4.04.2008

my wild salmon dilemma

More from Zoe Cormier's "The Green Report".
THE NEWS: The seal hunt on Canada's East Coast begins this week, and on the other side of the continent another hunt of pinnipeds has been approved to stop the animals from eating endangered salmon.

The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service has granted permission - after years of lobbying - to Washington State and Oregon to trap and (if a home in captivity cannot be found for them) kill up to 85 sea lions per year for five years by the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, where some animals go in order to feed on the salmon.

THE BUZZ: Animal-rights advocates have filed a lawsuit to stop the hunt. The Humane Society claims that it is illegal (sea lions are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act) and unfairly scapegoats the animals (which probably eat less than 5 per cent of the river's fish). But officials counter that booming sea lion populations - more than 200,000 animals on the West Coast, up from 1,000 in the 1930s - can afford to lose less than 100 of their number.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Whether eliminating the sea lions will boost salmon numbers or not, one thing is certain: Overfishing and hydroelectric dams are primarily responsible for the decline of Pacific salmon.

Talk about shortsighted! We're going to kill sea lions to save salmon? How convenient for the fishing industry, and for consumers. How inconvenient for sea lions. And for whatever else their deaths will contribute to.

And this brings me to something I've been meaning to blog about for a while. These wild salmon.

We eat a lot of salmon, because it's very nutritious, and because we think it's delicious. Ever since reading about the environmental damage caused by aquaculture, and knowing how unhealthy farmed fish can be, we've chosen wild salmon whenever possible.

The comparative health risks and benefits are off the charts. Atlantic salmon, like all farmed fish, is laden with toxins, dyes and antibiotics; it contains only a fraction of the healthy fatty acids and other benefits found in Pacific salmon. In taste and texture, Atlantic salmon can't compete with its rich, dark, beautiful Pacific cousin. Once you start eating wild Pacific salmon, you can't imagine how you ever thought that other stuff was tasty. Even frozen Pacific salmon tastes better than fresh farmed salmon.

So there we are, happily buying, grilling and consuming lots of wild Pacific salmon. And I'm wondering, where does all this wild salmon come from? How could there be so much of it? My local Loblaws stocks mountains of this fish. How could any wild-caught fish satisfy such an enormous demand? But I'm buying and eating it, and trying to block out those nagging thoughts.

Of course that only works for so long. Even without trying, I continue to see news about depleted salmon stocks. So now we still buy it and eat it, only I feel guilty.

I don't know what to do. Giving up wild salmon would be an act of Herculean will for me. Especially with grilling season around the calendar corner, I really don't think I could do it. I swear, I wish they'd just ban the damn fish. Our supermarkets couldn't stock it, and I'd be forced to stop eating it.

The wild salmon fishers says that their fish is not endangered. But how can I trust the judgment of people whose livelihood depends on my eating their product? We can't ask loggers if it's all right to cut down old-growth forests.

This is a real tough one. What should I do? If you eat fish, what are you doing?

If you take a stab at my question, please do keep the following in mind. I will not be going vegetarian. I have tried that, including for an extended period of time (more than two years). It was not for me, and I'll never do it again.

Also, I'm trying. I'm thinking about this. And for that reason alone, you should not attack me.

23 comments:

Ferdzy said...

I'm not eating a lot of fish. I wish I was eating more; I miss it.

I still have a lot of beef and lamb in the freezer so that's part of the reason. The other part is that salmon, even farmed, isn't all that local. I've been very discouraged about how little local fish I can find. You can get some from Georgian Bay, but you have to hunt. There is some locally farmed fish available not far out of town, but for some reason we haven't bought any yet. Farmed fish has it's own issues, but I suspect in the long run it's what we will have to eat. I suspect if it is done right, it's not too bad; the trick is a) figuring out what done right means, and b) figuring out if that's how it's being farmed.

I hear you on the vegetarian thing. I feel mildly guilty about the amount of meat I eat, but the 10 or so years where I was very poor and ate very little meat, were the same 10 or so years that I struggled constantly with low iron/low blood pressure. Co-incidence? I think not.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Ferdzy. I can't even try to eat local fish. I admire that you're doing so.

Re meat-eating or not, I wrote about my personal position here. I don't feel guilty about meat-eating, but I hate supporting the animal cruelty that comes with factory farms.

