Thursday, 20 June 2013

Proposed organic salmon farm in Galway Bay

Following queries from members and other interested parties, Galway Slow Food Convivium has studied the proposal to site a huge organic salmon farm in Galway Bay and is concerned about the adverse effects such a development could have.
The convivium is fully in favour of establishing a sustainable aquaculture sector and feels that there is huge potential for the region to develop such an industry given the clean water and resources available on the west coast. However, it is of the utmost importance that any such development is approached with care for the environment and existing fishing and tourism interests.
Having regard to the Seven Pillars of Slow Food, the Convivium Committee has studied the proposal at length, examined the environmental impact assessment prepared by BIM and attended consultations with all interested parties involved.
Over the last forty years intensive culture of finned-fish species such as salmonhas been carried out using open-cage systems in fjords (Norway), in sea-loch (Scotland) relatively sheltered bays (West of Ireland) availing of the perceived endless supply of clean, coastal waters.  Research into alternative closed land-based units has led to the establishment of some units in Norway and British Columbia.  However, open sea cage systems are still being constructed. 

Why the concern?
Open cage fish farming imposes a series of specific pressures on:
(a)    The immediate marine environment
(b)    The local wild salmon population
(c)    The local seatrout population and its associated angling tourism
(d)    The international fish populations and the biodiversity of oceanic food chains
(e)    The existing tourist industry and its associated employment in the region.

The immediate marine environment:
The siting of fish farms must cause minimal disturbance to the local ecosystem ie. They must be located in deep water, in areas of high water flushing, away from existing salmon runs and away from vulnerable or protected species or habitat such as maerl produced by coralline algae.  The proposed site of the Galway salmon farm causes concern on almost all these aspects.

Open cage farming naturally results in the production of faecal and waste food matter which deposits as a fine sediment under the cages in poor water flushing conditions.  This particulate sediment can physically clog the gills of sedentary and pelagic marine organisms and additionally, this nutrient rich sediment places enormous oxygen demands on the surrounding seawater.  These altered environmental conditions lead to degradation of the habitat and could even lead to the development of harmful algal blooms.  The sheer volume of waste matter from large open sea farms defies the principle of environmentally responsible food production – the second basic tenet of the Slow Food Principle – the “Clean” of the Good, Clean and Fair ethos.

In some open cage farms, anti-fouling treatment of nets and cage structures involve the use of chemical anti-foulants, generally copper based.  These are a further assault on the local ecosystem and responsible management would and should include physical non-chemical anti-fouling practices.

The local wild salmon population
The siting of a densely stocked salmon farm closer than the well acknowledged and advised limit of 20km to adjacent established salmon rivers and sea runs will lead to negative effects  on the local salmon population.   
Sea-lice are naturally occurring crustacean organisms that attach to the soft tissues near the dorsal and caudal fins of salmonid fish.  A mere 12 specimens on a smolt can cause mortality. It stands to reason that the more hosts (farm fish) available, the more the infection of parasites.  Farmed fish are treated externally or are given medication in their food to deal with the problem but the local fish become infected.  Treatment involves the use of emamectin benzoate (Slice®) among other pesticides that are particularly toxic to lower level organisms.  Regulation of parasite treatment and its frequency has been a contentious issue in established fish farms not only in Ireland but in fish farms on a worldwide basis.  In spite of this, the most eminent scientists in the field hold wildly divergent views on the possible impact of such a huge scale fish farm on wild salmon stocks.

Research has been carried out on salmon smolts migrating through aquaculture bays in the west of Ireland.  Some were pre-treated for sea lice and others were not.  The results showed that the rate of return as adults one year later was almost double for those that were pre-treated versus the non-treated smolts.  It proves that treatment works but it is unfeasible in wild populations and not desirable from an organic point of view in farmed fish.The presence of pesticide residues in farmed salmon causes much concern on an international level.
Escapes from salmon farms are inevitable. Atlantic salmon have long beguiled the angling and wildlife confraternity with their ability to seek out the stream where they were spawned.  This behaviour is part of the genetic imprint of the wild stock.  Poor cage management, storms and predation are factors which can lead to escapes.  Because wild Atlantic salmon have a different genetic composition  from the farmed genetically engineered strain  of Norwegian origininterbreeding  of native stock with escapees in our short coastal streams will lead to a dilution of the native gene pool.  This will lower their innate resilience to the stress of their oceanic travels and interfere with millions of years of evolutionary behaviour that exists in the native stock. Loss of adaptability could lead to loss of species.

