Farmed Salmon Are Really Bad News – For Us, for Wild or Captive Orcas, and for the Environment

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According to an Indiana University study, “PCBs and other environmental toxins are present at higher levels in farm-raised salmon than in their wild counterparts”, and they recommend that we eat a maximum of two meals per month of farmed salmon. This is significantly less than the two meals per week of most species of wild caught salmon that is recommended that we limit ourselves to consuming. Chinook salmon falls in between, and it is suggested that we eat just one meal a week of Chinook. (Please see the chart here for more information).

Ironically, the farmed salmon get the toxins from the pelleted food they are given – at least 14 different toxic substances, including PCBs, that correlate with those found in the fish.

And because the salmon are crammed together in artificial net pens, the fish farmers give them antibiotics and medications to control disease and parasites. Unfortunately, both the infected salmon and the parasites escape the pens and infect wild salmon…but not before the drugs are allowed to permeate the environment. According to Ford and Meyers, “wild populations suffer a reduction in survival or abundance of more than 50% when associated with farmed salmon”.

One of the drugs given to control the lice that kill and cripple young salmon is Ivermectin, commonly present in the paste de-wormers that most horse owners give to their horses. The David Suzuki Organization reports that this chemical is present in the sediment under the sea pens in a concentration that is more than 30 times the amount given to a horse. It is enough to cause a toxic reaction and possibly death in horses, cattle, and some breeds of dogs. It takes 90 to 240 days for half of it to decompose in the sediment.

And it is deadly to the animals that live on the seabed. Everything from small crustaceans (including young lobsters) to large polychete worms are affected.

As cetacean biologists we face many problems associated with restoring the orca population to health that are complicated and long range – but this is not one of them. Cleaning up and dismantling the fish farms is a relatively easy fix.

Lice on salmon fry (Creative Commons Photo)

In the meantime, to protect your own health, be sure to ask at the market and restaurants where the salmon you purchase originates, and if it is not wild-caught, send it back.

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