristine coastal waters as an open sewer (Folke and Kautsky: 1994). Closed containment systems would not only stem the tide of pollution from sea cages but would also prevent escapes, stop the spread of diseases and parasites to wild fish and reduce the need for chemicals.

2) Escapes:

EC-sponsored research has highlighted the negative impacts of farmed salmon escapees on wild fish in Norwegian, Irish, Scottish and Spanish rivers (McGinnity et al: 1997, Clifford et al: 1998, Fleming and Einum: 1997, EC: 2000e, EC: 2000h, Fleming et al: 2000, McGinnity et al: 2002, Scottish Executive: 2002b). AQUAWILD, for example, aims "to assess genetic and environmental impacts of cultured fish on wild conspecifics at various life stages through competition and interbreeding" (EC: 2002h). A forthcoming scientific paper by researchers at the Queens University Belfast will reveal the results of a 10-year Irish investigation (funded by the EC) into the impact of escaped farmed salmon on wild fish (McDowell: 2002). Preliminary results suggest that farmed fish escapes and hatchery-reared fish are having such an impact that wild salmon stocks are precipitating into an "extinction vortex" (McGinnity et al: 2002). As well as spreading parasites and ‘genetic pollution’ via interbreeding and hybridisation, escapees have the capacity to spread infectious diseases to wild fish populations. For example, in Scotland since May 2002 (when it became law to report escapes) 3 out of the 4 escapes (totalling 57,000 fish: equivalent to the entire wild salmon catch in Scotland) came from farms infected with Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis (IPN). New information from the Scottish Executive reveals that there have been 28 escape incidents (involving an estimated 500,000 farmed fish) from Scottish fish farms affected by IPN restrictions since 1998 (Scottish Parliament: 2002b).

The inevitable risk of escapes was something that the UK’s Agriculture, Environment and Biotechnology Commission took into consideration in September 2002 when it recommended a ban on GM salmon in sea cages (AEBC: 2002). Such a precautionary position is reinforced by the EC’s ‘Strategy on the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture’ which states that: "The potential deliberate release of transgenic fish without containment measures raises public concern in terms of risk to the environment" (EC: 2002c). However, the EC’s ongoing investment into GM fish technologies and research (including salmon, tilapia, trout and carp) does not inspire confidence that GM aquaculture species will not be commercially developed (EC: 2000d, EC: 2000g, Carrell: 2001a, 2001b, 2001c, 2001d, Carrell and Lean: 2001, EC: 2002k, EC: 2002l). Field trials of GM salmon took place in Scotland on the shores of Loch Fyne as far back as 1995-6 (BBC: 2000a). EC-funded GM salmon research has been conducted at the National University of Ireland in Galway (EC: 2000d, EC: 2000g) although the researchers involved have been reluctant to divulge details (Charron: 2001). And outside the EU, Hungary has already completed GM fish experiments with Chinook salmon, carp and zebrafish (EC: 2002j).

In February 2002 over half a million salmon escaped in a single incident in the Faroes (Gardar: 2002a). In Scotland alone there have been over 1 million reported escapes since 1997 (Aitken: 2002) with evidence of interbreeding with wild salmon and hybridisation with brown trout (Webb et al: 1991, 1993, Youngson et al: 1997, 1998). In Norway, such is the historical problem of mass escapes, that some rivers are comprised of up to 90% farm escapees (Saegrov et al: 1997, Fleming and Einum: 1997, Fleming et al: 2000). And in Ireland, some river systems have been found to contain more farmed fish than wild fish (Crozier: 1993, 2000, Clifford et al: 1998). The global problem of salmon escapes is so evident that Norwegian farmed salmon are now resident in the Faroes (Hansen et al: 1999) and salmon that escaped from an Irish farm in August 2001 were caught in English, Scottish and Welsh rivers (Milner and Evans: 2002). Moving cages further offshore will only increase the risk of escapes. Closed containment systems are the only safe solution. Yet given the sheer number of escaped farmed salmon and the negative impact of hatcheries on wild salmon (McGinnity et al: 2002) the very future of wild Atlantic salmon may already be in question. That tuna, sea bass, sea bream, sea trout, cod, halibut, haddock, turbot and sole are already being farmed (and are already escaping) is a disaster waiting to happen.

