Have you ever stopped to think about where your seafood comes from? For many years I believed it was sourced naturally from the ocean, rivers & lakes. When I went to my local supermarket or seafood store to buy my favourite fish, Tasmanian salmon (also known as Atlantic salmon) be it fresh or smoked I never gave a second thought to where it was caught, since it said Tasmania on the label naturally I thought it must have been caught off the cold pristine waters of Tasmania or caught in the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean. I would typically eat salmon 2 nights a week as the health benefits of Omega 3 are an essential part of a healthy diet for many reasons.
As part of my current studies to become a Nutritional Food Coach the word “wild caught” fish came up a lot in my units of study, I was confused thinking all fish was “wild caught”? Call me naïve but I had no idea fish farming or aquaculture even existed in Australia, I knew of Basa fish farming in certain Asian countries but I was unaware of fish farms in Australia or NZ. Being curious as I am I decided to do some research into this farming and was a little shocked by what I discovered. On the surface Aquaculture seems like an ideal way for fish to be bred and brought to your kitchen table. It is helping to sustain wild fish (is it really?) the fish are farmed in a clean environment, the fish are happy, healthy and well-nourished (questionable?) but dig a little deeper and all is not necessarily as it seems. Most of what I am going to cover is talking about the farming of salmon in Australia.
What is fish farming or Aquaculture?
Fish farming started in Australia in the 1970’s becoming very popular in the 80’ and is one of the fastest growing primary industries with rapid growth occurring in the last 7 years. In Tasmania alone the Atlantic salmon farming industry is worth A$250 million.
There are basically two main methods of fish farming: mariculture, or farming in the open sea, in which the produce (usually salmon, kingfish, prawns and oysters) is held in cages; and closed tank, or land-based farming, where the fish (usually silver perch, Murray cod, trout and barramundi) are raised in tanks using recirculated water.
The environmental effects of fish farming are often quite severe. Criticisms of the industry are for pollution from fish waste and uneaten food, escapees into waterways and oceans, and the ecological and environmental impacts of sourcing raw materials from the sea to produce fish. Source Australian Organic Food Directory
Farmed fish threaten wild stocks with disease and ratios of wild caught feed needed to grow Atlantic salmon put additional pressure on wild fish stocks. Source Good Fish Bad Fish
Farmed fish are kept in unnaturally high densities they are ‘grown’ in round netted sea cages with about 40,000 salmon crammed into each pen having a space about the size of a bath tub to swim in. Being packed in so tightly they rub against each other and the sides of the cage. This can cause fin and tail damage and lead to disease and infection. Because caged salmon are kept in close confinement, farmers use drugs and other chemicals to combat disease and sea lice. All of these pose known and potential risks to human health. These substances include oxytetracycline, an antibiotic that may lead to antibiotic resistance.
Some of those drugs enter the environment, creating the potential for both antibiotic resistance and direct harm to other sea life. However antibiotic usage is being reduced as there are now vaccines to protect farmed salmon from diseases……nice to know I can eat salmon that has been vaccinated, how lovely (sarcasm oozing).
With their high levels of intelligence, fish are just as susceptible to the stresses and traumas of factory farming as land based species. In an attempt to combat amoebic gill disease, Atlantic Salmon are periodically bathed in fresh water. This involves moving the fish out of the cages and into a lined cage of fresh water where they are held for about four hours before being released back into the sea water. In summer this can occur once a month and imposes serious stress in the process of being mechanically moved from saltwater to freshwater and back.
The fish are kept in pens that are painted with anti-fouling paint to prevent algae, microorganism, barnacle & other organisms attaching and building up on the pens. What is anti-fouling paint? “In modern times, anti-fouling paints are formulated with toxic copper, organotin compounds, or other biocides—special chemicals which impede growth of barnacles, algae, and marine organisms.” I don’t fancy eating fish that has been swimming around in these chemically laden pens all their lives. In a nutshell antifouling paint is not good – (I could write an entire post on this alone).
