- Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI) has been detected in farmed fish in Norway and British Columbia
- HSMI has been responsible for devastating commercial fish farms in Norway, where it is considered the No. 3 cause of mortality
- Another disease, piscine reovirus, is associated with HSMI and is found in virtually all farmed fish in British Columbia and may also be affecting wild migrating salmon
Five decades ago, it was reported that humans could essentially catch so many fish that the oceans would become barren. At that time, the annual fish catch had increased from 23 million tons in 1953 to 46 million tons in 1963.1,2
Today fish catches have increased even more, reaching 93 million tons in 2014, according to the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the United Nations.3
However, a report published in Nature Communications suggested that such estimates may ignore small-scale fisheries, illegal fisheries and discarded bycatch and thus be an underestimate.
The report suggested fish catches may have peaked at 130 million tons in 2010 and, on a slightly brighter note, may have been on the decline since then.4 What is clear from the numbers, whether they’re an underestimate or not, is that current fishing trends are not sustainable.
Aquaculture or fish farming may therefore seem like the sustainable solution to “farm” fish and protect wild species, but the reality is anything but.
Fish Farms Breed Disease That May Harm Wild Salmon
Fish farms share many similarities with land-based concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and are sometimes referred to as CAFOs of the sea. The fish are crowded in close quarters that allow for the rapid growth of sea lice, bacteria and viruses.
Among them is Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI), which as been detected in farmed fish in Norway and British Columbia.
HSMI has been responsible for devastating commercial fish farms in Norway, where it is considered the No. 3 cause of mortality, according to a 2015 annual report by seafood company Marine Harvest.5
It first emerged in Norwegian fish farms in 1999 but was only recently discovered in British Columbia.
Experts such as biologist Alexandra Morton, who has authored more than two dozen papers on the impact of fish farms, believe this and other viruses linked to the fish farms have been plaguing commercial and wild salmon for years.
Piscine reovirus, which is associated with HSMI, for instance, is found in virtually all farmed fish in British Columbia and may also be affecting wild migrating salmon.
In the video above, Twyla Roscovich, filmmaker of the documentary “Salmon Confidential,” expands on concerns surrounding piscine reovirus, which gives salmon a heart attack and prevents them from swimming upriver.
Despite the concerns that fish farms are spreading disease that could decimate wild salmon, the government continues to extend the corporate fish farm leases for years at a clip. News organization The Tyee reported:6
“About 100 salmon fish farms now dot the southern B.C. coast. The majority of these ocean feedlots, which rear as many as a million fish in an area the size of four football fields, are owned by the Japanese Mitsibushi Corporation or the Norwegian firms Marine Harvest and Greig.
The industry employs approximately 5,000 people and exports about 68,000 tonnes of farmed Atlantic salmon, mainly to China and the United States.”
Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus (ISA) Widespread in Salmon
Wild salmon that died before spawning have tested positive for a number of salmon viruses, including the highly lethal infectious salmon anemia (ISA) virus, also known as salmon influenza.
First detected in Norway in 1984, infection spread to other countries via egg imports. In Chile, ISA virus wiped out 70 percent of the country’s salmon industry, at a cost of $2 billion. But Chile has no native salmon to decimate. British Columbia does.
And contrary to Chile, the wild salmon of British Columbia are absolutely critical to the ecosystem and residents of the area. The locals don’t just make money off these fish; it’s a main staple of their diet.
According to Morton, at least 11 species of fish in the Fraser River have been found to be infected with European-strain ISA virus.
Morton tested farmed salmon purchased in various stores and sushi restaurants around British Columbia, and samples tested positive for at least three different salmon viruses, including ISA, piscine reovirus and salmon alphaviruses.
Yet the Canadian food inspection agency has aggressively refuted the findings, and even attacked the credibility of two of the most preeminent experts on ISA testing, who testified that positive results were found to the Cohen Commission.
In fact, everyone who has spoken up about these salmon viruses, which can be traced back to salmon farms, has been shut down in some way or another.
Fish Farm Viruses Could Get Flushed Down Your Drain, Enter Local Waterways
Worse still, Morton and colleagues have also found traces of ISA virus in wild salmon.7 The problem with this, aside from the unknown effects on human health from eating salmon with lethal fish viruses, is that viruses are preserved by cold, and fish are often kept frozen for freshness.
Then, when you wash the fish, the viruses get flushed down the drain and depending on your sewer system, could be introduced into local watersheds. The environmental impact of this viral contamination is unknown, but it’s unlikely to be completely harmless.
“This is why it must become public,” Morton says. She insists that consumers, stores and trading partners must become aware of this problem and be the ones to insist on proper testing and remedial action.
It’s not just about protecting certain species of fish; it’s about the health of the ecosystem as a whole. And, it’s about human health and food safety as well.
Sea Shepherd Society to Raise Awareness About the Environmental Dangers of Fish Farms in British Columbia
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization, is perhaps best known for its aggressive tactics aimed at stopping Japanese whaling boats.
However, the society has also teamed up with Morton to send a research vessel to British Columbia to raise awareness about the damage fish farms are causing to wild salmon.