3) Diseases and parasites:

According to the EC "infectious disease poses the biggest single threat to aquaculture" (EC: 2002f). Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis (IPN) and Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA) are the latest in a long line of infectious diseases such as furunculosis to decimate the salmon farming industry. New diseases are appearing all the time. EC-sponsored research is now addressing the emerging problems of salmon pancreas disease (SPD) and sleeping disease (SD) in farmed salmon (EC: 2002d). Another EC-sponsored project, SALIMPACT, is investigating the impact of disease transmitted through the contact between farmed and wild fish (EC: 2002h). GM technology has also been applied to study ways of combating disease and conferring disease resistance (EC: 2002l).

Disease outbreaks have also affected the sea bass and sea bream industries in the Mediterranean. The European Aquaculture Society, for example, has referred to "enormous problems like Pasteurellosis and Nodavirosis" affecting sea bass and sea bream (EAS: 1996). The intensification of culture of sea bass and sea bream "has provoked some severe disease problems" (Agius and Tanti: 1997). The main parasitic infections include Ichtyobodo sp., Ceratomyxa sp., Amyloodinium ocellatum, Trichodina sp., Myxidium leei, and Diplectanum aequans. Cysts of unknown microsporidia found in skeletal muscles of market size sea bream at varying incidences have caused problems with marketing on European Union markets (Agius and Tanti: 1997). Given the current crisis in the sea bass and sea bream industry (Richardson: 2002b) the role of overproduction and the consequent spread of diseases and parasites must not be underestimated.

The spread of diseases and parasites, as in battery chicken farming, is a function of overstocking and intensive production (Paone: 2000b). It is therefore inevitable that new diseases on intensive fish farms will emerge (Meikle: 2002). A report by Compassion in World Farming published in January 2002 calculated that each farmed salmon had the equivalent water space as a single bath-tub of water and called for a halving of stocking densities (Lymberry: 2002). A forthcoming report by the Council of Europe on fish welfare may address the issue of stocking densities on fish farms (EC: 2002c). In the meantime, however, sea cage fish farms will continue to act as reservoirs for infectious diseases and parasitic infestations.

ISA has recently affected the Faroes (Gardar: 2002b) and it was reported in an escapee rainbow trout in Clew Bay, Ireland in August 2002 (Charron: 2002b). Ireland has taken a precautionary approach "putting in place full disease control measures consistent with the Irish ISA Withdrawal Plan" (Fennelly: 2002). Consequently, Ireland’s only organic salmon farm at Clare Island has been closed to visitors and salmon sent off for ISA testing. In Scotland during 1998-9, for example, ISA led to the destruction of 4 million salmon, the setting up of a ‘National Crisis Centre’ and a quarter of the industry was placed in quarantine (Royal Society of Edinburgh: 2001). Supermarkets in the UK refused to sell farmed salmon from ISA affected farms (Edwards: 1999). In February 2000 the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee reported that: "clearly the containment of ISA is of concern not only to Scotland, but to the Community as a whole. ISA poses a threat to the Community salmon industry at present, and potentially a greater threat if it were to spread to the other Member States" (European Parliament: 2000). IPN is now "ubiquitous" in Scotland affecting 60-70% of salmon farms (Cameron: 2002f, Macaskill: 2002). In Norway, where 11 million farmed salmon died last year, both ISA and IPN have caused significant mortalities (Intrafish: 1999a,b, Intrafish: 2002c, Solsletten: 2001, 2002b). So serious is the IPN problem that the EC is now "developing recombinant DNA vaccines" (EC: 2002f). In view of the fact that IPN can infect turbot and halibut (European Parliament: 1996b) and the number of escapes of IPN infected farmed salmon (Scottish Parliament: 2002b) the risk of fish farms spreading diseases to wild fish should not be underestimated.

