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October 25th, 2011

What Salmon Anemia Reminds Us About Fish Farms

Salmon Anemia and Fish FarmsBy Zach Corrigan

[Originally posted on The Stranger’s SLOG blog.)

In case you haven’t heard, the extremely fast-spreading disease that decimated salmon populations in Chile and Scotland has now hit the West Coast. As Eli Sanders pointed out last week on Slog, the virus, known as infectious salmon anemia, has been described as one that “no country has ever gotten rid of it once it arrives.”

Thankfully, it doesn’t affect humans—at least, not in the traditional sense. But if it wipes out West Coast salmon populations, it could take a large number of fishing jobs with it. And that would affect us deeply.

So how did we get to this point? And who, or what, is to blame?

While we can’t say for certain what caused this particular outbreak of infectious salmon anemia, salmon fish farms present the perfect conditions for the disease to spread like wildfire. The devastation of the salmon industry in Chile, for instance, can be directly linked to the filthy conditions inherent in these factory fish farms.

So what exactly are factory fish farms? They’re literally factory farms of the ocean—thousands of fish are kept in close quarters in open net pens or cages. Fish farms often necessitate the use of chemicals, pesticides and antibiotics to curb the filth and disease that arises in these conditions. This is not only bad for the environment and the fish; it’s bad for the consumer as well, as the toxins and waste can flow freely into the ocean and, ultimately, on to our plates.

Washington State has a number of large salmon farms growing millions of salmon in state waters – some of which have been the subject of a contentious lawsuit to determine how large of a threat they pose to wild salmon. And now there’s news that an Oregon company is looking to build a salmon fish farm so large it would nearly double the amount of farmed fish grown offshore.

Further out in U.S. federal waters, there exists only one factory fish farm and the legality of its permit is being challenged. Unfortunately, however, the federal government announced this summer that it is moving to open up large swaths of waters to fish farming for the first time.

Fortunately, Washington Senator Maria Cantwell has caught wind of the infectious salmon anemia outbreak, and along with lawmakers from Alaska she’s calling for a congressional inquiry. Hopefully we’ve learned something—from both factory farming on land and from the fish farming that has decimated wild fish populations internationally—and the inquiry will result in Congress supporting legislation to prevent the reckless expansion of the destructive practice. And hopefully, rather than backing factory fish farming, our government will start promoting the advancement of closed-system, land-based fish farming methods that won’t result in diseases like infectious salmon anemia decimating our wild fish populations.

Click here for more information on fish farms.

One Comment on What Salmon Anemia Reminds Us About Fish Farms

  1. Gabrielle says:

    Your claim feels like a reach and I think you are aware of it. I honestly think the only legitimate claim you can make is that the presence of fish farms makes the situation of salmon anemia all the more frightening because of its potential to rapidly spread to a large population. Unless you can offer some proof that connects fish farms to wild fish populations directly, I don’t think you have an argument. Some questions one might want to ask include: (1) How do wild fish populations interact with farmed fish populations and does the interaction facilitate the distribution of diseases? (2) How do the filthy conditions present in Chile compare with that of those in the U.S.? (3)Why are you defining factory fish farms? It just seems like you are making a potentially bogus claim to use as a vehicle to appropriately educate others on factory fish farms. I think this is really poorly written and promises more than it proves or educates.

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