Disease is a consequence of industrial farming and currently there are two serious diseases rampant in the fish farming industry. One, infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) is a virus that causes severe anaemia in salmon and the fish eventually die.  Amoebic gill disease is caused by a rise in water temperature and overcrowding in fish cages and this disease which originated in New Zealand has now reached Ireland, shutting down fish farms. Infected fish have to be destroyed on site and this could potentially wipe out fish farms and cause an environmental disaster.

The local sea-trout populationand its associated angling tourism
As a co-salmonid, if a native sea-trout population comes into contact with farmed salmon, they will readily become infected with sealice as described above.  Anglers in the West of Ireland have proof of the collapse of the sea trout fishery in the 80’s and early 90’s – a disaster that coincided with the opening of coastal salmon farms in the Connemara region.  Apart from the biological disaster, the effect of this collapse was felt widely in the angling tourism business that this fishery supported.

Angling related tourism is an important industry in the Galway area employing a considerable number of people during the season. If wild salmon and sea trout stocks are decimated this industry will collapse. Tourism is the lifeblood of Inis Oirr beside which one half of the proposed fish farm will be located. There are serious concerns on the island about its impact on the tourist industry. 
The numbers of potential jobs quoted by BIM on a fish farm of such dimensions and production levels are at variance with standards in comparable salmon farms in Scotland and Norway and in fact, could well lead to the loss of jobs in the angling related tourism so important to the West of Ireland.

The international fish populations and the biodiversity of oceanic food chains or when fish is turned into feed
As recently as the 14th May, the process of turning huge quantities of wild fish into feed for farmed fish and other animals was discussed at Slow Fish Genoa , 2013. The conversion of one form of high quality protein into a more expensive form at such a high cost questions the rationale of this form of fish production.
The near collapse of the Peruvian Anchovy Fishery in the 1990s was highlighted by Patricia Majluf of Cayetano Heredia University in Peru. The collapse of the fishery led to its ecological and social degradation. The International Fishmeal and Fish Oil Organisation (IFFO) disparagingly described the anchovy as a small, bony and oily fish with little or no demand for human consumption. They justified their capture on an immense scale for fishmeal and oil production.  Luckily in 2006, the CH University launched an “Eat Anchoveta Campaign” to promote human consumption and a sustainable approach to the fishery of this tasty, delicious, cheap and nutritious fish. Why should this valuable resource be converted into fishmeal which has a “feed conversion ratio” higher than that of wild salmon but at what cost to the environment?
On a global scale, the destruction of a species close to the bottom of the world’s most productive food chain – the oceanic upwelling system- amount to high seas treachery and environmental destruction.
Michèle Mesmain, Slow Food Int., has said  “The efficient way to supply much needed protein is to fish at levels that have low environmental impact. It is always better, more equitable and more sustainable to use fish, our last great wild food for people instead of feed.” This belief has also been aired by Prof. Daniel Pauly, University of British Columbia who states that humans should be eating the wild fish stocks instead of farmed salmon when he was discussing the role of certain form of aquaculture in reducing pressure on wild stocks of fish.

Organic Status
Salmon farming, as it is currently practiced, does not meet with the key organic principle of sustainable production.
While it was originally believed that fish feed for organic farms would be  (a) trimmings and fish from certified sustainable fisheries with full traceability or (b) trimmings from human consumption fisheries supplemented with certified responsible feed from a sustainable source, it was hoped that there would be an increased substitution of marine proteins with vegetable alternatives. However, the MCS states that no feed grade fisheries have been certified as sustainable. They emphasise that removing wild capture organisms and small fish from the ecosystem has severe adverse ecosystem effects. The provision of organic status to a product which has such suspect sustainability status is incredible.  In fact the organic certification of salmon farms is even controversial within the organic movement itself.

Sustainable alternatives
We feel that Ireland could and should be a leader in aquaculture development internationally. Currently there is a move in other major fish farming countries such as Scotland, Norway and Canada to land based fish farms where conditions and effluent can be monitored and dealt with and there is no endangerment of wild fish stocks. Scotland is setting up the world's largest on-shore salmon farm to supply high end clients like Marks and Spencer and Selfridges. There are also on-shore farms being established in Norway and Canada. BIM has rejected this approach as being too expensive but if they are successful abroad there is no reason why they shouldn't work here.However, on the down side, new environmental problems may arise, problems associated with energy and water consumption.
There is also potential to create long term sustainable jobs in oyster and shell fish production by ensuring our coastal waters are clean and unpolluted.
As is stated by Slow Food International’s Slow Fish section “All too often, intensive fish farms have a negative social and environmental impact. Fish farming must return to less intensive and more responsible methods that respect local ecosystems.” 

The “blue revolution” as the growth of aquaculture is sometimes termed, must become green. Ideally it should have local ecological sustainability, a low carbon footprint and be healthy and nutritious. (Slow Fish – Well farmed ;  2013)