Yesterday the Washington Post published a dangerously misleading article about farmed salmon. Lauding improvements in the salmon farming industry, they assert that farmed salmon is a viable alternative to wild-caught fish. We'd like to set the record straight: farmed salmon is a terrible choice for our oceans.
When you eat farmed salmon, you're really eating another fish called the jack mackerel, or another wild species like sardines or anchovies. Salmon are carnivorous, and farms feed their fish food pellets made from these smaller wild fish. The problem is that many of these species, especially jack mackerel, are dangerously overfished.
For most Chilean farms, it takes about three pounds of wild fish to feed one pound of salmon. So you are likely eating three pounds of jack mackerel or other wild species -- which are likely in trouble -- when sit down to eat your pound of farmed salmon. A small number of Chilean farms have managed to reduce this ratio to one to one. But even then, it still takes a pound of wild fish to make your pound of farmed salmon.
Feed conversion is just one of many problems. Chilean farms are located in pristine, deep-water fjords off of Patagonia, where even minimal pollution could irreparably damage the ecosystem. No matter what they do, even the most responsible salmon farms will pollute their waters with parasiticides, chemicals, and fish feces. The Chilean farmed salmon industry also uses more than 300,000 kilograms of antibiotics a year to keep their fish alive, causing bacterial resistances that affect the surrounding ecosystem and people.
Salmon farming is better than it used to be, but it used to be horrendous. The answer to this problem is not, as the Washington Post article suggests, to make salmon aquaculture sustainable. It's to make wild fish stocks more abundant using science-based fishery management instead of promoting salmon farming, which is a destructive and wasteful way of eating wild fish. As long as fisheries are managed properly, wild seafood can provide a healthy meal a day for billions of people.
Eating three pounds of jack mackerel straight from the oceans to your plate is a far better choice for the environment and for your health. By eating less-popular species you can still enjoy a healthy, wild fish, and our ocean waters can stay free of the pollutants that come with salmon farms. But this won't happen if we keep on grinding our wild fish stocks up to turn them into salmon fish-food. So skip the farmed salmon. Opt for wild-caught, or break out of your boring (and unsustainable) salmon routine and try eating that jack mackerel, or another wild fish, instead.