The scientific evidence linking sea lice infestation on wild salmon and sea trout with proximity to salmon farms has now been proved beyond reasonable doubt (Edwards: 1998, Butler and Watt: 2002, Bjorn and Finstadt: 2002, Gargan and Tully: 2002, Holst et al: 2002). As the EC explains:

"These parasites proliferate on farmed salmon, and the young wild fish of migratory species (mainly of sea trout) could be heavily infected during their estuarine movements. The reduction of wild salmonids abundance is also linked to other factors but there is more and more scientific evidence establishing a direct link between the number of lice-infested wild fish and the presence of cages in the same estuary" (EC: 2002c, p9)

Locating salmon cages, for example, at the mouth of salmon rivers and in sea trout areas is the antithesis of the precautionary principle. Surely the only sensible solution is to relocate farms away from such sensitive areas (Butler et al: 2001, FoE: 2001b). In view of the endemic disease and parasite problems and the build up of antibiotic and chemical resistance (EC: 2001e), chemical controls have patently failed to address the parasite problem.

4) Chemicals:

Intensive fin-fish farmers, unlike shellfish farmers, are reliant upon a suite of chemicals to control diseases and parasites (Schnick et al: 1997, Alderman: 1999, Roth: 2000, Costello: 2001). Reports by the World Health Organisation and GESAMP have highlighted the environmental and public health threats of chemical use on fish farms (GESAMP: 1997, WHO: 1999). However, despite a reduction in the use of antibiotics and organophosphates in salmon farming (OSPAR: 1994) the use of synthetic pyrethroids, artificial colorants, antifoulants, antiparasitics and other ‘marine pollutants’ warrants serious concern (Staniford: 2002a). The cocktail of toxic chemicals used on salmon farms, in particular, jeopardises not only the marine environment but also the safety of workers (Douglas: 1995, GESAMP: 1997, Kelleher et al: 1998, Connolly: 2002). In Danish trout farms, for example, the abuse of antibiotics has raised consumer and environmental concerns (Lutzhoft et al: 1999). Chemicals used on salmon farms include carcinogens, mutagens and a myriad of marine pollutants (Staniford: 2002b). Since many chemical ‘treatments’ are designed to kill sea lice (which are crustacea) shellfish farmers have raised concerns in relation to the negative effects other shellfish such as lobsters, crabs, mussels, oysters and scallops (Blythman: 2001, Ross and Holme: 2001). Ongoing research in Scotland is investigating the impacts of the sea lice chemicals teflubenzuron, cypermethrin and emamectin benzoate on zooplankton and copepods (Edwards: 2002a, SAMS: 2002a, 2002b, 2002c). Cypermethrin, for example, has been recently linked to reproductive effects in wild salmon and significant impacts on shellfish over several hectares (Ernst et al: 2001, Moore and Waring: 2001). The European Medicines Evaluation Agency openly concedes that "the proposed use of Azamethiphos in fish farming means that deliberate contamination of the environment will occur" (EMEA: 1999) yet in Scotland over 700 licences to use cypermethrin, azamethiphos, teflubenzuron and emamectin have been issued since 1998 (Merritt: 2002). The decision to licence them is based more on economic expediency than consumer or environmental safety and is tantamount to state-sponsored pollution (Merritt: 2002). The scale of chemical use in European salmon farming has now led the EC to fund research into sea lice resistance to chemicals used on salmon farms (EC: 2001e).

