Do you know where your shrimp has been?

File:NCI steamed shrimp.jpg

Shrimp and prawns are some of the only seafood that I will buy in the grocery store.  I love shrimp, but alas, my husband does not fish for them, so I must resort to buying them.  But lately I have been having a really hard time finding US caught shrimp in our local grocery stores.  Even as recently as a couple years ago I could easily find a selection of shrimp from different sources; some from Asia, some from South America, Mexico, and the (more expensive) US caught option.

I always check the seafood section when I go grocery shopping, but at several different grocery stores around Bellingham I have been finding nothing but farmed shrimp from Thailand.  EVERYTHING is from Thailand.  Peeled, tail-on, cooked, raw, every option, every brand = Farmed/ Thailand.  What gives?  I understand that the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery has had a rough go of it, what with the BP oil spill and all, but I was under the impression that the industry has since made a recovery.

The problem is that Thailand’s aquaculture industry has been booming in the last few years.  Thailand is now the biggest supplier of seafood to the US, and shrimp is one of the top products imported. In fact, Thailand is now the world’s biggest supplier of shrimp.  Shrimp farming has been wildly successful in Thailand, where farmers clear mangrove forests along the coasts to make way for shrimp ponds (60% of Thailand’s mangrove forests have been cleared – read Cheap Shrimp: Hidden Costs).  Due to poor farming practices, like overcrowding, the use of harsh chemicals, fertilizers, and antibiotics, these ponds are often unusable after a couple years.  The farmers then abandon the polluted ponds and move on to start new ponds along the coast.

File:Shrimp pond.jpg

an example of a shrimp pond, this one in South Korea

Even though Thailand has been increasing it’s environmental and health regulations, the fact is, their standards are just not the same as ours.  Don’t even get me started on their (lack of) labor laws, or the destruction done by their wild-caught shrimp fisheries.  And it’s not just Thailand – China’s fish farms have been growing at frightening speeds and they have the same disregard for environmental, labor and health regulations.

To add to the problem, only 1% of imported seafood is inspected, and only 0.1% is tested for residues of drugs that are banned in the US.  It is simply not feasible to test all seafood that comes into our country.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to eat shrimp from a country that has a reputation of feeding it’s farmed seafood with untreated animal manure and human waste (read this), I want it tested first.  And this is why I won’t eat imported shrimp, no matter how cheap it is, or any other imported seafood for that matter.  So until I find US shrimp back in the freezers at my grocery store (or even better, down in the harbor, fresh off the boat!) I will sadly not be eating any of those tasty little crustaceans, and I would advise all of you readers to do the same.  Read the fine print on the packaging – know where your seafood is coming from!


Study Shows: Fish Farms Harm Wild Sockeye

Another sea lice/salmon farm study was published this week.  Yes, I am going to write about sea lice again… I know the topic seems a  little dry, but I find this whole salmon farming battle really interesting.  It is probably in part because our family depends on the health of wild seafood stocks, but also because the heart of the debate is centered so close to home, just north of us in Vancouver, BC and the surrounding area.

The study that came out this week provides some pretty compelling evidence that BC salmon farms are infecting Fraser River sockeye with sea lice.  In short, scientists from the University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University and several environmental organizations conducted studies pinpointing the routes that migrating runs of sockeye salmon take to get to the Skeena River and the Fraser River (Fraser River sockeye are a hugely valuable resource, not to mention a BC icon).

Fraser River watershed (in green)

The Fraser River sockeye, which must travel past some 18 open net fish farms in the Discovery Islands (between Vancouver Island and the mainland), picked up more sea lice than their neighbor salmon in the Skeena River where sockeye don’t pass by any fish farms.

You should read the whole article from the Vancouver Sun: Fish farms linked to sea lice infestations among wild sockeye. (It’s not very long, I promise!)

Many studies have been conducted on this topic and although there has been some contradiction (read my post on contradicting sea lice studies) the vast majority point to the same conclusion: open net salmon farms increase the levels of sea lice on wild salmon when they are in their most vulnerable stages.

