Day 10 - The Politics of Dinner

January 10, 2015 – Atlantic salmon has become vilified in many circles because it is farmed. So many people take a position that Atlantic salmon is somehow a terrible meat product.

It’s not.

That position, in most cases, is one taken out of ignorance because too many people believe the wrong information sources and/or let emotion cloud judgement and allow bias to dominate decisions.

It’s like the anti-vax issue – why would you believe false claims based on pseudo-science? Why would you believe a celebrity over a scientist with a long history of excellent research?

Same thing with farmed Atlantic salmon in BC.

Misinformation from those with little factual basis for claims shouldn’t be the basis of one’s food choices.

I work in the area of salmon…..”wild” salmon. I have nothing at all to do with the aquaculture industry. And yet…I eat farmed Atlantic salmon (and farmed coho, and farmed Chinook, and farmed steelhead, and farmed Arctic charr) happily. I will continue to personally support the BC commercial aquaculture industry through my food choices.

Don’t get me wrong, I grew up on rainbow trout, brook trout, and lake trout that we caught on the lake we had a cabin on. But we don’t have that cabin anymore, I don’t live in that city anymore, and those days are long ago. When it’s in season I love a wild coho/Chinook/sockeye on my plate, I could eat candied smoked salmon until I explode and it’s such a phenomenal treat when I have a chance to have some home smoked salmon.

In the same manner that I love wild BC salmon, I loved a good moose/venison roast or steak when I was growing up. But I don’t hunt and no one in my present family does either, so those days of moose and wild venison are gone, and I long for the taste. I also grew up on grouse that my Dad shot. Grouse is fabulous, but to compare grouse to chicken is to do a disservice to both.

A farmed Atlantic salmon to a wild Pacific salmon is no different than beef is to moose, or chicken is to grouse. Beef is not moose, grouse is not chicken, Atlantic salmon is not Chinook/coho/sockeye/steelhead/charr. They aren’t related, and I don’t fool myself into believing that they are.

I don’t say “I don’t like the taste” because I am not trying to compare apples to oranges. It’s like the time I was in the market and there was white Chinook and red Chinook side by side, but the white was $2/lb less expensive. When I asked for the white, a woman behind me spoke up and said “Oh sweetie, you don’t want that one, it doesn’t taste as good as the red on.” Silly woman, they taste the same. But we eat with our eyes and if we have already made up our minds that something tastes different or not as good, well, you’ll probably prove yourself correct because you already believe it to be true. Go ahead and spend an extra $2 per pound if it makes you feel that it’s superior. I know it’s not, it’s just the genetics of the fish and an inability to deposit pigment, and colour has no flavour.

While I would love to eat grouse and moose and venison, I can’t, so I settle for beef or lamb or chicken on a regular basis. Similarly I also know that I can’t have lake trout on a regular basis, and that wild salmon have their annual run timings, so I eat farmed Atlantic salmon. And I know that I can’t compare it to wild Pacific salmon because they aren’t the same animals, and one shouldn’t, and can’t, measure them against each other.

So my day to day fish? It’s farmed Atlantic salmon.

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Aquacultural sciences, and a Masters and PhD in fish stress immunophysiology. I have never worked for the aquaculture industry, or any supporting industry, I never worked with Atlantic salmon, only rainbow trout and Chinook salmon. I have no vested interest in the industry. None of my graduate research was ever funded by industry, and although one of my research supervisors for my MSc was the research director for an aquatic vaccine and therapeutic company, they had no direct influence on my research. The contribution was in-kind only and consisted of novel vaccines to work with during my MSc, and associated knowledge and expertise in technique. My thesis supervisor was intuitive enough to ensure that my research was arm’s-length and not directed or dictated by anyone outside of acadaemia.

In other words, my opinions are my own, pure and simple.

I have spent over two decades…almost three really…. reading, listening, questioning, teaching, and learning about salmon aquaculture here in BC and elsewhere in the world. I can say that I have slid around a bit on some aspects of aquaculture, and I have altered some of my positions based on adjustments in industry and changes in my understanding of some aspects. I have visited salmon farms and commercial hatcheries and witnessed the attention to detail and adherence to strict biosecurity measures. I have flown over commercial seapens in the Broughton and can be comfortable in the knowledge that they take up such a minuscule area on our coast as to be currently rather insignificant spatially.

There are many tidbits of misinformation on both sides. Massaging of data, twisting of data, omission of facts and figures, cherry picking information; all have been carried out both by the ENGO’s and the commercial industry. But if one has the wherewithal to sift through the information and exclude emotional and cultural bias from the equation, there is overwhelming information that justifies the industry of salmon farming such as it is carried out in British Columbia. In BC, we have one of, if not “the”, most highly regulated aquaculture industries in the world.

Is BC salmon farming a perfect industry?

Hardly.

Is there such a thing as a perfect industry?

Absolutely not.

Does commercial aquaculture in BC have shortcomings?

Of course it does.

Is the argument that we should eat wild fish to save wild fish logical?

Do I really even need to answer that one?

I could write tens of pages on the subject, and reflect on both sides of the argument – environmental considerations, feed issues, steroids, sea lice medications, escapes, displacements/replacements, viruses, bacteria, migration corridors, drugs, biosecurity, near-field and far-field impacts, antifoulants, predation, genetics, land based vs seapen culture, impacts on boating anchorages, impacts on recreation, acoustic deterrent devices, welfare, vaccines, therapeutants, benthic sedimentation, eutrophication, plankton blooms …you name it. I’ve considered every argument that has been put forward in the media and by both science and non-science writers, and I’ve read and educated myself on both sides, without emotion to cloud judgement.

There are dozens of arguments that people make that I don’t feel like writing about, this is just supposed to be a photo post, not a thesis on everything wrong with the anti-aquaculture arguments.

Bottom line?

Eat it, farmed salmon is good for you, and it’s better than deliberately killing threatened stocks of wild fish to put fish on the table. BC farmed salmon is healthy, takes pressure off wild salmon, and doesn’t do a fraction of the damage that the ENGO’s would have us all believe.

Oh, and on the other side of that political dinner, those that claim to be vegetarian and still eat fish and shellfish? You’re not really a vegetarian, you are still eating animal flesh (muscle tissue), that’s also called….wait for it…meat!

Just a pet peeve of mine.

Enough said….it’s dinner time, and that delicious piece of salmon is waiting to be consumed.  🙂

(I know I am opening myself up to debate here….be that as it may…this is just my personal opinion)