One of my projects this spring is to investigate our options for pasture-raised meats. I have the names of several farms and will research them. So we'll try eating pasture-raised beef and lamb this spring and summer and see how it goes. I'm excited about the prospect. I hope we can do it.

James said...

But officials counter that booming sea lion populations - more than 200,000 animals on the West Coast, up from 1,000 in the 1930s - can afford to lose less than 100 of their number.

Then killing 0.05% of them isn't going to make a difference where the salmon are concerned, even if they were the problem!

L-girl said...

Then killing 0.05% of them isn't going to make a difference where the salmon are concerned, even if they were the problem!

Good point!

Amy said...

Oh,no, don't tell me I have to cut salmon out of my diet. As you know, I already don't eat beef or lamb or pork for emotional/ethical reasons and haven't for over 35 years. And I haven't eaten shellfish for religious reasons for about 15 years. With all the news about mercury in tuna, I have already cut back significantly on my tuna intake. Salmon is my mainstay---along with chicken, turkey,eggs,cheese and soy---for protein. I can eat cod, flounder, etc., but I sure don't like it as much as salmon.

I have already become more and more of a vegetarian. It looks like I will be even more of one.

Jim said...

Protein is a major issue for all of us. My immediate reaction to your post is to suggest that gorging on salmon and giving it up altogether are not the only options.

Add to the mix a study that a First Nations friend just called my attention to:

"In this study, we used existing data on salmon populations to compare survival of salmon and trout that swim past salmon farms early in their life cycle with the survival of nearby populations that are not exposed to salmon farms. We have detected a significant decline in survival of populations that are exposed to salmon farms, correlated with the increase in farmed salmon production in five regions. Combining the regional estimates statistically, we find a reduction in survival or abundance of wild populations of more than 50% per generation on average, associated with salmon farming. Many of the salmon populations we investigated are at dramatically reduced abundance, and reducing threats to them is necessary for their survival. Reducing impacts of salmon farming on wild salmon should be a high priority." See http://biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.0060033&ct=1

I am an omnivore so my personal approach is to get a little protein from many different sources--wild Pacific salmon is high on the list; light tuna shows lower levels of mercury than other species. I am not a vegetarian but I have some vegetarian days and one vegan soup I make from time to time. Lentils are a very concentrated source of protein. Chicken, turkey, some eggs, the odd pound of cheese, even a little beef, a ham or two per year and occasionally a mixture of flake yeast, veggie protein supplement (pea, soy and rice) and milk whey; beans with a rice/millet mix (millet is a whole protein).
Greenpeace recommends farmed tilapia which rounds out my current mix.

The Kootenay region in BC is going through an issue right now about having an abattoir for locally grown organic meat.

Fish farmed in landlocked facilities may be best. Under what circumstances would you eat hydropnically grown veggies?

I worry a most when a tsunami of consumers decides that one certain food--maybe buffalo or algae--is for some reason de rigeur. Think of all those tuna sandwiches marching off to school in lunchboxes for how many decades? What good did that do us?

In the end, what you put in your mouth is your own choice. You have your own mix of ethical, religious, scientific, medical and nutritional tastes, preferences, restrictions and imperatives. It makes me nervous just to entertain the idea of describing my current practise on the chance that someone I don't know might extract something useful from it. I do things in my own context I probably wouldn't do in yours.

Still, it is an important subject I re-visit almost every day. Thanks for putting it out there. Cheers.

L-girl said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Jim.

I certainly agree that what we eat is our own choice. Indeed, what we do in most of our lives is our choice, but that hasn't stopped total strangers from attacking my choices.

I didn't mean to suggest that I gorge on wild salmon. It's one of several protein staples in my diet. But it's one I feel particularly good about eating, in terms of health, and until recently, the environment.

Think of all those tuna sandwiches marching off to school in lunchboxes for how many decades? What good did that do us?

Not sure what you mean here?

MSS said...

I am in the same boat (pun very much intended). I love salmon, and would never eat farm-raised for all sorts of reasons of taste, concern over chemicals (which I swear I can actually taste in some farmed salmon), and environmental concerns. It would be 'Herculean' for me, too, to give up the wild stuff.

And salmon is just about the only thing that keeps me from qualifying as a vegetarian (that and fish and chips made from cod--talk about a fish stock that's in trouble!--and some tuna).

