What Salmon Anemia Reminds Us About Fish Farms
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.
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