The world’s fisheries are in a global decline. Fish populations are rapidly collapsing due to over-harvesting caused in part by advanced fishing technologies. This is being driven by a dramatic increase in the consumption of fish protein.
The world’s capture fisheries peaked in the late 1980s and, despite increased fishing efforts, catch rates have dropped. To meet the demand for seafood, aquaculture has expanded greatly, increasing 86 percent in the last decade.
While some forms of aquaculture hold promise as sustainable options to meet seafood demand, the practices used to farm salmon, which consumes more fish protein than can be produced and causes harm to local ecosystems, puts undue strain on our oceans.
High trophic fish, or fish high on the natural food chain, fetch the highest prices in the marketplace. As a result, growth in the aquaculture sector has been dominated by unsustainable production of salmon. Farming salmon on an industrial scale degrades marine food webs over the long term, but expansion continues because production is profitable for companies in the short term.
Globally, a few Norwegian multinational corporations with operations primarily in Norway, Chile, Canada and the United Kingdom dominate industrial salmon farming.
In Canada, the majority of salmon farms are found in British Columbia and New Brunswick with recent expansion in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
In British Columbia, three Norwegian-owned companies control 90% of the province’s salmon farms.
Farmed salmon represents a net loss of fish protein. It takes an average of 1.5 – 8 kilograms of wild fish to produce 1 kg of farmed salmon. In Chile, up to 8 kg of wild fish can be used and the phenomenal expansion of salmon farming, much of it spurred by Norwegian-based corporations, has brought staggering environmental and socio-economic impacts to the region.
- Chile is the world’s second largest producer of salmon after Norway, with well over $1 billion US in production annually.
- The majority of Chile’s vast production is sold to the US and Japan.
- Chilean salmon farms are known for their heavy, indiscriminate use of antibiotics and unreliable reporting of drug use or disease incidents.
- Last year, out of control disease and parasite outbreaks wiped out millions of fish in the densely packed farms.
- Many Chilean salmon farm workers receive average monthly wages of US $200, while their Norwegian counterparts earn 378% more.
What You Can Do
Increasingly North Americans are becoming a conscientious group of consumers willing to vote with their purchasing power. Farmed salmon will continue to be an unsustainable product until the industry makes the shift to closed containment systems and addresses the source and composition of feed. Until then, don’t buy farmed salmon and ask your favorite food markets and restaurants not to sell it.