Well known as one of the healthiest proteins, salmon has been revered and relied upon for years. While respect for this migratory fish dwindles, the demand for consumption rises and it’s causing a stir in the waters for researchers and environmentalists.
Salmon has been a very important part of the Canadian diet historically and is a Native American symbol for generosity, intelligence and intuition. Researchers know little about B.C. salmon populations and yet in Atlantic Canada, the United States has already begun research on genetically modified salmon to be provided for mass consumption. Because it’s a fish, have we as a nation decided to throw it on the back burner?
If you were one of the many people who went out to see this year’s Adams River sockeye salmon run, you know it’s quite a feat for these fish. Salmon travel long distances, upstream, to spawn in their home waters. It’s a true show of dedication.
Around 30 million sockeye returned to their home streams this fall, but it’s still somewhat of a mystery as to how they flourished. Following last year’s poor sockeye run it seemed as if we were headed towards a steep decline in some salmon populations.
There are a few theories floating around as to why the sockeye populations thrived this year. One popular theory attributes the increase to the 2008 eruption of the Kasatochi volcano in Alaska. The ash from the volcano spurred a huge bloom of phytoplankton—the sockeye’s main meal.
It’s an interesting theory, but Bill Crawford, a researcher at the BC Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, BC says more research is needed before we can draw a conclusion.
“It’s not completely figured out and you could do quite a bit of damage,” he explains when asked if using volcanic ash as a phytoplankton fertilizer to increase fish populations would ever work.
“We don’t have a lot of observations of the salmon,” Crawford says. “They stay in deep sea and once they leave Canadian waters we don’t see them much at all.”
Predictions for next year’s sockeye run haven’t been released yet.
For the time being wild salmon will run their natural course. But, what about those that aren’t so free? Farmed salmon sales are soaring—around 80,000 metric tonnes are raised in B.C. fish farms annually—but a new development looks to possibly increase these numbers even more.
AquaBounty, from the United States, is currently working with Environment Canada to study and hopefully sell, genetically modified, farmed salmon. If you’ve ever been to a fish farm, you know it’s not the ideal lifestyle, especially for a naturally migratory fish like the salmon. Farmed fish spend their lives swimming around in pens, living on feed that contains elements such as soy and wheat gluten.
AquaBounty’s AquaAdvantage Salmon (AAS) is genetically engineered to grow twice as fast as regular salmon and 99 per cent of them are engineered to be infertile.
The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network’s (CBAN)
Nov. 22 press release stated the GM salmon are being raised in PEI, where residents and officials are enraged about the secrecy of the development.
“It’s ridiculous that Environment Canada refuses to tell the public if it’s conducting an environmental assessment. Why is this top secret? And why is there no public input?” asked Sharon Labchuk of Earth Action PEI.
The United States Food and Drug Administration currently deems AAS safe, but could it eventually end up on your Canadian plate?
Colleen Dane, the communications manager for the BC Salmon Farmers Association which is a member of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, says they don’t support the growing of genetically modified salmon.
“We believe that the fish rearing practices now in place already allow for production of a high quality product,” she says. “Considering the level of current research, the environment and the market, we don’t support the commercial production of transgenic fish.”
It’s a new development, but is this where the future of the once revered salmon is heading? Do you really want to see a soy and fish meal fed salmon that’s enjoyed half a lifespan in a pen on your plate? It may just be a fish, but it may end up in your oven.