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Air Date: November 14, 2001
Reporter: Erica Johnson
George Prodanou

The Heart and Stroke Foundation tells us that salmon is one of the healthiest foods we can eat. There's no shortage of it. We're eating three times as much of it as we did just a few years ago.
Fresh salmon is no longer seasonal — it's available 52 weeks a year at about half the price it was a decade ago.
That's because the majority of the salmon we consume isn't wild, it's raised in ocean net pens. So are there differences between the two products? And are there hidden costs associated with salmon farming?
If you think "fresh" salmon means it has been caught by fishermen, think again. These days "fresh" salmon often means the fish was raised in giant pens on a farm; essentially a saltwater feedlot.
Salmon are fed pellets of ground up fish meal and oils to make them grow quickly. They're given antibiotics to fight disease.
In British Columbia, salmon farming is big business. But it's not pacific salmon like sockeye and coho that is making it to market from the west coast. The vast majority of fish raised in Pacific net pens is actually Atlantic salmon, which grow faster and survive crowded net pens better.

Chef Karen Barnaby says to the trained eye and the discerning palate,
there is a difference between wild and farmed salmon.
"(Farmed salmon) is a little different in colour and texture
and more fat. The wild… feels more muscular and there's
more snap to it. Why more fat on a farmed salmon?
Less exercise - like humans."

Salmon farms like these dot BC's coast.

Another difference in farmed salmon: their flesh would be light
grey if they weren't fed ad additive to give them their salmon


Farmers can pick the colour they want their fish to be from
a Salmo Fan, something that resemble a collection of paint chips.

There's no evidence the additives that turn farmed salmon pink
Are harmful. Still, the popularity growth of cheaper farmed
Salmon has some people worried about how the industry
affects wild salmon.

Farmers can pick the colour they want
their fish to be from a Salmo Fan

Writer Alexandra Morton has lived in Echo Bay for the
past 17 years. It's 500 kilometres north of Victoria
and a good base for her study of Orca whales.
It's also where BC's highest concentration of fish
farms now exists — 25 of the province's 100 salmon
farms dot the coast.
The business is worth about $700-million a year.
Most of it is owned by Norwegian and Dutch companies.
"Truth is, I'd never come here now to study whales,
never. It's an industrial zone, although it looks beautiful,"
Morton said.
Morton says the farms are trouble for the area's wild
salmon, which become covered in deadly sea lice
when they swim under the giant pens.
"You could have five fish farms in this area off the
migration routes and they would not be a problem.
But the corporations tell us they can't farm economically
in that manner. They must have ten, fifteen, twenty farms
in one area to make it feasible for them."
Another potential problem is torn net pens, which can
allow hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon to escape.

If the Atlantic salmon push the local wild salmon out of
their habitat, it will mean even fewer pinks,
coho and sockeye at your local fish counter.
John Volpe is a fisheries researcher at the
University of Victoria and the first person to discover farmed
Atlantic salmon were thriving in BC rivers. He also worries
about what's going on below the surface of fish farms.
"Any business where you can come in, establish an operation
and export all your industrial wastes into the common
environment…that's a great business plan."
The industry admits it's a delicate balancing act, but
says some debris can actually help the environment.

"It's an industrial zone." BC writer Alexandra Morton on
Echo Bay, where she moved to 17 years ago to study whales

Industry spokesman Ann McMullin says the debris can act like a fertilizer.
"It's like your lawn. You can put a certain amount of fertilizer and it will help your lawn, or you can put too much then it will damage it. We monitor it very carefully so it isn't a problem to wild stocks."
Recently, the BC government issued a report measuring the impact of fish farms on the sea bed below. Almost half were found to be dumping unacceptable levels of pollutants into the ocean. That could affect not just wild salmon, but prawns and shellfish as well.
The BC Salmon Farmers' Association regards the guidelines it's working to as adequate.
"There should be an industry code of practice and waste management standards and there should be new escape regulations. All those are being implemented," McMullin said.
Some companies are trying other methods to try to protect wild salmon.
Near Nanaimo, Agrimarine Industries is building salmon pens on dry land, with sea water constantly pumped into them.
Farmers are concerned that new technologies may be too expensive and will make their product uncompetitive in the global marketplace.
Fisheries researcher John Volpe worries that over-fishing and continuing the salmon farming industry without improving farming practices could lead to the collapse of the west coast wild salmon stocks.
Alexandra Morton says it's the marketplace that ultimately drives change.
"If people say 'we want wild salmon' then this whole mechanism will simply go away. The consumer just has to say we want you to find another way."