Salmon are a carnivorous fish; in the wild they eat other smaller fish, crustaceans, zooplankton & adult invertebrates. Farmed fish are fed on fish meal which is made up of wild caught bony fish. It takes 3-5 kilograms of wild fish to yield 1 kilogram of fishmeal, that’s a lot of fish to take from the ocean to feed farmed salmon. But not only are they fed fishmeal the diets also include other foods. In words from Dr Brett Glencross of the CSIRO – “Fishmeal is expensive. Blending it with poultry, lupin and canola meals makes financial sense as well as environmental sense.” And, according to Glencross, “we can raise them on high levels of grain and they do just as well as on high levels of fish oil”.
Direct from a the website of a well-known Tasmanian Aquaculture salmon farm Houn Aquaculture is this quote “our diets may contain wheat, soya derivatives, corn gluten, meat by-product meal, blood meal and vitamin and mineral supplements”
I personally emailed Huon Aqua to ask for a more accurate outline of what is in their fish meal and I have had no response.
Hmmmm that is not terribly reassuring to know that farmed salmon are fed high levels of grain, wheat, corn gluten, canola and poultry which I highly doubt is organic (no Aquaculture company in Australia makes any mention of feeding their stock organic feed) and would most likely be GMO grown grains and don’t even get me started on canola! In Australia corn, canola, soybean and more are already being genetically modified and approved for sale in Australia – for a full list of what foods are genetically modified & approved for sale in Australia follow this link to The Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing
The simple solution is to avoid eating farmed fish, much easier said than done especially regarding salmon. If you are fortunate to live in a coastal area you can buy your fish fresh from the trawlers or at local seafood shops who buy from direct from the trawlers. There are some amazing fresh fish markets around Australia but be aware that they still do sell farmed fish especially salmon, if it is marked Tasmanian or Atlantic salmon it will be farmed including packaged smoked salmon. Be sure to ask where your fish is from and make sure you trust the seller. In the seafood section of major supermarkets they have to label exactly where the fish is from, fresh or frozen, farmed or wild caught. Please choose wild caught from Australia or NZ, I prefer fresh but I will buy frozen. Look for sustainable fish meaning fish that is not being over-fished and the fishing practices are not affecting the marine wildlife and habitats. Go to Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide for more information, there is also handy app available to help you choose the best seafood including canned salmon and tuna at the app store on iTunes
To avoid farmed salmon is quite challenging and expensive. The only truly wild caught salmon fillets or smoked salmon I have been able to find in Australia is sockeye salmon from The Canadian Way which is stocked at a number of health food stores around Australia BUT……I have made a personal choice to not buy salmon from Canada or Alaska due to the risk of radiation from Fukushima. This may seem a little extreme to some but many reports on this topic are very alarming and I believe we should be concerned. I intend to write another blog post about this but for now go to Natural News for numerous articles written about this very serious issue and yes it has been reported that radiation in the Pacific Ocean is heading to Australia. Now I am not one for scare-mongering but I have been reading a lot of evidence and talking to others who are also concerned about this. I am watching closely and keeping informed about the possible radiation in Australian waters but for me Fukushima is a little too close to Canada, Alaska & USA for my liking and I am not eating any salmon at all at the moment. I am having omega 3 and essential fatty acids in my diet from plant sources such as olive & flaxseed oil, avocados and chia seeds.
But it is not all doom and gloom, organic sustainable fish farming does exist in the world and is in it’s very early stages in Australia. However I am so excited I have recently found this certified organic sustainable farmed salmon available in Australia from the Shetland Islands north of the UK in the North Sea near Norway surround by the Atlantic Ocean and Norwegian Sea. Antibiotic, hormone and chemical free, no anti-fouling paints are used on the pens and is certified with many organic & cruelty free accreditations, check out the website This Fish I am very impressed. I am still learning more about the company and have made contact with them to find a supplier in my local area. I will post back here soon hopefully with great news about this organic salmon.
Yours in foodness