Consumers will dictate future face of salmon farming

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Dear editor: Why is a conservation organization involved in farming Atlantic salmon? It’s all part of the Atlantic Salmon Federation’s (ASF) mission to conserve wild Atlantic salmon and the health of their environment by separating them from farmed salmon.

Salmon farmers in Canada, France, Denmark and China are getting involved in an expanding closed-containment industry that utilizes water recirculation to grow salmon on land.

It is an admirable goal that is not without challenges, but it can work. Reducing capital costs and achieving a conversion rate that produces a pound of salmon for every pound of feed were among the challenges and progress reports presented at a recent international workshop on closed containment, held at the end of April at ASF’s headquarters near St. Andrews, NB.  

Salmon farming in open sea cages can have significant impacts on wild Atlantic salmon and other ocean creatures. These include lobster killed by chemical treatments to control sea lice and tuna, seals, sharks and eagles that are killed when wildlife is drawn to all the salmon held in ocean cages.

Genetic interaction following escapes weakens the gene pool of wild Atlantic salmon. Research shows that farmed-wild hybrids have higher egg mortality, lower juvenile survival, and lower survival at sea, compared to wild salmon. Over time, these interactions have the potential to wipe out wild salmon populations.

Escapes from sea cages are still happening in large numbers in Canada with 750,000 reported escapes in Newfoundland in the past decade. The Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada, in their advice to government, and the Royal Society of Canada, in their report on biodiversity, have identified salmon aquaculture as a significant threat to endangered and threatened wild salmon populations.

ASF’s co-host at our closed-containment workshop was the Conservation Fund Freshwater Institute (TCFFI) of West Virginia. We are supporting TCFFI’s research to develop the feasibility of freshwater closed-containment salmon farming with very encouraging results.  Recently, the TCFFI put a limited supply of their farmed salmon into the marketplace.  

At a Wegmans store in Maryland, closed-containment salmon, raised in close to 100 per cent recirculated water, with complete capture of waste, were displayed next to sea cage-raised salmon.

At $13 per pound ($4 per pound more than the sea cage salmon), the store’s supply of closed-containment salmon was quickly bought out.

Consumers were willing to pay more for salmon grown in a manner that doesn’t spread disease and sea lice; doesn’t pollute the ocean with chemicals, fish feces and uneaten food, and doesn’t threaten other species. These consumers prefer salmon that have not been treated with antibiotics or chemicals.

We are convinced that ASF and our partners are on the leading edge of a transition to closed containment farms. Entrepreneurs such as the Namgis First Nation on Vancouver Island are beginning to supply consumers with outstandingly flavourful salmon that is receiving rave reviews from chefs and consumers alike. It is only a matter of time before the market demand for this type of sustainable seafood is fully met.

For more information on closed-containment and particulars of the recent workshop at ASF headquarters, visit

Bill Taylor, president, Atlantic Salmon Federation

Organizations: Atlantic Salmon Federation, TCFFI, Committee on the Status of Wildlife Royal Society of Canada Conservation Fund Freshwater Institute Wegmans Namgis First Nation on Vancouver Island

Geographic location: Canada, France, Denmark China Newfoundland West Virginia Maryland

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Recent comments

  • Terran
    June 26, 2014 - 21:40

    I hear these the fish reared in these closed containment taste like mud. I am not a big fan of paying premium prices for mud, thanks anyway. The farmer needs to use huge supplies of fresh water to try and get rid of it or use lots of pepper. Based on this I will stick to the ocean cage reared

  • Flyfisher
    June 26, 2014 - 21:11

    I have no guilt eating farmed ocean reared Atlantic Salmon, I enjoy the product and flavour and it also saves the wild. I release all wild salmon I catch on a fly rod. The true reason why Atlantic Salmon are so endangered on some rivers, is hydro generating plants. Some owners make huge donations to ASF, to censor them from informing the public about the mass mortalities caused by the installations Just one example; ASF produced a paper in the fall of 2013 on the devastating impact of the Irving owned hydro generating plant located on the Magaguadavic River in St George, New Brunswick. The general public never hears of this because the Irving's own all the printed media in the province and the ASF don't want to do anything to offend there major corporate sponsor. The ASF only used one year of data which painted the rosy picture of 100% kill rate of eels going through the turbines and only 50% kill rate for salmon smolt. They are blaming the cage industry on the decimation of wild salmon, I seem to read the facts a bit differently. Closed containment systems will have devastating impacts on ground water supplies and produce pollution will will flow into our streams and rivers. Closed containment reared fish have an off flavour caused by bacteria and huge amounts of freshwater has to be used to clean out that off taste or a week or two before they can be marketed. The fish I eat from the sea does not have this issue and for this reason I choose consistency in the food I consume. The spin doctors say there is no disease or treatments necessary with fish reared in these closed containment systems. Research proves this is not the case and in fact chemicals and or antibiotics may be required, especially when an owner has to pack in the fish at up to 7 times the amount that are reared in sea cages, in order to try and make a profit. This consumer votes for the lesser of two evils and says, save our freshwater resources and environment, keep these industrial farms off the land. ASF needs to deal with the problems that are proven to be an issue and not stick their heads in the sand,even if they might lose some corporate donations. ASF needs to inform the public of how many salmon these generating stations are killing and work to get rid of them! That is a fact. All the hype about the impacts of cage reared salmon escaping, is no worse than all the millions of hybrid salmon that ASF released into the ocean in the 70's and 80's. This is the same time period that the runs of salmon had some major declines in the Bay of Fundy. Maybe ASF has some blame to share for salmon declines in , More ways than one.

  • aquanut
    June 03, 2014 - 10:48

    Indeed the consumer will dictate the future face of salmon farming and it looks much like the face of current salmon farming. You see, the people yearning for closed-containment aren't the people that eat the 2 million tonnes of farmed salmon produced every year globally. We will see in the future how much farmed salmon will be eaten by activists and conservationists at a premium price that support a transition to closed containment .