Professor Pete Knutson Speaks On Issues With Farm Salmon

By Wayne Rocque

Though the state wide vote on Initiative 522 (I-522) is right around the corner, genetically-modified (GM) farm salmon have been in production and on the market for some time now alongside wild fish. However, many of these farmed salmon have been found to contain significant levels of pollutants and viruses which are destructive to fragile natural ecosystems, causing transfers of disease to naturally spawning salmon. A local fisherman and Seattle Central Community College anthropology professor Pete Knutson gives New City Collegian his take on the issue.

603348_10200253697242496_1372281082_nSalmon at Pike Place Market (Photo by Wayne Rocque)

Knutson has been a commercial fisherman in the Northwest for some time, and is part of the Puget Sound Salmon Commission. He has also been active in numerous local marine conservation issues regarding the protection of salmon habitat and sustainable fisheries. He highlights the dangers of farm-raised salmon that share habitats alongside wild salmon and smaller fish.

This toxicity has been found in to be in 94% of salmon tested in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, in addition to parasites and dyes that are added to the salmon and labeled in a misleading fashion.

He explains that smaller fish have lower levels of persistent pollutants like PCB’s (Polychlorinated biphenyls), thus accumulating in larger fish like salmon that feed on them which adversely affects our own health.

Fishing operations in the Northwest U.S., Norway, and Chile, have all been raising farmed salmon for some time. However instances of consequently disease outbreaks have routinely arisen. A peer reviewed study published over the summer of 2013 by Dr. Fred Kibenge, one of the world’s leading authorities on infectious salmon anemia (ISA) showed that ISA has been identified in healthy salmon and trout in the wild, with the first detection reported in 2001 in Scotland in a survey that was initiated after the first occurrence of ISA in Scotland in 1998.

These outbreaks spread from Europe have spread to British Columbia and Chile, and resulting in huge losses for the farms. To combat this, farms feed fish with antibiotics similar those used on humans.

We’re finding bacteria on fish that are now antibiotic resistant and this creates a health hazard for humans, if ingested,” says Knutson.

Tests for pollutants in salmon carried out by researchers have shown that wild fall seasonal salmon that feed primarily in the Pacific are much cleaner than their farmed equivalents because they do not feed in Puget Sound.

It is also a cause for concern that for marketing purposes these farm raised salmon have their flesh dyed with a pink color to appear more similar to wild caught salmon and to mask the grey color in their flesh. Companies claim that the additives in these dyes are natural but reports refute this claim, stating that these additives, in larger quantities affects the eyesight of humans that consume them.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) isn’t involving the genetically modified salmon in a rigorous testing process because they deem the ‘modifications’ not as new organism but as ‘animal drugs’.

This toxicity has been found in to be in 94% of salmon tested in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, in addition to parasites and dyes that are added to the salmon and labeled in a misleading fashion.

Local fisherman puts his wild salmon catch on display (photo by Wayne Rocque)

“The FDA is on the verge of approving GM salmon,” says Knutson.

Institutes for health and environment caution consumers from consuming farm and GM salmon yet this salmon is still readily sold all over.

Knutson claims that the reason for this is because many salmon farms in the Puget Sound are owned by a hedge fund in Los Angeles, and that the reason they are still on the shelves in our stores is because major investors have contributed significant amounts of corporate money into keeping them on these shelves.

Such out of state corporate influence can be seen in the fight to oppose I-522, a piece of legislation which would include the labeling of farmed salmon. Companies such as Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences, Pepsi and Nestle have all donated huge sums of money to prevent the initiative from passing.

The farms and corporations that are involved in raising these farm salmon emphasize the importance of farm salmons’ role in helping alleviating world hunger, as they do not see catching wild salmon as equivalent for demand. “It’s propaganda that they’re concerned with world hunger… that’s absurd,” says Knutson.

“These hedge funds are not interested in actually feeding people that make a dollar a day, which is half the worlds population because you end up with less protein than you started with,” he adds. “And this drives up cost of protein for poor people.”

Knutson noted that these practices are maintained at the destructive expense of wild ecosystems. Farmed salmon are allowed into the wild to interact with natural salmon, risking the spread of ISA and other pollutants. Knutson attributes companies’ lack of effort to isolate their farm salmon to their abrasiveness to paying extra costs.

“If you’re going to raise a farm animal, then raise it like a farm animal. Don’t put it out in the marine ecosystem where these viruses can easily get to the wild fish,” he says.

There is a common misconception that wild salmon is more expensive and that farm salmon is a cheaper alternative with almost the same caloric value. Generally wild salmon goes for $15 per pound in comparison to $5 per pound for farmed salmon. However, some local Seattle farmers markets offer more reasonable prices for high quality wild fish, being around $3 for a pound of pink salmon or $11 for a whole fish.

Upon being asked whether he sees any advantages to farm raised salmon Knutson stated that as long as protein reduction is commonplace among farm salmon, he does not see it as sustainable. He added that farm salmon is raised for white table consumers and there are healthy and sustainable ways of farm raising salmon, citing Chinese aquaculture as an example where fish are raised in conjunction with wild plants, called hydroponics.

Fishing vessels at Fisherman’s Terminal (photo by Wayne Rocque)

Other sustainable practices would involve raising herbivores fish and not feeding corn to carnivorous fish such as salmon, as with most corporations.

Knutson hopes that these fish don’t impact the wild because the wild fish are a keystone Northwest species. If we undermine their importance, we are putting the whole ecosystem at risk.

One Comment

  1. We adamantly oppose all farmed salmon. By investing in wild-caught salmon, consumers are investing in the ecosystems that wild salmon need in order to thrive. It puts a real dollar value on salmon forests, clean rivers, and clean oceans. This benefits everything from orcas to bears to eagles and everything else that is part of the environment shared with salmon. Farmed salmon benefit… Whom? Monsanto and a few other multinationals and their swinish CEOs. And Professor Knutson is correct: the notion that farmed salmon are even remotely part of the solution to world hunger is b.s. Unsustainable practices like this are a contributor to world problems, not a “solution.”

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