I do feel some sympathy for Canada because salmon farming is a major contributor to their economy and provides jobs for their people.  However, there is also job potential in an alternative: development of closed containment salmon farms, which are much more environmentally friendly and do not put wild fish at risk.  Considering all the evidence, Canada is being irresponsible in allowing salmon farming to endanger one of their most valuable natural resources, the wild salmon.  Too little is understood about these wild salmon runs for us to be contaminating their habitat and exposing them to disease and parasites.  I vote for erring on the side of caution when it comes to the existence of an entire species.  Salmon farms need to clean up their act and move toward closed containment systems NOW!

A view of the Fraser River in Mission, BC

Want to know more?…

-Canada is taking some steps in the right direction… read here about efforts to develop closed containment salmon farms, aka the future of salmon farming.

-And watch a 90 second video of a closed containment tank being built and installed.

-I hate to assault you with too much info at once, but this is another great video “Farmed Salmon Exposed”, but I warn you… it’s 23 minutes long (but worth it).

-Read some of my other posts about salmon farming:

My Discussion with a Salmon Farmer

Out of Control Sea Lice

Well, which is it?: contradicting sea lice studies

BC Salmon farm, Photo Courtesy of the BC Salmon Farmers Association

Last month, a UC Davis study was published, claiming that the crash of wild salmon populations in British Columbia had no relationship to the local salmon farms and the sea lice that infest them.  These scientists can’t say what did cause the declines, but they essentially pardoned the sea lice of the crime.  Opponents of salmon farming were stunned and skeptical, and the aquaculture industry rejoiced.  I myself was a little skeptical, but willing to entertain the idea that sea lice might not be as bad as I thought they were.

Then, less than two weeks later, a new study was published in the online journal, Aquaculture Environment Interactions, which not only claims that sea lice are problematic for wild salmon populations, but also that the treatment methods that salmon farms use are non-sustainable.

Both sides of the argument claim the other side is using flawed science.

I look to the vast number of studies published on this topic over the last few years… the overwhelming majority point to salmon farms as the culprit for endangering wild salmon populations with sea lice and pollution of their environment.  Even if sea lice are not directly causing the decline in wild salmon populations, the use of chemicals like SLICE by fish farms to treat sea lice infestations is contaminating the oceans and can not continue indefinitely.


My Discussion with a Salmon Farmer

A little while back I wrote a post about sea lice infestations in salmon farms, with my main point being that open-net salmon pens can (probably) never work out environmentally, and that the only safe solution is to improve the on-land closed containment systems.

A couple weeks ago, a salmon farmer from BC posted a comment in reply to my sea lice post, claiming I needed to do more research.  I was willing to hear him out, so I investigated his claims, read his blogs, and various articles by salmon farming proponents.  I wasn’t convinced, so we debated back and forth for a few days.  Here is our unedited conversation…

  1. obominog says:

    Well it seems you didnt read the comments on that CBC News article. I also noted one of the colleagues mentioned was Alexandra Morton (= Bad science)! Its seems she will do anything she can to get her way including taking information she wants from research articles and excluding anything that dissagrees with what she is trying to accomplish. I’ve been a fish farmer for many years. I care about the environment as much as any other person. I won’t push my views on anyone, but instead ask that you become informed and make your own decisions. I won’t pretend to know everything about salmon farming, there is alot to know and even more to discover. One quote that comes to mind from the great Jacques Cousteau is “We must plant the sea and herd its animals using the sea as farmers instead of hunters. That is what civilization is all about – farming replacing hunting.”
    Click this link If you would like to know more about fish farming .

    • Thanks for your comment. I also try not to think in absolutes, so I am open to learning more about salmon farming. I read some of your blog and some of the linked articles and it’s all very interesting. I like your detailed descriptions of fish farming and you have beautiful photos!
      Although my family’s livelihood depends upon commercial fishing, my concerns with fish farming are not competitive. I see many problems in the open pen system of fish farming, including sea lice infestations. I don’t doubt that there could be flaws with some of the studies done on sea lice and wild salmon populations (most scientists are biased one way or the other), however, I have seen enough evidence to convince me that fish farms could endanger wild populations and that is too serious of a risk to gamble with.
      My other concerns with farmed salmon are the quantity and quality of fish meal they are fed, antibiotics and pesticides they are treated with, and dye they are colored with. All of this leads to what I see as an inferior product. I choose not to eat farmed salmon for these reasons. That said, the science of fish farming is young and I hope that over time, the industry can become healthier and more sustainable.
      I would be interested to hear what your personal experiences have been with sea lice. Do you have problems with them on your farm? How are they dealt with?
      And in response to the quote by Cousteau, I hope farming doesn’t replace hunting entirely. I see nothing wrong with commercial fishing when it is well managed. Alaska is a great example of excellently managed fisheries that are monitored closely for any signs of strain on the ecosystem. In an ideal world, hunting and farming could coexist in a sustainable manner.
      Thanks again for your perspective.

