Is sustainably farmed salmon the next Baconnaise Lite?
Farmed salmon that get the green light by Seafood Watch raise questions, concerns.
I always wondered why people ate Cheese Whiz. I mean WHY would you eat fake cheese when you could just eat the real thing? Similarly, the sushi lovers of the blog world may revolt when I say this, but I feel the same way about imitation crab. EVERYtime I eat sushi people say, “Well, even though you’re a vegetarian, you can eat the imitation crab, since it’s not REAL crab.” I don’t want to eat artificial crab. If I don’t eat the real thing, the last thing I want is imitation. Don’t get me wrong, as a vegetarian I’ve eaten a slice or two of Tofurky, and enjoyed the protein substitute of it all. I’ve probably even sprayed that gross fake whipped cream from a can directly into my mouth once or twice. Yes: Gross.
In the end, I always come back to: Eat the real thing. Eat fresh. Eat local. Eat wild.
Last week I read a Scientific American article about a newly farmed salmon that some environmentalists are calling “sustainable.” I nearly felt embarrassed reading the article, fearing someone might walk in on me secretly hording the Cheez Whiz. As an organization that has consistently supported wild fish on and off the dinner plate with events like SalmonAid, Oregon Wild, like me, tends to lean toward the wild. The Scientific American article reports that the farmed fish are healthy, raised in freshwater in a closed containment system. This suggests that the more typical concerns we’ve held about farmed fish—that they mix with wild fish, altering their genetics, they outcompete wild fish for a limited food base, and that they are more susceptible to disease and therefore spread it to wild fish—have been eliminated. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s famous Seafood Watch program has endorsed the AquaSeed Corp.’s latest product, which has given these farmed coho quite a bit of street cred.
One might argue that the availability of “sustainably” farmed salmon will be good for consumers who are determined to eat salmon, even if wild fish aren’t available. My concern is that people will reduce their consumption of wild fish, and the line between “okay” farmed fish and wild fish will quickly be blurred. Worst case scenario and you might find farmed salmon undergoing the same green washing we’ve seen from nearly every major corporation. I’m pretty sure you can find “natural” Doritos if you want them.
If we want wild fish, like organic carrots, we have to create a market for their demand. Not only are wild fish typically better for you than farmed fish, but market demand for the wild leads to economic, ecological, and political implications for wild salmon populations. Your wild salmon purchase supports the protection of wild places. I’m not sure there is an absolute right or wrong on this issue. And I commend the innovations of AquaSeed Corp., and am glad to find an alternative to the typically fatty and antibiotic filled farmed fish; but it makes me nervous for our ever growing fake food future. Salmon, real, wild salmon, are meant to be anadromous, living most of their life in salt water and using that miraculous sense of smell to wander their way back to fresh water. Real salmon are meant to be hardy, challenged, and navigate the waters of boaters, grizzlies, and snowmelt. Without a market for wild fish, our job to preserve places like the Siskiyou Wild Rivers, the Klamath, and many more watersheds gets just a little bit harder.