« November 2010 Table of Contents
Going Green: Balancing act
Salmon farming shows eco-gains, but gap remains
By Lisa Duchene
November 01, 2010
An unlikely salmon-farming scenario is under way in
Washington state. Producer AquaSeed grows Pacific coho from egg
to plate that have never touched the ocean. The fish are about
3 to 4 pounds each, marketed under the SweetSpring brand and
grown on land in freshwater tanks. The company this year sold
about 250,000 pounds to a Canadian supermarket and to
Microsoft's corporate foodservice operation, operated by The
AquaSeed's SweetSpring Coho-brand is the only farmed salmon
not red-listed and to have earned a best choice ranking by the
Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program. The cohos are
green," meaning they have low levels of contaminants and
high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
SweetSpring salmon represents the cutting edge of
technological innovation toward sustainable salmon farming.
Government, buyers, producers and NGOs are all driving
innovation in new production methods as well as environmental
improvements in net-pen use. Performance standards, the
culmination of the six-year effort of the World Wildlife Fund
Aquaculture Dialogues, are on the horizon.
"There's been huge work on closed containment in the last
few years," says Jay Ritchlin, director for marine and
freshwater conservation at the David Suzuki Foundation in
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Ritchlin represents the
Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR), of which the
Suzuki Foundation is a member, on the steering committee of the
WWF Aquaculture Dialogues.
"[Development of closed-containment technology has] gone
from a 'You've got to be kidding,' to 'OK, let's put some real
projects in and make a go of it.'"
There are also closed-containment system projects in the
works at AgriMarine and Marine Harvest Canada.
AgriMarine Holdings, also in Vancouver, is a developer of
floating closed-containment technology for sustainable
aquaculture. The company in late September announced that it
started installing a floating, closed-containment tank in the
Campbell River in British Columbia, and the first steelhead
trout harvest from the first such tank in China's Guanmenshan
Reservoir, which was stocked in September 2009.
Marine Harvest, which produces 25 percent of the world's
farmed salmon supply, plans a joint project with CAAR to test
the technology in British Columbia, says Petter Arnesen, Marine
Harvest's VP of feed and environment.
Arnesen does not share many environmentalists' view of
closed-containment technology as a potential "silver bullet
Today's closed-containment technology falls far short in
scale, he says. There is much to learn about closed containment
and many issues such as land capacity and carbon footprint, he
says. "I believe that the future holds a mix of production
technologies," says Arnesen, and closed containment could make
up some small portion of that mix.
Conventional, net-pen salmon farming has also reduced its
Ritchlin credits the farmed-salmon industry with
improvements in salmon feed efficiency, reduction of antibiotic
use in Norwegian farmed salmon, and bay area management at farm
sites in New Brunswick, Canada.
Innovation in the industry is being driven by stricter
regulations governing salmon farming, economics and marketplace
sustainability. The WWF Salmon Aquaculture
Dialogues have repeatedly put NGOs, farmers and scientists
around a table to hash out a definition of responsible salmon
One significant change over the last decade, says Arnesen,
is a 50 percent reduction in the portion of fishmeal used in
Nell Halse, VP of communications for Cooke Aquaculture,
which annually produces 115 million pounds of Atlantic salmon
produced in Atlantic Canada, Maine and Chile, notes Canada's
bay area management is one example of improvement.
The old way, she says, was to raise two to three generations
of fish on a single farm with no fallowing period. Area
management, at first voluntary and now required, coordinates
the stocking of fish among producers so that a portion of pens
are for first-year fish, another for second-year fish and a
third left fallow. Those production areas rotate over time.
One payoff has been a reduced need for antibiotics. "If you
have only one year-class in an area at a time, there is a lot
less traffic," says Halse.
Cooke is also looking to fish native to local waters that
eat sea lice as a way to cut chemical use for sea lice control,
says Halse, who declined to name specific species.
And six of Cooke's New Brunswick salmon farms are growing
mussels and seaweed with salmon in an integrated multi-trophic
aquaculture (IMTA) system, a technique researched and developed
by Dr. Thierry Chopin, a
research scientist at the
University of New Brunswick in St. John.
The idea is to create a balanced ecosystem. "The solution to
nutrification is not dilution but conversion within an
ecosystem-based management perspective," according to
Cooke has participated in the WWF Salmon Dialogues, eyeing
the goal of future certification. Meanwhile, its farms are
third-party certified under Global Trust and its salmon bears
the Seafood Trust eco-label.
The Salmon Dialogues aim to create standards for third-party
certification of salmon farms that push the industry to
eliminate or minimize negative environmental and social impacts
while keeping it economically viable. A 60-day public comment
period on the first draft of standards ended in early
Katherine Bostick, senior program officer with WWF's
aquaculture team and coordinator of the Salmon Dialogues, says
"really constructive and useful comments" have come in
The group meets in November to review comments and hopes to
release its next draft in January. First certifications could
occur by the end of 2011 at the earliest. It's too soon to
estimate what portion of existing salmon production can meet
the standards, says Bostick. Marine Harvest awaits the final
standard to take a position on certification.
The standards represent significant work and progress,
Arnesen, Bostick and Ritchlin all agree.
"We are a successful industry, but young," says Arnesen.
"That means we have many areas where we need to make
Several improvements have been made over the
last few years. I think we could say in many places our
industry is pretty sustainable."
But a gap remains around what sustainable salmon farming
looks like, according to CAAR's Ritchlin. The Dialogues have
not convinced him that net pens can be sustainable.
"I think [the standards] lessen the pressure on the
fish for some period of time so that we have a better
opportunity to get to the longer-term solutions, which I still
think are separating the wild fish from the farmed fish," says
Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene lives in Bellefonte,