      • obominog says:

        I wouldn’t want your family’s livelihood to degrade because I think the wild stocks are in danger. But you have to look at the big picture, the wild stocks are in danger because of many aspects, including commercial fishing. Yes I agree there are problems with open pen farming. These issues are being dealt with as best as possible and I see an improvement every year. The Canadian fish farming industry is one of the most regulated industries in Canada. The company I work for follows all regulations and then some. In fact I believe our company is an industry leader. Always brainstorming to improve farming salmon. I don’t think it is fair for anyone to blame anyone else on the state of wildstock. I think governments have a hard time managing fisheries in the ocean. Lets say the Alaskan fishery thinks the return on salmon is going to be 30 million. Therefore they open the fishery to take a percentage of it. The salmon then go to sea and while at sea something drastic happens, like another Country fishing in international waters, takes the same percentage. Then a sea lion pack hits the same school of salmon. The media would blame the Alaskan fishery for taking too many salmon. This is just an example of things that could happen. As for sea lice at our farm, I have never seen even smolts die due to sea lice. Sea lice have existed with salmon since long before humans were aware of them. We do lice samples every month and the numbers this year are at an all time low. I am going to write an article on sea lice this week. If you would like to know more, please post a comment on my blog at
        As far as antibiotics, pesticides and that sort, our fish get tested before they leave the farm, the processing plant and at international borders. Either they pass inspection or they get tossed out. Can’t say we know much about what the wild stocks eat. International waters on the ocean get very polluted due to no regulation. For instance, large fuel cargo ships cleaning out tanks. We control what are salmon get, can’t control what the wildstock gets. Just something to ponder.

      • To continue our discussion, I do have some more questions about salmon farming… I’m happy to hear your sea lice levels are low, that is good news for everyone! I would like to know about the fish meal you feed the salmon. What is it made from, where does it come from? From everything I have read, the fish meal and fish oils that are fed to farmed salmon come mostly from wild-caught fish. The statistics I keep coming across are that it takes about 2-4 lbs of wild fish to make 1 lb of farmed salmon. World Wildlife Fund reports “Fish caught to make fishmeal and oil currently represent one-third of the global fish harvest.”
        You stated in your comment on my blog that we don’t know/can’t control what wild fish are eating especially in polluted international waters, but we can control what the farmed fish eat. Well it seems that your farmed fish are eating the wild fish, which you claim are exposed to pollution in the oceans. According to my understanding of biology, when one animal consumes another, the contaminants (pesticides, mercury, etc) that are stored in the fatty cells of the one animal are transferred to the fatty cells of the second animal, where they are stored. For every creature that is consumed, the levels of contaminants in the predator are compounded. This is why wild salmon, which eat low on the food chain, are usually very low in contaminants like mercury. Sockeye salmon live almost entirely on zooplankton and shrimp like creatures (the red krill give them the red hue of their flesh) making them very low on the food chain. Other species of salmon eat some small fish, but they are still relatively low on the food chain.
        When farmed salmon are fed a diet of other fish (of all species and sizes), the contaminants from the fatty cells of these fish are then transferred to the tissue of the farmed fish. Thus the levels of contaminants in farmed fish are usually found to be higher than in wild fish. Here is an example of one study that finds significantly higher levels of toxins such as PCBs, dioxins, dieldrin, and toxaphene,
        Here is a report questioning the safety of farmed fish, I know scientists have been working to find an alternative to fish meal and oil as feed for farmed salmon, but as far as I know, no significant progress has been made.
        What is your take on the fish meal dependence issue? Do you know of any alternatives for salmon feed?
        Once again, thanks for being willing to discuss these issues with me, it’s all very interesting!

