|An enclosed, land-based aquaponics fish farm. Photo socialearth.org|
Those observations made a recent conversation I participated in all the more distressing.
I was meeting with an old friend at a coffee shop and he introduced me to two of his friends. The conversation rapidly landed on the topic of fish farms. They were both enthusiastically sympathetic to Alex's cause. I was cruising, enjoying the pleasure of finding myself in such friendly territory without even having to work at it. Then one of them said: you know, the problem with farmed salmon is that it tastes awful. The wild salmon has this “gamy” flavor which cannot be replicated in a fish farm.
Whoa, hold it there buddy. I was stupefied by what I had just heard. Is that what we have reduced the wild vs. farmed salmon issue to – a mere consumer debate?
I told my new acquaintance that if, tomorrow morning, Marine Harvest got its act together, took all of its fish farms out of the ocean and brought them inland into properly contained systems, I would applaud loudly. That, moreover, if Marine Harvest took the additional steps of rendering its farming operations sustainable by (a) finding alternative feed sources to ocean fishing by-catch and (b) ensuring the proper recycling of its waste – I would become Marine Harvest's most faithful customer.
As for the actual taste of salmon, I told him, I couldn't care less.
I love the taste of sockeye, don't get me wrong. It's one of my most intense and rewarding culinary pleasures in life. But I would give it up without hesitation if that could save this magnificent species from extinction. Hell, I've already done that! I have hardly eaten any sockeye in the past 3 years because of collapsing runs. In 2010, I have feasted on sockeye knowing full well that I may have to renounce it for good as early as next year. Because – no matter how tasty the flesh of a sockeye is – it does not come close to the transformative experience of watching the sockeye return to its river to spawn.
Why in the world did I have to remind this well-intentioned person of such basic and self-evident truisms about wild and farmed salmon? How did we ever get here?
It made me realize that Marine Harvest's impact goes further than just the potential eradication of the wild salmon itself. Another secondary and far reaching impact is that, through its operations, this corporation is instilling in people a deep and long lasting hatred for fish farming in general. The problem is that if we start hating fish farms, we and the oceans are in deep, deep trouble indeed.
Fish farms were supposed to be a positive and workable solution to the awful plague of ocean overfishing. High-tech farms, that is: farms which are enclosed, running in a closed cycle, producing their own feed through a combination of plants, worms, non-carnivorous fish, and predator fish (a technique sometimes known as aquaponics). Farms which do not overcrowd their fish or replicate in the ocean the scourge of land-based factory farming.
In our ongoing struggle to save our wild salmon, it appears that we are – once again! – fighting on the terms set by the corporations rather than our own. We are asked to choose between two impossible evils: destructive, overcrowded, ridiculously low-tech operations consisting literally of a net thrown in the ocean which the industry has the nerve to call “fish farms”. Or, the continuation of mindless overfishing of the ocean, down to the very last wild fish. Are we learning anything yet? We must reject both alternatives and proudly advance our own progressive agenda, our own solution to the tragic depletion of our oceans: fish farms!
In that regard, we must listen to Alex Morton's core message more carefully. She is and has always been a fervent advocate of contained land-based fish farms, provided that they are run under sustainable conditions. We need to ensure that we remain focused on that message and that we communicate it clearly to the general public. We LOVE fish farms and we WANT them, and Marine Harvest's operations DO NOT constitute fish farms.
As such, any part of our campaign that depreciates farmed salmon (e.g. popular slogans such as “farmed salmon sucks”, “tastes awful”, is a “freak of nature”, “has two heads”, etc.) is misplaced and actually counterproductive. We should instead glorify this magnificent animal, the Atlantic salmon, and recognize it as our objective ally in the battle to save its brother the Pacific salmon. Atlantic salmon are good! They taste good! They could taste even better with the proper application of technology and know-how! Contained, high-tech fish farming is good! The overfishing of wild salmon is evil! Marine Harvest's usurpation of the term “fish farm” to describe its nets in the water is evil!
Perhaps a more progressive, although slightly more complex, slogan for the general public would be something along the lines that “We want to reclaim fish farms from Marine Harvest”.
As I indicated at the beginning of this post, there is a distinct and reasonable probability of us actually winning this campaign. This poses the practical question of what happens after we win.
1. Will we win on time? Will it give the wild salmon a chance to rebound, recover, and adapt to other threats such as overfishing, loss of habitat, and (perhaps) climate change?
2. What will be the cost of this victory to the reputation of aquaculture and fish farming in general? A key question indeed, given that we need fish farms to save our oceans and, therefore, our wild salmon.
Once Marine Harvest has been forced to remove its despicable open-pen fish operations from our waters, do we just mindlessly go back to overfishing the ocean and eradicating our wild salmon through criminal mismanagement, DFO-style? No, of course not! From there, we move on to fish farms. Real fish farms, enclosed, high-tech, sustainable ones.
By denigrating fish farms as we sometimes do, we are cutting the branch we are sitting on. We are contributing to bankrupting in advance any chance of establishing viable commercial aquaculture operations as an alternative to killing our oceans. Yes, we need to - and we will - get Marine Harvest's factory nets out of the water. But we also need to stop undermining fish farms. Now.