Stop eating salmon!

Remotely-located in the Scottish highlands, Scottish fish farms are seen as integral to isolated rural communities yet are the subject of ever-increasing controversy. Though the potential health benefits of the high Omega 3 content of oily fish such as salmon are well-publicised, the darker side of the trade is being increasingly exposed. Socially, economically and environmentally destructive, it is time for us all to stop eating salmon.

First of all, it is important to address the impacts of salmon on our health, central to the argument over its consumption. Omega 3 is almost universally accepted to be beneficial for our health, and is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and possibly stroke. However, recent research has highlighted another component of farmed salmon which can be dangerous for our health: PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls). In Richard Girling’s book, Sea Change, he states that ‘The levels of PCB’s in the salmon were so high that, according to some analysts, two portions a month was all it would take for a child or pregnant woman to exceed the World Health Organisation’s recommended safety limits for dioxins and dioxin-like PCB’s.’ Although, results are not conclusive PCB’s have been linked to both severe liver damage and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Disease, making eating the two portions of fatty fish a week, including farmed salmon, recommended by the Food Standards Agency a serious health risk.

Economically, the farmed fish industry has done as much harm as good. Though the farms are often located in very inaccessible areas of Northern and Western Scotland and hence provide crucial jobs to isolated communities, these benefits are becoming increasingly undermined by damage in other ways. Aside from the wages from these jobs, very little of the money generated from the industry is retained within the local economy. The vast majority of farms are now owned by the Norwegian mega-company Pan Fish who rake off any profits and all feed is sourced from abroad. Moreover, Ian MacKinnon, a Scottish journalist specialising in the subject, has highlighted that ‘The low cost high-volume approach [to salmon farming in Scotland] is socially unsustainable as it has already cost hundreds of jobs in remote rural communities in the last five years’ and that the takeover of Pan Fish has worsened this situation. The farmed salmon industry is also directly hurting other key industries of these remote areas. Interbreeding between escaped farmed salmon and wild salmon in Scotland’s rivers is severely hurting the freshwater angling industry in Scotland, which could be worth as much as £150m annually. And, the large-scale pollution from salmon farms into the pristine environment of the Highlands and Outer Hebrides – the amount of effluent from salmon farms is now equivalent to double the sewage output of the entire 5.1m human population of Scotland – is of great cost to tourism revenue in the area, another major part of the local economy.

Environmentally, salmon farming has been a catastrophe. The huge levels of pollution outlined above are tarnishing the pristine landscape and the numbers of escaped salmon from farms now means that farmed salmon outnumber wild salmon ten to one in Highland rivers. Additionally, the farmed salmon are fed fish meal – made of grounded down fish from less sought-after species – and Girling points out in Sea Change that ‘to grow one kilo of farmed salmon, you need to catch four kilos of wild fish’. This is not only a severe waste of resources, many of the fish species used in fish meal are severely endangered. For instance, WWF-Norway issued a report stating that ‘In Europe, the situation for the blue whiting, a species primarily used as ‘industry’ fish, is depressing. A total collapse is expected if the current fishing practice continues’.

The overwhelming weight of evidence now shows that farmed salmon is socially, economically and environmentally unsustainable. Therefore, given it is illegal to catch wild salmon for commercial purposes, isn’t it time that we all stopped eating salmon?

Contributed by Ben Williamsonsalmon