        As per his request, I posted the last comment on his blog.  Instead of posting the whole comment, he deleted my supporting evidence and posted an edited version…  then replied with this…

        • obominog
          You really have to watch what you read on the internet these days. Especially when it is a debatable subject. You can find any answer you are looking for whether it is right or wrong. Also it is hard to tell how old some articles are. Here is an article I found on alternatives to fish meal.

          Take what you will from it, just know that truth is whatever you believe in and can be viewed differently by everyone.

          Obominog also sent me an email at this point apologizing for editing my comment and stating that he did not wish to continue our debate in public (only in email).  He didn’t want his readers to be influenced by the sources and studies I quoted.  He was very polite, but basically dismissed all the evidence I provided, claiming that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet… and this is where our discussion ended.

          Yesterday in the news, it was announced that the BC Salmon Farmers’ Association will be forced to make public all data, from 120 salmon farms, on sea lice infestation, diseases, stocking and mortality for the last 10 years.  Needless to say, it will be interesting to see the results…

Out of Control Sea Lice

Sea Lice on Atlantic Salmon

They might be tiny, but they sure can do some damage.  They infest the open-net salmon farms and then hop on wild salmon swimming past.  I have read studies that claim sea lice kill 95percent of wild juvenile salmon that swim past the farms.

Here is a fresh article from CBC News about the extent of the damage.

CBC News – Technology & Science – Fish-farm sea lice more widespread than thought.

In another recent article from CBC News, Canada has approved the temporary use of a restricted pesticide called Alphamax on farmed salmon in New Brunswick, that have developed resistance to other pesticides.  The salmon will be pumped into the hold of a large boat, the water will be treated with the chemical, and the fish will be pumped back into their pens, along with the treated water.  Environmentalists are concerned (rightly so) that the chemicals could kill other sea life in the area, such as the lobster that local fishermen depend on.

Read more:

Basically, the only solution is to move all fish farms into closed containment systems on land.   We have seen over and over how unsafe these open-net systems are.  We have seen entire wild fish populations collapse in Norway, Ireland and Scotland.  Haven’t we learned our lesson yet?

Eat Smart: Shop Responsibly

I hate to sound preachy, but…   your consumption choices can make a difference!  Buy sustainable seafood. Don’t be embarrassed to ask a waiter or chef if the fish on the menu is wild or farmed. It lets the business know that customers care one way or the other.  Download a seafood watch cheat-sheet that fits in your wallet or a cell phone app from that tells which seafoods from which areas are caught or farmed in a sustainable manner.  They even have a sushi guide!

Now I have to rant for a moment about farmed salmon…  DON’T BUY IT!  There are too many reasons why farmed salmon is an abomination, so I’ll just list a few.

-the fish are fed a diet of fish meals and oils which make them fattier than wild salmon, but lower in protein.  Eating other fish also concentrates contaminants and makes the salmon more carcinogenic (wild salmon eat mostly krill, not other fish).

-the fish are treated with antibiotics and pesticides

-off shore salmon pens contaminate wild salmon runs with diseases and sea lice infestations (which have become epidemic in salmon farms).  Also, salmon frequently escape from their pens, further contaminating the wild salmon.

-farmed salmon are dyed orange.  Wild salmon’s flesh is orange or red because its natural diet consists of pink krill.  Farmed salmon flesh is naturally grey colored because of its fish meal diet and must be dyed orange to appeal to customers.  (BC Salmon Farmers Association says their salmon is not “dyed”, but fed pigment in the fish meal feed)

I’ll just stop there for now.  I think you get the picture.

(I just have to add that this post is dedicated to my husband, who is a commercial fisherman, and who hates farmed salmon with a passion.  He likes to remind me of the time we were on vacation and ordered an all you can eat sushi dinner.  He could tell that the salmon on the platter was farmed, and refused to touch it.  I didn’t want it to go to waste, so I ate it and became so violently ill with food poisoning that I had to go to the hospital.  Of course he blames the farmed salmon, because it was the only thing on the platter he didn’t eat and he was fine.)