Sep132014

Think before you eat Norwegian farmed salmon

Seriously, I am not trying to wreck the Norwegian seafood industry with articles about whale kills and farmed salmon. When I travel I observe and learn. Today I checked to see if the large pens off the coast of Norway I observed from the Norwegian Air flight from Oslo Torp (TRF) to Bergen were actually Atlantic salmon farms. They are.

Click this link to see an image of a Norway coast Atlantic salmon farm similar to what I saw from the plane.

What I did not know until this morning is Monterey Bay Aquarium’s SeafoodWatch.org published several 2014 research reports with the conclusion that Norwegian farmed Atlantic Salmon is on their ‘Avoid’ list. Being from California, I normally buy fresh wild caught Pacific salmon, so I was unaware until today that there are several reasons why Norwegian farmed Atlantic salmon is on the ‘avoid’ list.

Since I have been eating farmed Norwegian Atlantic salmon for the past ten days at every Nordic Choice Hotels complimentary breakfast, I’ll share what I learned are considered the problems with farmed Atlantic salmon.

Why Norwegian farmed Atlantic Salmon makes SeafoodWatch.org ‘Avoid’ list.

Norway is the world’s largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon with 366 million fish produced in about 1,000 large ocean pens off the coast. Norway has the largest population of wild Atlantic salmon, yet the number of farmed salmon is 250 to 700 times more than wild salmon. Farmed salmon require a diet rich in fish oil. Norway uses 25% of the world’s fish oil in salmon feed.

Norway farmed salmon avoid

There are three criteria where farmed salmon falls short in its environmental impact.

1. Chemicals – More than 6.5 million metric tons of pesticides are used in Norwegian Atlantic salmon farming, primarily to control sea lice. The use of pesticides has risen rapidly in the past few years due to ineffectiveness as sea lice become more resistant to treatments, thus requiring multiple treatments.

There is concern over the amount of antibiotics used in salmon farming potentially reducing the usefulness of these antibiotics for human medical purposes. The use of antibiotics is considered low in Norway, however, there was a 300% increase in the total amount of antibiotics used between 2011 and 2012 and 88% of these antibiotics are also used for human treatment.

2. Disease – the farmed population of Atlantic salmon vastly outnumbers wild salmon. Disease among farmed salmon is a great concern for its potential impact on wild salmon and sea trout. 

3. Escape – genetically different farmed salmon mixing with wild salmon populations has been documented. In 2011, there were an estimated 300,000 farmed salmon escaped from Norway’s pens. The Hardangerfjord is Norway’s largest fjord and a major tourist attraction for visitors to Bergen. Farmed salmon outnumber wild salmon 5000 to 1 in Hardangerfjord. In some years the number of escaped salmon from pens outnumbers the wild salmon population.

Open net pen farmed Atlantic salmon from Norway receive an “Avoid” due to high concerns regarding the use of chemicals, the impacts of escapes on wild salmon and sea trout, and the transfer of parasites to wild populations.

Source: Seafoodwatch.org – Farmed Atlantic Salmon in Norway

Kind of amazing what is inadvertently learned from travel and food choices. It would be nice if I could just relax on a trip and focus on the hotels and tourist board information, but I can’t. When I go to the Caribbean, I am struck by racism. When I go to Thailand I am abhorred by the sex tourism. In Norway, a beautiful country of fjords and forests, it is the minke whale meat and farmed Atlantic salmon issues I have come to face on this trip.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. Unfortunately there are many poorly operated Atlantic Salmon farms all over the world, but there are good ones. The problem with Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch is they tend to over simplifiy things and lump everyone together. As a consumer it takes time but you can do research to find where to buy the good stuff.

  2. @BOSfish
    Where does one even begin to find which farms are the good ones and then where to buy their product? How does one know where your local grocery is getting the salmon. Seems like they have many suppliers that constantly change?

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  4. I worked for a Norwegian feed maker for almost 10 years. I can tell you if you are on the East/West Coast America/Canada or Norway, UK, Scotland, SA Chile — when the menu says “organic”, “free-range”, “natural” etc. in reality it is all farmed. I can tell by fat content, color (synthetic astaxan)and other features you are paying 30% more for a product that is simply only on a written menu but reality is its farmed. That is unless you caught it yourself and I can guarantee it was one that skipped the pen.
    Cod in UK is white pangasius from Vietnam and shrimp/lobster majority farmer in Thailand.
    Need to feed many but my point is that restaurants do not tell the truth for the sake of profit.
    Tuna farms are huge now as they bring in the most profit but the mort rate is very high.
    In Asia rockfish, yellowtail and sea bream are all farmed.

  5. Ric,
    Do you avoid farmed chicken, beef, pork and milk as well and eat only wild deer, turkeys and buffalo? Do you avoid ‘farmed’ wine, nuts and oranges from California and only eat naturally occurring citrus, fruits and maize?

    All of those products face the same issues. If farmed fish are to be avoided, how should we replace one out of every two fish that are consumed today? Because that’s how many are farmed. And we are not going to get a single pound more out of the ocean.

    Anyway, I like your down-to-earth blog because you don’t just write about Park Hyatts but about everyday hotels that come up during road trips to National Parks and such. Safe travels.

  6. Whole Foods claims that the Norwegian salmon that they contract for is not treated with pesticides, growth hormones, or Antibiotics. I wonder if seafoodwatch.org provides exceptions to their avoid list if a company really does provide a better product. Also, I wonder if what WF says really means that what they sell is better than other Norwegian salmon or if it is all the same. Definitely something that I will research a little further.

  7. @Mike – one of the interesting data points in the farmed salmon research article is it takes more than one pound of wild fish to raise one pound of farmed salmon. To reduce the quantity of wild fish needed for salmon feed, grains are used to provide oil from other sources.

    My university training was food science from University of California Davis. I spent years testing raw milk for antibiotics and dairy products for contaminants.

    @Kijo – Seafood Watch does list one Chilean producer of farmed salmon as acceptable.
    “Verlasso® is a proprietary brand of AquaChile, which is the largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon in Chile. Chile is one of the world’s top salmon producing countries. Verlasso® uses a genetically modified yeast as a feed ingredient, thereby reducing its reliance on fishmeal and fish oil from wild fish. The salmon are farmed at lower densities than typical industry standards, and while chemical use is lower than the norm in Chile, antibiotic and pesticide use for Verlasso remains a high concern.

    Despite the open nature of its net pens, Verlasso® has demonstrated an improvement upon the issues surrounding pollution and habitat damage. Atlantic salmon are not native, but studies show these salmon are very unlikely to establish self-sustaining wild populations in Chile. While disease has caused production problems in Chile as a whole, the potential effects on wild Chilean fish are not currently a high concern and therefore the risk of impacts from both escape and disease events are now considered moderate.

    The current practices of Verlasso® result in a “Good Alternative” recommendation.

    Verlasso® Salmon is sold in the United States as the brands Verlasso® and Verlasso® Harmoniously Raised Fish. “

  8. @Ric – This would be a good discussion to have over a beer. Any trips to D.C. in the future? Anyway, UC Davis is a great place. I have good friends and colleagues there.

  9. @Mike – No current plans to be in D.C.

    After a few days of thinking about my pieces on Norway fisheries, I think it would have been more appropriate to title them ‘Think before you buy…’

    I have still been eating salmon in Norway since it is already on the plate at the breakfast buffet. But I’ll remember what I learned about farmed Atlantic salmon while here in Norway and I will think about my choices before I buy Norwegian farmed salmon when shopping in California.

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