Norwegian investors hope to delouse the salmon industry with new facility in Maryland
BALTIMORE, Maryland––Salmon farming stinks.
Business media worldwide have for weeks failed to mention that fact in amplifying a July 7, 2020 announcement that the Norwegian firm AquaCon plans to build a $300 million land-based salmon farm on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay.
Sea pen farms wear out nets & welcome
The scheme appears to be potentially profitable because investors are beginning to realize that conventional salmon farming in sea pens may no longer be viable.
Sea pen salmon farms have worn out their nets, welcome, and often their investment return ratios from Puget Sound to coastal Scotland and Scandinavia.
Add to that the increasing evidence that factory-farming salmon was never any more healthy or humane than is factory-farming pigs and chickens.
Factory-farming salmon in land-based tanks promises to avoid some of the issues afflicting the aquaculture industry. Land-based salmon farms, for instance, may be better able than sea pen farms to control the disease outbreaks and pollution that have become hallmarks of the land-based salmon industry.
But control is the keyword. The history of confinement pig and chicken farming demonstrates that keeping disease out of a confinement facility is much easier than keeping open-air facilities disease free.
Yet, once disease gets in, eradicating it from a confinement facility often costs tens of thousands of animal lives, sometimes millions, along with millions of dollars.
Meanwhile, even if a salmon tank farm manages to stay disease-free, the fish poop has to go somewhere, if not swept away by the tides. Disposing of fish slurry is no less problematic––and stinky––than disposing of pig or chicken slurry.
Promising to “produce thousands of tons of salmon every year and employ hundreds of people,” AquaCon “plans to invest almost $1 billion to open three salmon farms on the Delmarva Peninsula by 2027,” reported Scott Dance of the Baltimore Sun, “though it still is working to secure financing for the project.
“Fuel-grade” fish fart
“AquaCon officials said they chose Maryland because of its history of seafood production, proximity to lucrative seafood markets, access to large amounts of fresh water needed for salmon farming, and a partnership with researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the Institute of Marine & Environmental Technology in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor,” Dance continued.
“There,” Dance said, “Yonathan Zohar and colleagues have for two decades been researching sustainable aquaculture methods and technologies that AquaCon and other companies could license.”
Contrary to the Baltimore Sun mention that large amounts of fresh water would be needed to factory-farm salmon in land-based tanks, Zohar and AquaCon chief executive Paal Haldorsen told the Chesapeake Bay Bulletin that the salmon farm water would be “recycled, cooled and reused with almost zero discharge,” so that “99.994% of the operation’s water will be reused.”
Zohar also claimed that “tiny microbes from the marine environment [would] remove dissolved waste from the water,” and that “The solid waste (sludge) created during salmon farming will be converted into energy in the form of fuel-grade methane,” helping to “offset operations costs at the facility, as will solar panels that cover the entire roof of the huge warehouse,” the Bay Bulletin added.
Salmon farm death rates quadruple
But skepticism may be warranted by the history of the salmon farming industry.
The AquaCon announcement of a major expansion into Maryland came six days before Scottish investigative writer Rob Edwards of The Ferret on July 13, 2020 revealed that “The amount of salmon killed by diseases and other problems at [conventional] fish farms has reached record levels, with death rates quadrupling over the last 18 years, according to an analysis of official figures.
“More than 25,770 metric tons of caged salmon died prematurely in 2019, higher than in any previous year,” Edwards elaborated. “That equates to over ten million fish.
“The analysis also reveals that the mortality rate at fish farms has risen faster than salmon production over the years,” Edwards continued. “In 2019, 13.5% of the annual harvest died prematurely, compared to 3.1% in 2002.”
Industry suppresses data
Explained Edwards, “Salmon deaths are reported by fish farming companies and published online by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. The main causes of deaths are said to have been viral, bacterial and fungal infections, along with algal blooms, and “treatment losses” from mistakes with chemicals or de-licing machines.”
The aquaculture industry is sensitive about this becoming widely known.
Added Edwards, “Estimates of the numbers of fish who died stopped being routinely published in 2013, after the industry complained the information was commercially damaging. But based on previous years, 25,772 metric tons could represent between 10 and 20 million fish deaths, depending on their size.”
“Lice. Lice. How very nice.”
Salmon lice are perhaps the most ubiquitous threat to sea pen salmon farming, and are among the threats that the proposed Maryland on-land salmon farm has the best chance to eliminate.
The most successful response to salmon lice has historically been to introduce wrasse, or “cleaner fish,” into sea pens.
But, reported Norwegian University of Science & Technology researcher Guro Kulset Merakerås in April 2020, “Even fish farmers have doubts as to whether using cleaner fish is an effective delousing method.
“Letting cleaner fish cohabit with salmon seems like a good idea at first glance,” Merakerås wrote, especially since “chemical delousing methods are harmful to nature.”