I think the key is to realize that you can try to buy from smaller fishing operations. I have not idea if that is possible everywhere in North America. But the smaller operators really are pretty good stewards (from a little inside info I have, take that as credible or not, as you wish). They tend to recognize the importance of sustainability in a way that big operators (who can more easily shift to something else) never would.

Some salmon stocks are under more pressure than others. I'm no expert. Do some research, and keep enjoying that salmon.

L-girl said...

Thanks MSS!

Some salmon stocks are under more pressure than others. I'm no expert. Do some research, and keep enjoying that salmon.

Any ideas on where to start? Is the salmon sold in my local supermarket traceable? Or do I first find some of the smaller producers, then see where their fish is sold?

MSS said...

Well, I know nothing about what is in a market in eastern Canada, pretty far from the source of most of the more sustainable salmon (most of which, I believe, would be from Alaska).

For what it is worth, we buy ours direct from the same small company that runs the boats. They sell at some of our local farmer's markets, and they can always tell us quite specifically where any of their fish is from. (Sort of weird, I suppose, that I buy un-farmed fish from a farmer's market! It might even be called ironic, but I am uncertain about that.)

I know some of our grocery stores around here either label their salmon by its origin, or have people on staff who can answer such questions.

L-girl said...

Thanks again, MSS. Yes, I am far from the source of any salmon! (Although many people would balk at Toronto being called "eastern" Canada - which took me some time to get used to.)

From what little I have seen, I also believe Alaska has the most sustainable salmon stocks. I can't buy fish at a farmer's market, unfortunately. I will have to do some circuitous research, but it will be worth it.

That is, after I finish my pasture-raised beef research. That is priority.

impudent strumpet said...

Crazy idea: try the fake version, just once, just on the random off chance that it satisfies whatever it is you like about salmon.

Crazy idea 2: get another kind of fish and prepare it just like salmon.

L-girl said...

Crazy idea: try the fake version, just once, just on the random off chance that it satisfies whatever it is you like about salmon.

What fake version?

Crazy idea 2: get another kind of fish and prepare it just like salmon.

We do eat lots of different kinds of fish. A few kinds anyway. And, unimaginative and uninspired cooks that we are, we prepare them all pretty much the same way - marinate, then grill.

So we do that. But nothing tastes like salmon. It's unique among fish. Many people who dislike fish still like salmon.

L-girl said...

But thanks for your crazy ideas anyway. :)

Jim said...

I didn't mean to suggest that I gorge on wild salmon. It's one of several protein staples in my diet. But it's one I feel particularly good about eating, in terms of health, and until recently, the environment.


"Gorge" was an exaggeration. But it was an attempt to get at what I think is a problem that I have had in the past and is related as well to your next question. I think the challenge is to achieve a balance among half-a-dozen to a dozen options each of which has a plus and a minus side instead of identifying 1-3 relatively pure sources and using them all the time. Variety is the key.

Think of all those tuna sandwiches marching off to school in lunchboxes for how many decades? What good did that do us?

Not sure what you mean here?


Maybe cod, i.e., fish and chips, would have been a better example. I think of all the times I went to school with a tuna sandwich and how many of my friends had tuna sandwiches--all canned, and today most of them would have been canned by the same company from the same tuna stocks. That's a heavy burden on one source of protein. That is what is unsustainable no matter what the protein source may be. That is what created the demand that could only be met by factory-farmed chickens. Ditto beef, pork, eggs. Processed GMO soy products are less than sublime if we expect to make them our primary source of protein. The challenge is not to find another species to fill the same role in what is essentially a bad eating habit. The challenge is to get some variety and balance that with all those other concerns--religion, nutrition, environment, taste, etc.

I think the "solution" where salmon is concerned is to educate yourself about the different species and runs of salmon. Small operators are sometimes worse than large companies that at least can afford to hire environmental experts. Here is a start. It comes from a Google search of "salmon endangered". Atlantic salmon is in more global trouble than Pacific. Problems vary from place to place and include climate change, sea lice, other diseases of farmed salmon, and pesticides.

FWIW the interior of BC has several fish markets most of which seem to have originated from guys with trucks who would drive fresh iced fish 600km inland and set up shop at a likely intersection of highways where they developed a regular clientele.