Such was the historical use of chemicals like dichlorvos (Ross: 1989, 1990, Ross and Horsman: 1988) - banned by the UK in April 2002 as it was deemed carcinogenic (DEFRA: 2002) - that legal action from fish farm workers with cancers and other health issues is pending in the Scottish and Irish courts (Connolly: 2002, Staniford: 2002b). Significant clusters of testicular cancer in salmon farming areas have been reported in Ireland (Kelleher et al: 1998). Figures for the use of dichlorvos on Norwegian fish farms throughout the 1980s are also alarming (Grave et al: 1991, Horsberg: 2000). In Norway, the quantities of dichlorvos used were so high that fatal organophosphate poisoning of the farmed salmon took place (Salte et al: 1987, Horsberg et al: 1989) and residues were detected in the flesh of the salmon (Horsberg and Hoy: 1990). In the UK, the Government have estimated that up to 50 tonnes of dichlorvos (some four times more than all other household and agricultural uses combined) were used annually in the 1980s and early 1990s by Scottish salmon farmers (Davies: 1991, Department of the Environment: 1991, Scottish Office: 1992).

Chemicals such as DDT, dieldrin, chlordane, hexachloro-benzene, PCBs, toxaphene and dioxins, which all bioaccumulate via the fish feed, have been found both under salmon cages and in the flesh of farmed salmon (Hellou: 2002a, 2002b, Pirie: 2001, Cameron: 2002c, PRC: 2002). Anti-fouling paints containing TBT, copper and zinc have also been found under salmon cages (Davies et al: 1998, SEPA: 1998b). The World Health Organisation concedes that "veterinary drug residues or heavy metals may accumulate in aquaculture products at levels of concern for public health" (WHO: 1999). There is an alarming information gap:

"Information is needed on the transfer of feed contaminants to edible fish tissues and any implications of this for human health…As certain pesticides required in aquaculture can pose food safety hazards, more information is needed on the types of compounds used. Studies should be conducted to determine whether the use of pesticides can result in residue levels in fish tissue that are potentially harmful to human health" (WHO: 1999, pp 47-49)

Chemicals used illegally and detected in farmed salmon on sale in UK supermarkets include the recently banned carcinogen Malachite green (Department of Health: 1999, Cameron: 2002d, Scottish Executive: 2002a) and ivermectin (Cameron: 2001). So pervasive is the illegal use of toxic chemicals in Scotland that members of both Scottish Quality Salmon and the Shetland Salmon Farmers Association have both been caught using ivermectin and cypermethrin illegally (Intrafish: 1998, Barnett: 2000, BBC: 2000b, Cameron: 2002a) leading to calls by consumer groups for more testing of farmed salmon (Cameron: 2002b). Norwegian salmon farmers have also been caught using Malachite green illegally (Jensen: 2001) and in August this year Norway introduced new regulations allowing medicine residues in farmed salmon raising fears that there would be a negative impact on sales in the European market (Solsletten: 2002b). Elsewhere in sea bass and sea bream farming, reports of furazolidone, malachite green and ivermectin use in Malta hardly inspire confidence in the sector (EC: 2000c). A forthcoming report is to investigate chemical use in Mediterranean sea cage fish farming in much more detail.

5) Feed/Food:

Intensive sea cage fish farming’s dependence upon a fast diminishing and increasingly contaminated resource – namely fish meal and fish oil – threatens to blow sea cage fish farming out of the water altogether. The fifth fundamental flaw – the unresolved and unsolvable feed/food issue - will ultimately be the final fatal flaw for sea cage fish farming. Aquaculture’s appetite for fish meal and fish oil is rapidly impacting on the capture fisheries sector (Tacon: 1994, Naylor et al: 1998, Naylor et al: 2000, Pauly et al: 2002). Over 3 tonnes of wild fish are required to produce one tonne of farmed salmon, for example (for other marine fish this rises to over 5 tonnes) (Naylor et al: 2000) leading to a net loss on marine resources and a drain on the capture sector. Salmon farming is running on empty - it is literally running out of fuel. Such is aquaculture’s insatiable growth that it already uses up ca. 70% of the world’s fish oil and ca. 35% of the world’s fish meal (Tacon and Forster: 2001, Tacon and Barg: 2001). In June 2001 the Research Council of Norway predicted that "within three to eight years" the lack of marine oil raw materials could hinder the growth of Norwegian salmon farming (Hjellestad: 2001a). A staggering 80 per cent of all fish caught by Norwegian trawlers is already used to provide feed for the fish farming industry and the International Fish Meal and Fish Oil Manufacturers Association (IFOMA) predict that aquaculture may consume 90 per cent of the world’s fish oil by 2010 (Pike and Barlow: 1999). Moreover:

"It would be a mistake to abandon the significance of fish oils as subservient to that of fish meal. There is a risk that quality fish oils could prove to be the more finite commodity in the next decade as aquaculture is projected to use 87% of world supply in 2010. This has obvious implications for the salmon sector and others where much of the dietary energy is provided as oil at present" (MacAllister and Partners: 1999, p39)

Just as oil companies are looking further afield, fishing fleets are sinking to greater depths in search of fish oil – the new ‘blue gold’. Feed companies are already harvesting sandeels, sprats, capelin, anchovies, herring, mackerel, blue whiting and even looking to exploit krill (Hjellestad: 2001b, 2002). Desperate to find an alternative fuel supply, salmon farmers have turned to vegetables, wheat, soya, seaweed and other non-fish meal and fish oil diets. Replacing fish oil in salmon diets with vegetable lipids has already lead to problems with the Japanese sending back consignments of farmed salmon as it tastes too ‘earthy’. The problem of consumer acceptability of salmon fed on vegetables is something that the EC are now investigating (EC: 2001g). The search for fish feed substitutes (Hjellestad: 2001a) is addressed in the EC’s "Strategy for the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture":

"The Commission considers that research to find alternative protein sources for fish feed should be given top priority, in order to allow a further development of carnivorous fish farming and, at the same time, ensure the sustainability of industrial fisheries" (EC: 2002, p12)

However, turning a carnivore into an herbivore is ultimately doomed to failure. In fact, the EC is currently sponsoring a project looking into the welfare, disease and animal health implications of feeding vegetables to salmon (EC: 2001f). On land we only farm herbivores such as cattle, pigs, sheep and chickens so why do we not apply the same principles when farming in the sea? Why not continue farming shellfish such as mussels, oysters, clams and scallops that has been practised for millennia? When all the environmental, economic and social costs are internalised, sea cage fish farming makes precious little sense at all. Sadly, common sense is not a currency those bankrolling sea cage farming are used to dealing in (Staniford: 2001).

Not only is aquaculture’s food supply fast running out but also what fish remains is contaminated with organochlorine pesticides. In the Northern hemisphere especially, the marine environment has been polluted to such an extent that the consequences are now being seen in the biomagnification of contaminants up through our food chain. EC measures designed to tackle the problem of PCB and dioxin contamination (EC: 2000a, 2000b, 2001a, 2002a, 2002b) have been met with fierce resistance by the fish feed industry whose products have been effectively labelled ‘hazardous goods’. For example, when the EC first proposed to lower the level of dioxins in fish meal and fish oil:

"The trade reacted immediately and went about lobbying various European ministries. Fishmeal producers from Peru and Chile e-mailed and faxed their embassies, the trade in Europe called for emergency meetings in Spain, Italy, Germany, UK, Iceland and Norway. Agriculture ministers from every country were bombarded with information and requests to postpone the meeting. One senior EU official was reported to have disconnected his telephone and fax line on the Friday afternoon because of the volume of information he was receiving" (Millar: 1999)

