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Feed pellets from salmon farms a concern

The president of Norges Kystfiskarlag, the Coastal Fishermen’s Association, is more concerned with the effects of salmon farming on wild fish populations than he is with the new quota recommendations.

Arne Pedersen is not too concerned about the new quota recommendations for cod and haddock.  It isn’t the quantity of fish that worries him: it’s their health.

“This is not natural, this is poison,” Pedersen said, sawing open a frozen haddock to expose the contents of its stomach.

The stomach is filled with a brown, fibrous substance that resembles feed pellets, such as those used in the salmon farms near where Pedersen said he caught the fish.  He produces another frozen haddock, saws it open as well, and the contents of the stomach are the same.

As president of Norges Kystfiskarlag, the Norwegian Coastal Fishermen’s Association, Pedersen represents more than 1,000 fishermen along the coast of Norway from his home in Vestre Jakobselv, in eastern Finnmark.  Part and parcel to protecting the livelihoods of coastal fishermen, he said, is to protect the health of the fisheries they rely on.

But Pedersen said that he has had no response from authorities when he has brought his complaints to bear.  He suspects it has to do with the enormous economic influence of the salmon farming industry in Norway: salmon farming comprises 80 percent of the Norwegian aquaculture industry.  More than 95 percent of Norway’s aquaculture production is exported, destined for more than 130 countries.

“There’s big money in salmon farms, and they do not speak about this conflict with the coastal fishermen in the areas where they farm,” Pedersen said.  “They have a big troop of lobbyists, national and international.”

The controversy surrounding the effects of salmon farming on the environment is not a new one.  A vast amount of research has been conducted on the issue, which in recent years has reached a national scale in countries such as Chile, Canada, and the United States.  In Norway and elsewhere, cited impacts include a decrease in wild salmon populations due to the influence of escaped farmed salmon, and the spread of deadly sea lice (“lakselus”, in Norwegian) and diseases throughout local wild fish populations.

Further down the coast, researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Nature Studies and the Institute for Marine Research found in a 2010 study that wild fish near salmon farms had high concentrations of organohalogenated contaminants (OCs) in their systems –chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) so toxic that their production was banned by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants; and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, a type of flame retardant known as PBDEs. 

A total of 45 percent of the fish nearby salmon farms were found to have feed pellets in their stomachs.  The pellets fall through the salmon farm pens and accumulate on the sea floor, and are then consumed by wild fish in the vicinity.  The control fish in the study were found to have no salmon pellets in their system, and up to 50 percent less OCs and PBDEs than the fish nearby salmon farms.

Although salmon farming companies and feed pellet producers tend not to disclose the precise contents of salmon feed pellets, scientists and advocates report that most pellets in the global salmon farming industry contain chemicals such as those indicated in the study, among others.
Pedersen is unaware of any studies that have been conducted within the fjords of Vestre Jakobselv and the surrounding area, but he is eager to see definitive research on what the effects of the chemicals from salmon feed pellets might be on the wild fish.  He said that he has strong suspicions that for wild fish nearby the salmon pens, the chemicals are disrupting their reproduction cycles.

Indeed, the 2010 study recommends further research into this very issue.  But Pedersen is not hopeful this will happen any time soon in his region.
“At this moment, the fishermen catching wild fish, we are on the defensive,” he said.  “But in the long term, we have to stay focused on this issue.”

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