Jim

=====

By 2004 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) had designated four Canadian salmon populations as Endangered: (1) Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) from the inner Bay of Fundy; (2) coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) from the interior Fraser River watershed; (3) sockeye salmon (O. nerka) from Sakinaw Lake; and (4) sockeye salmon from Cultus Lake. Each population experienced significant declines after about 1989.

Climate Change, Adaptation, and ‘Endangered’ Salmon in Canada
JAMES R. IRVINE from T.D. Hooper, editor. Proceedings of the Species at Risk 2004 Pathways to Recovery Conference. March 2–6, 2004, Victoria, B.C. Species at Risk 2004 Pathways to Recovery Conference Organizing Committee, Victoria, B.C. http://www.fishclimate.ca/pdf/sar2004/13irvine.pdf 8pp.

Conservation Biology Section, Stock Assessment Division, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Biological Station, 3190 Hammond Bay Road, Nanaimo, BC, V9T 6N7, Canada, email irvinej@pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Pacific Salmon (Endangered Species), Wildlife Species Information: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

http://www.fws.gov/species/species_accounts/bio_salm.html

The largest of the Pacific salmon, chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) average about 24 pounds when they return to their natal river to spawn, most after 2 or 3 years at sea. The chinook is the least abundant of the Pacific salmon.

Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), fourth in Pacific fishery abundance, is the number one sport fish. It spends only one winter at sea, returning the next fall to spawn. It averages about 10 pounds when full grown.

Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) make up about 25 percent of the West Coast catch, and chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) make up about 13 percent. Both follow similar migration paths in the Pacific and reach a common weight of about 12 pounds before returning to their natal river to spawn.

Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha), the smallest of the Pacific salmon, average only about 3 to 5 pounds. However, they make up more than half the total West Coast commercial catch. Pink salmon seldom travel more than 150 miles from the mouth of their natal river.


A 1991 report by the American Fisheries Society indicated that 214 of about 400 stocks of salmon, steelhead, and sea-run cutthroat trout in the Northwest and California are at risk of extinction. The report also indicated that 106 are already extinct.

Most adult Pacific salmon species feed on aquatic insects and small fish. However, sockeye are filter feeders. They take in water full of plankton, and as the water flows back out of their mouths, specialized organs called gill rakers act like strainers, holding the plankton in to be swallowed.

Plunging salmon - endangered-species - 31 May 2001 - New Scientist

http://www.newscientist.com/channel/life/endangered-species/dn817

Stocks of wild Atlantic salmon are at their lowest ever levels - and unless countries agree stringent measures to protect stocks, wild salmon will disappear from many rivers in the US and Europe, says the Worldwide Fund for Nature (CHECK).

BC wild salmon endangered by failure to contain sea lice from salmon farms - Open letter from
BC wild salmon endangered by failure to contain sea lice from salmon farms - Open letter from respected scientists and researchers

http://www.friendsofwildsalmon.ca/news/bc-wild-salmon-endangered-by-failure-to-contain-sea-lice-from-salmon-farms-open-letter-from-respected-scientists-and-researchers/

Fisheries minister must protect endangered Fraser River salmon from fishing pressure - thegreenpages

http://thegreenpages.ca/portal/bc/2007/07/fisheries_minister_must_protec.html

The David Suzuki Foundation and other members of the Pacific Marine Conservation Caucus (MCC) have been negotiating for the past few weeks with Lower Fraser First Nations and the Commercial Salmon Advisory Board (CSAB) to reconcile the commercial harvest and the recovery of endangered Cultus Lake sockeye. The CSAB abandoned those talks this week.

www.davidsuzuki.org/latestnews/dsfnews07090701.asp

Cultus sockeye were listed as endangered by the federal science advisory body the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Scientific information indicates that a harvest at last year’s rate is unsustainable and exceeds levels necessary to recover wild Cultus sockeye. However, some in the commercial fishing lobby continue to pressure the federal fisheries minister to ignore the recommendations of his own scientists and to increase the Cultus harvest rate to levels similar to or greater than 2006.

L-girl said...

Whoa Jim, that's some comment. Maybe next time just post the links and we can follow them if we want, ok? Thanks.

* * * *

Thanks for clarifying. I agree with what you're saying to an extent, but what led to factory farming animals is not huge numbers of kids eating tuna sandwiches. It's producers wanting to squeeze every last drop of profit out of their "units" (animals).

