Stand Up for Wild Pacific Salmon

Humboldt Baykeeper is one of over twenty Waterkeeper organizations from Alaska to California that have launched the Stand Up for Pacific Salmon (SUPS) campaign in their watersheds, respectively. Calling for a boycott of farmed salmon to help protect Pacific salmon from the impacts of net-pen farmed salmon, the Waterkeeper groups are calling on the “Big Six” grocery retailers to remove the product from their shelves.

The SUPS campaign asks customers of Costco, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Tesco, Kroger, and SuperValu to urge them to follow the example of their fellow retailer Target. In January, the discount chain, on the advice of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s SeafoodWatch program, dropped net-pen salmon from over 1700 Target stores.

Net-pen salmon farms are floating feedlots that have spread sea-lice, pollution, chemicals and infectious diseases into pristine habitats all around the world, including British Columbia and Washington, and are having a devastating impact on wild salmon stocks.

Because of the presence of PCBs and other substances, the journal Environmental Research recommends that farmed salmon should be eaten no more than "between 0.4 and 1 meal per month." This confirmed a similar 2005 study in the Journal of Nutrition, recommending that pregnant women, children, and nursing mothers avoid farmed salmon because of high levels of pollutants.

Other concerns for consumers include the industry’s use of antibiotics and artificial coloring. Without the orange and pink dyes put into their feed, farmed salmon flesh would be a unappealing shade of gray.


Best Choices

As an alternative to net-pen farmed salmon, we recommend following the guidelines of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program regarding salmon—and of course, as a guide to buying all kinds of seafood, from shrimp to halibut:

Along with wild-caught salmon, the MBA has recently given “Best Choice” status to coho salmon farmed in freshwater, tank-based systems. Washington-based SweetSpring is one of these. If you can find this sort of farmed salmon, you can purchase it in good conscience.

What is Net-Pen Salmon Farming?

Simply put, net-pen salmon farms are exactly that: floating pens containing hatchery salmon smolts that are reared to adult size in marine habitats. They are fed on a diet of pelletized fish meal, oils, and grains such as soy. These “salmon feedlots” (as biologist Alexandra Morton has termed them) are usually sited in protected bays and stream-mouths, ironically in areas that are migratory habitat for salmonids—whether pinks, Chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, or steelhead.

Most salmon farms in Canada and the US are stocked with Atlantic salmon, an invasive species that has escaped torn net-pens by the hundreds of thousands over the years. It’s important to note that all Atlantic salmon is farmed. There is no “wild Atlantic salmon” for sale anywhere in North America.

Salmon farming sounds innocuous, but unfortunately it has had devastating effects on wild salmonids by spreading sea-lice and disease. See the page titled “A Global Problem” for more details. As the BC-based Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR) notes on their site, these net-pen farms can hold 500,000 to 750,000 farmed salmon in an area the size of four football fields: a biomass equivalent to 480 Indian bull elephants, or “2400 tons of eating, excreting livestock.” Needless to say, the impacts of accumulated feed and excrement on the seafloor are considerable, adding to the alarming problems of parasite and disease transfer. There are also human health concerns with eating net-pen farmed salmon associated with the presence of antibiotics, PCBs, dioxins and chlorinated pesticides (see “A Global Problem”).