However, Merakerås added, “Many cleaner fish species have trouble adapting to life in sea cages.”
Cleaner fish do not make a cleaner industry
Said Norwegian Institute of Marine Research chief Tore S. Kristiansen, “The increasing use of cleaner fish, and the major challenges these species face in thriving and surviving in the cages, raises the question of whether this is an acceptable use of animals. When the use of cleaner fish is defended because of their value in sea cages, then at the very least their effectiveness and function in the cages has to be substantiated with robust evidence. Our studies show that this evidence doesn’t exist yet.”
Agreed Norwegian Food Safety Authority director Elisabeth Wilmann, “On average, fish farmers document that 40% of the cleaner fish they release in the farms die. This amounted to more than 24 million cleaner fish in 2018. If a lot of the cleaner fish disappear without being recorded, the real figure is probably much higher.”
“What will removal of cleaner fish do to the local ecology?”
“There are big problems here with cleaner fish, most of which were never before caught for human consumption, becoming very valuable when delivered live to salmon farms,” Animal Concern Scotland director John Robins confirmed to ANIMALS 24-7.
“They are being transported from the South of England to the North of Scotland and the islands, 600 to 800 miles, and those who survive the journey don’t last long in the salmon farms due to disease and bad practice. There are fears,” Robins mentioned, “as to what the removal of large numbers of these fish from the south coast is going to do to the local ecology.”
Robins and predecessors at Animal Concern Scotland have for more than 50 years been fighting against salmon industry massacres of wildlife, to protect open-air salmon sea pens. The Scottish Parliament on June 17, 2020 repealed a provision of the 2010 Marine Scotland Act which allowed salmon farmers to shoot seals.
The “Missing Salmon Alliance”
But that gain was immediately jeopardized, reported Rob Edwards of The Ferret on July 5, 2020, when the owners of recreational salmon fishing facilities drew up “plans to lobby for blanket permission to shoot more birds to stop them from eating salmon.”
“The Ferret reported in July 2019,” continued Edwards, “that licenses to kill over 2,600 fish-eating birds had been issued in Scotland over the previous five years. They included 1,560 goosanders, 777 cormorants, 246 red-breasted mergansers and 37 grey herons.
“Now estates with salmon rivers and angling businesses are preparing to bid for more licenses to sanction more shooting. The proposal is included in a private strategy document drawn up by the Atlantic Salmon Trust, which campaigns to protect wild salmon fisheries,” while coincidentally killing many of the same species as commercial salmon farms, under the umbrella of the Missing Salmon Alliance,” described by Edwards as “a coalition of angling and conservation groups launched in November 2019 by the trust’s patron, Prince Charles.”
A “Missing Monarchy Alliance” would do more for wildlife
This is the same Prince Charles who during a six-week spree at Christmas 1987, after his father Prince Philip became titular head of the World Wildlife Fund, participated with Prince Philip in shooting nearly 18,000 captive-raised pigeons, pheasants, partridges, ducks, geese, and rabbits at Sandringham.
Introducing Princes William and Harry to hunting at the ages of seven and 10, respectively, against the wishes of their late mother Princess Diana, Prince Charles and friends reportedly shot 12,000 pheasants at Sandringham at Christmas 1991.
The salmon conservation strategy document, Edwards said, “pointed out that the population of wild salmon in rivers and seas had crashed by 75% in the last 20 years,” coinciding with the growth of the salmon farming industry, which in turn brought more salmon disease––and fish lice––to Scottish waters.
“If the current trend continues, wild salmon could be extinct across Scotland within the next 20 years,” the Missing Salmon Alliance warned.
Meanwhile in Stephenville, Newfoundland, Northern Harvest Smolt Limited in April and May 2020 killed 450,000 juvenile Atlantic salmon to try to stop an outbreak of infectious salmon anemia.
This was about 10% of the smolt produced per year at the facility, but was the second major loss of salmon there in under a year’s time, following the deaths of about 2.6 million salmon due to oxygen depletion during a warm stretch in September 2019.
West Coast sea pen salmon farming on the way out
British Columbia and Washington state are in the process of phasing out sea pen salmon farming, after more than 30 years, following several high-profile escapes of non-native Atlantic salmon into Pacific waters.
The non-native salmon are believed to be likely to transmit diseases and present a hybridization risk to native Pacific salmon, which are the basis of the substantial regional recreational fishing industry.
The British Columbia provincial government and First Nations in the Broughton Archipelago region in December 2019 announced that 17 salmon farms owned by Marine Harvest Canada (recently renamed Mowi) and Cermaq were to be closed by 2023.
Just a week later, a fire at a fish farm near Port Hardy, on the Queen Charlotte Strait, allowed the escape of another 21,000 Atlantic salmon.
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