Factory farming created the large supply of relatively inexpensive meat, poultry, pork, which allowed people to buy it. It wasn't that there was a clamouring demand, and then factory farming was created to meet the demand. The supply came first, created by the industrialization of the food chain.

I agree that we should all try to diversify what we eat. I certainly do that, and I think most people do. But I don't think it's a primary cause of the problem, or that it can be much of a solution.

L-girl said...

"Atlantic salmon is in more global trouble than Pacific."

But that's farmed salmon, no? I don't think there is wild Atlantic salmon. I think all Atlantic salmon is farmed. Therefore, toxic to humans and the environment, and really should be avoided.

Jim said...

"Atlantic salmon is in more global trouble than Pacific."

But that's farmed salmon, no? I don't think there is wild Atlantic salmon. I think all Atlantic salmon is farmed.

Nope

http://www.newscientist.com/channel/life/endangered-species/dn817

Stocks of wild Atlantic salmon are at their lowest ever levels etc

"Factory farming created the large supply of relatively inexpensive meat, poultry, pork, which allowed people to buy it. It wasn't that there was a clamouring demand, and then factory farming was created to meet the demand. The supply came first, created by the industrialization of the food chain."

I don't think that holds up to scrutiny, but it would certainly be interesting to see what you think is evidence of this.

I think the food supply system in the US changed after WWI when many families left the land either because they were decimated by the war or because they preferred urban life. The Depression further concentrated ownership of large tracts of land in the hands of corporations as family farms were lost and left.

People made choices or were compelled to make choices that left a vacuum to be filled. Without the vacuum, there would be no opportunity for business to exploit.

The vegetarian generation of the 70s and 80s dramatically affected the beef industry here. Some of the largest ranches in BC switched from cattle to deer and even ginseng. The market does have an impact on the way industry develops.

ErinOrtlund said...

Thanks for the post. I knew wild salmon was better than farmed, but I didn't know how much better. I'm going to try to only buy wild from now on.

L-girl said...

Erin, when you compare the nutritional values, you'll be amazed. Two entirely different meals.

Jim, I have no specific evidence, just my memory from reading people like Michael Pollan and others who write about the industrial food chain. I can't site chapter and verse, but this is Pollan's and other people's history of the process.

Of course demand affects the market. It would be absurd to think otherwise. That's why we are now seeing pasture-raised meat - because people want it.

I just don't think the market is at the root of our industrial food issues. I see it as primarily supply-created, not consumer-driven. Not solely, but primarily.

Re Atlantic salmon/farmed salmon, I should have said that all the Atlantic salmon that is sold commercially in North American supermarkets is farmed-raised. Not that there isn't wild Atlantic salmon in existence, but that the massive amounts of salmon seen commercially in fast-food sushi, frozen fillets and other commercial products is all farmed.

Jim said...

I have no idea whether or not wild atlantic salmon is still being sold in North American supermarkets, and figured you were probably right. In my own mind, I had let the matter drop when this ad turned up in the margins of my gmail

http://www.smokedsalmon.co.uk/publish.asp?what=main_smokedsalmon&page=1

Not North American, not a supermarket, but still available here because of the Internet.

I wonder where the fish themselves come from. In the case of fish--as opposed to say chickens--farming is certainly being accelerated by jurisdictional ambiguities that arise in maritime law and practise. (See debate about why the cod disappeared and have not recovered.) That aggravates and is aggravated by the disappearance of supply (which, many speculate, is driven by overfishing, pesticides, and warming) even as the demand continues to increase because of fairly recent disaffection with beef and chicken (mad cow and avian flu) in particular and growing population and prosperity in general.

Cheers.

MSS said...

Ha, ha, L-girl, I figured someone would raise the possible objection to Toronto as "eastern Canada." But it sure seems that when your country's western end is almost three times as far from your location as its eastern end, your location is "eastern"!

L-girl said...

Thanks for the link, Jim. That's smoked salmon, of course, so it's shippable anywhere. The site says they use Atlantic and Pacific, wild and "reared".

MSS, this country is so friggin huge! We are going to Newfoundland this summer and every time I see a map, I can't believe how far east it extends. US-centric person that I was, until the night of December 31, 1999, I didn't know there was a time zone between NYC and London!