In November 2000 the EC’s Scientific Committee on Animal Nutrition stated that "fish meal and fish oil are the most heavily contaminated feed materials with products of European fish stocks more heavily contaminated than those from South Pacific stock by a factor of ca. eight" (EC: 2000a) whilst the EC’s Scientific Committee on Food stated that fish can contain ten times higher levels of dioxins than some other foodstuffs and can represent up to 63% of the average daily exposure to dioxins (EC: 2000b). In November 2001 the EC adopted new regulations on dioxins in food and feed (EC: 2001a, EC: 2002b) but failed to include PCBs "because of the scarcity of reliable data" (EC: 2000a). The Council Directive 2001/102/EC and Council Regulation (EC) 2375/2001 foresee that the maximum levels of dioxins in feed and food will be reviewed for the first time by 31 December 2004 at the latest in the light of new data on the presence of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs, in particular with a view to the inclusion of dioxin-like PCBs in the levels to be set. A further review by 31 December 2006 at the latest will aim to significantly reducing the maximum levels (EC: 2002b, 2002c).

The repercussions for sea cage fish farmers are especially significant as they are dependent upon vast quantities of fish meal and fish oil (Millar: 2001). For example, the news that fish feed and farmed salmon was contaminated with dioxins led to Nutreco’s share price falling 15% (Intrafish: 2001). The farming of fish such as salmon so high up the food chain is an extremely efficient way of concentrating contaminants. Some fish feed is so contaminated it should be disposed of as hazardous goods rather than fed to farmed fish destined for human consumption. Yet, fish feed companies have known about PCB contamination, for example, for over 20 years (Mac: 1979). The pesticides toxaphene, DDT and chlordane have all been detected in farmed salmon and fish feed (Oetjen and Karl: 1998, PRC: 2002). Nutreco and IFOMA have both been involved in an EC-sponsored research project looking at ‘Dioxin and PCB Accumulation in Farmed Fish from Feed’ which has just been completed although when the results will be made publicly available is unclear (EC: 2002d). According to the project outline: "Contaminant levels will be determined in fillets, whole fish and in the faeces in order to measure contaminant accumulation, if any, in the edible flesh and their digestibilities" (EC: 2002d). The EC is in the process of establishing a database of 1,500 samples to compare PCB and dioxin contamination between different farmed and wild species and different countries.

Recent scientific research has revealed contamination in Canadian, Norwegian, Scottish and Irish farmed salmon (MAFF: 1999, Easton et al: 2002, FSAI: 2002, Jacobs et al: 2000, Jacobs et al: 2002a, 2002b, PRC: 2002). Dioxin contamination of fishery products is now well known with DDT, chlordane and hexachlorobenzene recently detected in 97% of ‘fresh’ (i.e. farmed) salmon on sale in the UK (the only negative sample was the one wild fresh salmon sample) (Cameron: 2002c, PRC: 2002). In 1997 all 161 samples of farmed salmon tested by the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate contained PCBs (VMD: 1998). The Food Standards Agency in the UK have also detected PCB residues in Danish farmed trout and imported Chilean farmed salmon (Intrafish: 2002a). Both the Irish Food Safety Authority and the Pesticides Residues Committee in the UK have found that farmed salmon is four times more contaminated in terms of PCBs, DDT, hexachloro-benzene and chlordane than wild salmon (FSAI: 2002, PRC: 2002).

Baltic seafood is so contaminated there have been concerns over PCB contamination of fishery products (Kiviranta, 2002). Consequently, Finland and Sweden negotiated a derogation out of the EC dioxin regulations (ENDS: 2001b). The EC estimate that approximately 20% of all industrial fish (mainly sprat and herring) is by definition ‘contaminated’ and above the new limits set for dioxins and PCBs (European Parliament: 2001) but for some countries such as Italy, Greece and Denmark over 50% of their industrial fish catches have "high conflict potential" with the new dioxin regulations (i.e. more than half of their industrial fish is contaminated). For Finland and Sweden that figure rises to 100% and 90% respectively (European Parliament: 2001). Norwegian seafood products are also contaminated (Lundebye et al: 2000, ENDS: 2001a). The Institute of Marine Research in Norway explain how PCB contamination in fish meal has led them to seek substitutes further afield in the Arctic and further down the food chain in the shape of krill:

"PCB accumulates in fish, so there is more PCB higher in the food chain. That means that there is less PCB in krill, which is lower in the food chain" (Hjellestad: 2002)

Consumers, however, are increasingly concerned over higher levels of contaminants in farmed salmon (Edwards: 2002b). As well as containing more PCBs, dioxins and DDT, farmed fish contain more fat and less of the healthy Omega 3 fish oils (Vliet and Katan: 1990, Cronin et al: 1991, George and Bhopal: 1995, Paone: 2000a). According to the Food and Drug Administration in the US, farmed salmon, for example, are four times fatter than wild salmon (Paone: 2000a). And farmed sea bass and sea bream have been found to contain 17 and 7 times more fat than their wild cousins (the same survey showed farmed turbot contained three times more fat than wild turbot) (Richardson: 2001b). The notion that eating farmed salmon is universally good for public health is no more than a sales gimmick sold by supermarkets intent on boosting profits and Government agencies who have invested a great deal of money in bankrolling salmon farming at the expense of wild fisheries.

The glossy packaging does not even say the product is farmed let alone what other hidden extras it contains. Listeria in farmed salmon is becoming much more of problem in Europe (EC: 1998) with Irish, Scottish and Norwegian salmon recalled by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States (FDA: 2002). Following illegal use of ivermectin in Scotland two British supermarkets refused to sell farmed salmon from affected farms (New Scientist: 1997). The artificial colouring Canthaxanthin (E161g), due to health concerns over its links with eye defects in children, is now the subject of a EU-wide consultation with a view to a four-fold reduction in salmon and trout diets (EC: 2002a). Canthaxanthin use is so widespread that it has been detected both in salmon farm escapees (Poole et al: 2000), their offspring (Saegrov et al: 1997) and on the sabed (Girling: 2001). In the UK, Scottish Quality Salmon have been actively lobbying against any reduction whilst some supermarkets are calling for a complete ban. In the US, the law requires Canthaxanthin to be labelled on the packaging (Cherry: 2002). In the UK, France, Spain and across the European Union the new EC fish labelling regulations which came into force on 1st January 2002 (EC: 2001c) are being flouted (Blythman: 2002, Richardson: 2002a, FIS: 2002a).

Given surveys by the UK and French governments (Seafish: 2001, Browne: 2001c, Richardson: 2002c) showing the general public distrusts farmed fish products it is not altogether surprising that supermarkets are reluctant to reveal whether fish has been farmed in closed cages or caught in open ocean. More seriously, farmed salmon mis-labelled as ‘wild’ has led to an EC-sponsored project designed to detect food fraud. For example, it was revealed last year that 25% of ‘wild’ fish in France was actually farmed (Richardson: 2001a). Since September 2001 a consortium in France, Italy, the UK and Norway has been working to develop a validated method to enable official laboratories to determine exactly where fish come from, and whether or not they are wild (EC: 2001b). That consumers are still unaware they are buying farmed salmon let alone a tainted product that contains high levels of artificial colourings (and is contaminated with PCBs and dioxins) is a vital public health and public awareness issue. The World Health Organisation recently investigated ‘Food Safety Issues Associated with Products from Aquaculture’: "The study group concluded that there were considerable needs for information associated with the aquaculture sector of food production. The gaps in knowledge hinder the process of risk assessment and the application of appropriate risk management strategies with respect to food safety strategy for products from aquaculture" (WHO: 1999, p45)

This view is echoed in research commissioned by the EC; namely that:

"Aquaculture brings with it new problems – not least it raises new food safety issues because of the human interference in the food production cycle….Concerns over sustainability, environmental degradation and food safety can only become more pronounced" (MacAllister and Partners: 1999, pp 36-43)

