GARDINER, ME / ACCESSWIRE / October 20, 2023 / Recent reporting in the New York Times on salmon aquaculture paints an incorrect picture of net pen salmon farming. Net pen farming is the most environmentally sustainable animal production on the planet, and our members take great pride in ensuring the welfare of the fish we raise and minimizing the environmental impacts of our operations.
Below is our letter to the Times, addressing several wrong points in the article and setting the record straight about sustainable Maine salmon farming.
October 20, 2023
The New York Times' recent article on salmon aquaculture ("The Salmon on Your Plate Has a Troubling Cost. These Farms Offer Hope.") gets several facts wrong and includes multiple misrepresentations about net pen farming operations. Regrettably, the Times chose to ignore information provided to them by industry professionals, instead relying on falsehoods from anti-net pen activists.
The Times states that 10 to 20 percent of salmon consumed in the U.S. is wild Pacific salmon, "but the rest is imported farmed fish." In fact, Atlantic salmon has been farmed in coastal net pens right here in Maine since the 1970s. The Maine Aquaculture Association (MAA) is the lead trade group representing this industry, which produces between 33 million and 39 million pounds of salmon annually. We are dedicated to producing healthy, delicious seafood, while practicing sustainable management that minimizes environmental impacts.
Our members work with veterinarians, biologists, and feed specialists, and meet the highest international standards, including the rigorous four-star Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certification process. We practice sustainable farming techniques, including bay management, site rotation, fallowing of farms between rotations, and strict bio-security protocols to keep our fish and environment healthy. As a result, as noted by the Times, our salmon is recommended as a "good alternative" by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program. Unfortunately, many of the Times' other inclusions in the article paint a false picture of our operations.
The Times writes that salmon farming net pens face "severe crowding," "pollute the surrounding ecosystem," and "promote the spread of diseases and pests like sea lice, resulting in the need for antibiotics and pesticides." The fact is that Maine is home to the only ocean-raised Atlantic salmon in America, and our net pens contain less than 4 percent fish and more than 96 percent water, giving our salmon plenty of room to swim, grow, and mimic natural schooling patterns. All of our farms adhere to rigorous environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Coastal Zone Management Act. Farms are closely monitored using underwater cameras and divers to ensure that healthy environmental conditions in and near the pens are maintained at all times.
Our farmers have a stewardship responsibility to care for the animals they raise. Maine-farmed salmon are raised with little or no antibiotics under the watch of veterinarians. Farm-raised salmon receive the least medicines out of all the most popular animal proteins found at the grocery store.
The Times extensively quotes Catherine Collins, one of the authors of the book Salmon Wars, which has been heavily criticized by experts for factual errors.
Ms. Collins states that "Every place where Atlantic salmon is raised in net pens, the wild population has declined by as much as 70 percent." This is false. In Washington state, where Atlantic salmon was farmed for three decades, a 2018 biological opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service found little to no negative impact on Puget Sound species such as salmon and orcas, or their habitat. This finding was supported by a unanimous 2022 Washington State Supreme Court ruling, which concluded that fish farming in net pens would not have probable, significant adverse impacts on the environment, and that transmission from farmed Atlantic salmon to wild salmonid populations presents a low risk.
The reason wild salmon populations have declined is not net pen salmon farming, but growing seal populations, habitat loss due to development, continued commercial fishing in migratory routes, municipal waste treatment plants releasing untreated pollutants and contaminants which affect juvenile salmon and dam installations altering rivers, threatening ecological integrity, and resulting in loss of fish habitat.
While land-based recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) technology shows promise, significant challenges exist, and the overall viability of large-scale full-grown-out systems is unproven. Existing projects have performed well below their design capacity and have proven to be much more complicated to manage than expected. Significant environmental concerns around RAS fish farming include the large amount of concrete and steel required to build a facility, and the huge amount of electricity required to pump water to grow fish to harvestable size. Twice the number of greenhouse gases are emitted growing salmon in an RAS system compared to net pen salmon farming.
It is also worth noting that all land-based hatcheries, RAS systems and other commercial livestock facilities must manage animal health with veterinarians to control disease and bacteria. No fish farm is immune to disease and fish mortalities, including RAS facilities.
Net pen salmon farming is the most environmentally sustainable animal production on the planet, with the lowest freshwater use and lowest carbon emissions. Freshwater and saltwater aquaculture technology is also enabling innovative new techniques to address the decline of wild salmon stocks in rivers.
All forms of food production have some environmental impact. As farmers we have a responsibility, irrespective of the farming method we use, to recognize those impacts and work collectively to reduce them. Here in Maine we have a long tradition of doing that in cooperation with ENGO organizations such as Trout Unlimited, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Conservation Law Foundation. Demand for healthy seafood is increasing every year and net pen aquaculture will continue to play an important role in keeping Americans well-fed and healthy.
Consumers have the right to make informed decisions about the foods they eat. But they should also expect journalists at respected publications like the New York Times to tell them the truth about their options. Unfortunately, it failed to do so in its reporting on net pen aquaculture.
Sebastian M. Belle
About the Maine Aquaculture Association
The Maine Aquaculture Association (est. 1978) is a non-profit trade association that represents Maine aquaculture producers at the state, federal, and international levels. Our members grow finfish, shellfish, and sea vegetables. MAA's mission is to support Maine's aquatic growers in developing economically and environmentally sustainable business practices, to promote the benefits of aquaculture in the local food system, and to preserve Maine's heritage of a vibrant working waterfront.
Stove Boat Communications
SOURCE: Maine Aquaculture Association