Among their plans is to collect data on the prevalence of piscine reovirus in shellfish (which can serve as biological markers for the spread of disease).
Morton was initially wary of teaming up with the controversial group, but she now believes it may be necessary since the government has turned a blind eye. As reported by The Tyee:8
“‘I shouldn’t have to get on a Sea Shepherd vessel and make a scene when governments have a problem,’ says Morton. But governments increasingly only heed corporate voices, she says.
In approving long-term leases to fish farms ‘with no consultation whatsoever, the federal Liberal government has failed [to] act in good faith by not obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples,’ adds Morton.
… ‘Four foreign corporations are using our wild Pacific migration routes as their open sewer to raise a foreign species of fish on the territory of First Nations,’ said Morton. ‘It is not a sustainable industry.’
She compares the placement of fish farms on wild fish migration routes to a mother ‘dragging her children through the infectious disease ward of a hospital on their way to school. And the Trudeau government is allowing them to get bigger,’ Morton notes.”
Can Technology Help Save Our Oceans?
Technological advances could increasingly be used to protect and restore wild fish populations. For instance, Morton recommended the British Columbia government use new technology that reads the immune systems of wild fish, which reveals which populations are in need of added support and protections.9
Other advancements are aimed at reducing bycatch, or sea creatures that are mistakenly caught by commercial fishing lines and nets, as well as tracking fish populations in real-time to better target only sustainable fish stocks. This includes the use of:10
•Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) that contain echo sounders and sensors that can track and send real-time ocean and fish data back to a central database that can be accessed by fishing fleets
•Laser beams to create “virtual nets” that may reduce seabed damage caused by conventional trawling nets (more research is needed on how the lasers may affect marine life)
•Autonomous catching devices, which hover above the seabed to reduce seabed damage and harvest live fish
Most Seafood Is Mislabeled
It’s important to know what type of seafood you’re eating, because different varieties vary widely in their level of pollutants and sustainability. Of the seven varieties of tuna sold commercially, for instance, some Bluefin tuna are critically endangered while bigeye and yellowfin tuna are rarely sustainably harvested.
Some tuna are caught using handline or pole-and-line fishing techniques, which are better for the ecosystem. Others are caught using a long line or, even worse, with nets, which may kill other species indiscriminately.
Meanwhile, there’s also the issue of contamination, with many seafood species being too polluted to safely eat, especially for young children and pregnant women. Unfortunately, it can be virtually impossible to know what type of seafood you’re actually eating.
According to a report by oceans advocacy non-profit organization Oceana, 1 in 3 seafood samples tested in the U.S. were mislabeled. Red snapper and tuna were mislabeled most often (87 percent and 59 percent of the time, respectively).11
According to Oceana, more than 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, yet only one percent of imports are inspected for fraud. In the case of red snapper, it was often actually tilefish, which often has high mercury levels and is on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “do not eat” list for pregnant women.
In addition, another Oceana study found 43 percent of U.S. salmon was also mislabeled, with many samples labeled “wild” in restaurants and grocery stores turning out to be farmed.12
Majority of Americans Deficient in Omega-3 Fats
It’s estimated that 70 percent of Americans are deficient in omega-3 fats, with up to 20 percent having levels so low that none of these essential fats can be detected in their bloodstream.13 Your brain, bones, mental health and even your risk of cancer are all impacted by these beneficial fats.
While a helpful form of omega-3 can be found in flaxseed, chia, hemp and a few other foods, the most beneficial form of omega-3 — DHA and EPA, which are essential to fighting and preventing both physical and mental disease — can only be found in fish and krill.
Because nearly all fish, from most all sources, are severely contaminated with environmental pollutants like toxic mercury, and the fact that labeling fraud is rampant in the seafood industry, you have to be very careful about the types of seafood you consume when trying to increase your omega-3 fats.
A general guideline is that the closer to the bottom of the food chain the fish is, the less contamination it will have accumulated. Sardines, in particular, are one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3 fats, with one serving containing more than 50 percent of your recommended daily value.14 Other good options include anchovies, herring and verifiable wild-caught Alaskan salmon.
If you’re looking for a supplement form of animal-based omega-3s, however, consider krill oil over fish oil. The omega-3 in krill is attached to phospholipids that increase its absorption, which means you need less of it, and it won’t cause belching or burping like many other fish oil products.
Additionally, it naturally contains astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant — almost 50 times more than is present in fish oil. This prevents the highly perishable omega-3 fats from oxidizing before you are able to integrate them into your cellular tissue. It’s also the most sustainable form of animal-based omega-3s.
Focus on Finding Sustainable Seafood
No matter what type of fish you’re considering, look for varieties that have received the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. This certification assures that every component of the manufacturing process — from how the raw materials are harvested to how the product is manufactured — has been scrutinized by MSC and has been independently audited to ensure it meets sustainable standards.
All of my krill products, for example, are MSC certified, allowing you to track where the krill oil came from, as each batch of krill is carefully monitored all the way through, from catch to sale. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program can also guide you in the direction of more sustainable seafood choices. They have a searchable database to find more sustainable seafood options, and they even offer a Sustainable Seafood app for your smartphone.