From a public health perspective, therefore, farmed fish is a poor relation and no substitute for wild fish. Environmental and public interest groups have campaigned directly against salmon farming and in support of wild salmon (Paone: 2000a, Ecotrust: 2002, David Suzuki: 2002, IATP: 2002). This month a coalition of groups in North America will launch a "Farmed and Dangerous" campaign outlining the public health risks of eating farmed salmon and another UK and Ireland protest raising public awareness of farmed salmon will take place on 26th October. With the European market already flooded with cheap farmed sea bass, sea bream and salmon, a consumer boycott of farmed fish products could be the final nail in the coffin of sea cage fish farming. If the financial markets are any barometer, the ailing world leader Nutreco is in a very poor state of health indeed (Intrafish: 2001, Charron: 2002a, Berge: 2002a, 2002b). The fifth fundamental flaw could be fatal to the future of sea cage fish farming in Europe. Conclusions - closing the net on sea cage fish farming:

The pace of aquaculture expansion has meant that certain farmed fish products now represent a global threat to both the marine environment and consumer safety (e.g. the recent SANCO Rapid Food Alerts concerning chloramphenicol in farmed shrimp from Asia or the ongoing crisis over dioxins and PCBs in farmed salmon). Moreover, the need for increasing quantities of wild caught fish meal to fuel the expansion of sea cage fish farms (such as tuna, salmon, trout, halibut, cod, sea bass and sea bream) is jeopardising the very future of wild capture fisheries. As Dr Daniel Pauly points out in the scientific journal Nature:

"Modern aquaculture practices are largely unsustainable: they consume natural resources at a high rate and, because of their intensity, they are extremely vulnerable to the pollution and disease outbreaks they induce…..Much of what is described as aquaculture, at least in Europe, North America and other parts of the developed world, consists of feedlot operations in which carnivorous fish (mainly salmon, but also various sea bass and other species) are fattened on a diet rich in fish meal and oil. The idea makes commercial sense, as the farmed fish fetch a much higher market price than the fish ground up for fish meal (even though they may consist of species that are consumed by people, such as herring, sardine or mackerels, forming the bulk of the pelagic fishes). The point is that operations of this type, which are directed to wealthy consumers, use up much more fish flesh than they produce, and hence cannot replace capture fisheries, especially in developing countries, where very few can afford imported smoked salmon. Indeed, this form of aquaculture represents another source of pressure on wild fish populations (Pauly et al: 2002)

Therefore, by farming carnivores such as salmon, sea bass, sea bream and tuna at the top of the food chain it’s a case of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’. Given the net loss in fisheries resources it is no wonder fishermen feel short-changed (Staniford: 2001).

The future of fish farming lies in moving away from the intensive monoculture of fin-fish towards shellfish farming and integrated polyculture systems. This is something that the Commission’s "Strategy for the Sustainable Development of European Aquaculture" tentatively addresses:

"The improvement of traditional aquaculture activities such as mollusc farming, that are important in maintaining the social and environmental tissue of specific areas, should be encouraged…. Efforts should possibly be oriented to species such as seaweed, molluscs and herbivorous fish, that are able to utilise the primary production more efficiently" (European Commission: 2002, p12)

The ‘Forward Study of Community Aquaculture’ proposed that:

"The EU should support research in the field of sustainable aquaculture, including: technical constraints to, and economic viability of offshore aquaculture, waste water treatment techniques, alternative protein sources to fish meal and oils, and development of polyculture options" (MacAllister and Partners: 1999, p60)

If sea cage fish farming is to have any long-term future it must be forced to treat its wastes and focus on non-carnivorous species that do not lead to a net deficit in fisheries resources (FoE: 2001a). Closed containment systems may solve the waste and escapes problems but the final fatal flaw lies in feed and food issues. Far from being a panacea for the decline in wild fisheries and the need for healthy food, sea cage fish farming serves only to compound the current crisis.

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