Salmon Farms: Feedlots of the Sea

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Photo by Sam Beebe / Ecotrust/FlickrCC


For years I've followed reports about the environmental downside of open-water salmon farms, which is to say virtually all salmon farms. My conclusion is that they are one of the most environmentally destructive ways we produce food. A salmon farm is nothing more than a vast, floating feedlot, except feedlots, at least nominally, have to dispose of food waste, dead animals, and excrement in suitable containment areas. Salmon feedlots flush it all into the sea.

I've visited salmon farms, read scientific articles, and interviewed the multi-billion-dollar industry's advocates and detractors, but never have I encountered anything as graphic as the film Farmed Salmon Exposed by Canadian filmmaker Damien Gillis, which will be available online later this week as part of the Pure Salmon Campaign's Global Week of Action. Be warned, there are some extremely disturbing images in the clip, and the film in its entirety is positively gut-wrenching. Click here to see the trailer, and here to watch the entire film (in four parts).

I'd never seen an afflicted fish with bloody, open sores.

Some examples: sea lice are a common problem associated with salmon farms because lice from the penned salmon infest and can kill juvenile wild salmon. While I understood this as an abstract assertion, I'd never seen an afflicted fish with bloody, open sores and covered with so many lice that only small patches of its scales were visible. Similarly, I knew that areas where salmon had been farmed in Chile had to be abandoned due to an outbreak of infectious salmon anemia, the "cure" for which is to kill all farmed salmon in affected areas. But I'd never seen the social devastation left in the communities abandoned by the industry.

Industry representatives said that the movie was one-sided at a pre-screening at the Seafood Choices Alliance's annual summit in Paris earlier this month. They were right. Farmed Salmon Exposed is one-sided. It's the side of the industry the multi-national corporations don't want us to see.

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Barry Estabrook is a former contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. He is the author of the recently released Tomatoland, a book about industrial tomato agriculture. He blogs at politicsoftheplate.com. More

Barry Estabrook was formerly a contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. Stints working on a dairy farm and commercial fishing boat as a young man convinced him that writing about how food was produced was a lot easier than actually producing it. He is the author of the recently released Tomatoland, a book about industrial tomato agriculture. He lives on a 30-acre tract in Vermont, where he gardens and tends a dozen laying hens, and his work also appears at politicsoftheplate.com.
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