Some interesting information has come my way the past couple
of weeks. I want to share it with you. A little background music, please - I spent the
early part of my working life as a medical researcher. I am skeptical. We had a
sign in one of the research labs which read, "White Rats Cause Cancer." Some of you
may recall the 'cranberry' scare of many years ago. A Canadian research group claimed
eating cranberries caused cancer. It nearly killed the cranberry industry. When pushed,
the group fessed up. A person would have to eat more than twenty pounds of
cranberries a day, every day for twenty years, to get the same results the lab obtained. Of course they used
lab rats for their experiments.
Thus the "White Rats Cause Cancer" sign in our lab.
The State of Washington just released a huge study which concluded Salmon are a Prime
specie here in the Northwest. They showed the various ways salmon influence the whole
environmental spectrum, and concluded the Salmon are really important. Duh. I wonder
how much that study cost. It would seem anyone with a brain had figured that out. Well
except maybe some of the folks who have been 'managing' our salmon. And Senator
But it's not just here! The Atlantic Salmon have been in trouble for years. There have
been special international commissions, special regulations, treaties - the whole gamut of
things tried to improve the situation. In some European countries the numbers are at least
stabilized. In Canada and the U.S. the numbers continue to decline.
Orvis sent out a Press Release recently, announcing they are no longer selling
"farm raised smoked salmon in the pages of its widely distributed catalogs. The
move was in response to the mounting tide of evidence of the threats farmed salmon pose
to wild Atlantic salmon, a species in danger of extinction in the United States. Given the
current stalemate between industry, environmental and governmental groups, Orvis believes
that this decisive action will not only bring some small measure of protection to the endanger
fish, but more importantly will serve to create public awareness and motivate action on this
urgent, complex issue."
This is not about declining numbers of wild Atlantic Salmon. Orvis wasn't buying wild Atlantic
Salmon. They were buying farmed fish! But, there is 'some' evidence that the conditions
under which fish are farmed 'may' cause a deadly infectious disease in salmon populations,
particularly infectious salmon anemia (ISA). Note the word 'may' - no one really knows.
The ISA may also be spread by some carrier fish which isn't affected by the disease. The
disease has been found in farmed fish, and recently in a river two miles north of the Canadian
border in wild salmon. That isn't really a smoking gun since those returning fish have traveled
thousands of miles over their migration.
The ISA disease has also been found in farmed Atlantic Salmon in Chile. I wonder
where those eggs came from.
The farmed salmon here in Washington state are mostly Atlantic Salmon. There have been
several instances of those fish escaping. However, no ISA has been found here.
Orvis also mentions the problems of escaped Salmon possibly interbreeding with the wild salmon
and thereby weakening the local gene pool. The farmed salmon supposedly are from European
strains, and are genetically different that the resident, wild Atlantic salmon. Here in the west the
states have been raising hatchery fish for commercial and sport fishing for years. I can't help but
wonder how 'pure' that strain is. And has it interbreed with the wild Pacific Salmon?
While I do applaud Orvis for trying to get more public attention for the plight of the
Atlantic Salmon, I wish they had thought through their strategy. They suggest, " When
purchasing smoked salmon, look for sources that guarantee that the salmon they carry
meet the following qualifications:
* The salmon are wild or, if farmed, they came from a company using local strains of
Other than the tribal and State Hatcheries here in Washington state, I believe all the farmed fish here are
Atlantics. All must meet federal standards. And the less threatened Pacific salmon? Opps.
All of the Pacific Salmon here in Washington state are in major trouble. That includes the lowly
summer-run Chum Salmon.
*The salmon used are of a Pacific strain that is less threatened - King (also known
as Chinook). Sockeye (also known as Red), and Silver (also know as Coho).
* The aqua-culture methods employed have been approved by the federal government."
British Columbia has severely restricted the taking of Salmon. Some commercial seasons for
2000 have already been severely restricted or closed. The once fabulous Thompson River
Coho fishery has been restricted for a few years, and has not seem any substantial
improvement of stocks.
That pretty much leaves Alaska.
If as Orvis suggests, "consumers, chefs, restauranteurs and fish mongers . . . voice their
concerns and become critical in their salmon buying" where does that leave us? With more and
more pressure on the remaining wild Pacific Salmon?
I don't have the answers; I'm hoping you will take an interest in this. I don't think the
commercial farming of Atlantic Salmon is the culprit - but I don't have all the facts. Nor
does anyone yet. At this point no one knows what causes ISA. Studies are underway.
I do know that farmed salmon now supplies about half of the world market. For that
I am grateful. If the market was not being met with farmed fish, how much more
demand on the ever shrinking wild salmon population would there be?
Before we point fingers at the farmed salmon community for causing anything, I think
we have to have a lot more facts than are currently available.
White rats cause cancer. ~ LadyFisher
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