Farm-raised Fish: No Ocean, No Sky, No Problem


Tank-Raised Salmon Hits the Market: A Whole New Meaning for “Canned Salmon”

Salmon used to end up in a can.  Now you may be eating salmon that grew up in a can.

A Nova Scotia-based fish farm recently sold its first batch of Atlantic salmon grown entirely inside land-based tanks – from eggs to smolt to adult to the plate.  No ocean, no sky, no problem.

Sustainable Fish Farming spent eight years developing a system to farm fish in land-based, closed-containment tanks. The new facility in Nova Scotia will have the capacity to produce 400 to 500 tons of salmon.

“Once we expand significantly, when we get into the thousands of tons of production, I think that we’ll have economies that will give us the option of being more competitive,” CEO Kirk Havercroft recently told Undercurrent News, a seafood trade publication.  He’s interested in how quickly the salmon, marketed under the brand Sustainable Blue, will sell and how popular it will be.

Soylent Pink?

Not everyone is thrilled at the idea of farm-raised fish, and selling the idea of eating a fish that spent its entire life in an enclosed tank could be tough. The commercial fishing industry has waged an “eat wild” campaign for years.  On the other hand, the world’s seemingly insatiable hunger for salmon poses a threat to wild stocks, and many see farm-raised fish as the way to alleviate that pressure.

Sports fishermen will argue there is no substitute for a freshly caught wild salmon.  But should they support fish farms as an alternative to commercial fishing, even if the notion of eating something raised in a tank isn’t particularly appealing or consistent with their outdoor ethic?

Is it safe?

Wild-caught fish used to be considered healthy, but concerns have grown about the effects that heavy metal contaminants (such as mercury), pollutants (such as polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs), pesticides, and fertilizers have had on water and the fish that grow in it.

Farm-raised fish, on the other hand, have suffered from the use of harmful chemicals.  Contaminants like dioxins, toxaphene, and PCB’s are often found in food and nutrition supplements manufactured for aquaculture.  Because of this, farm fish typically have higher concentrations of toxic chemicals than wild salmon.  Similar to the controversial use of antibiotics by the poultry and livestock industries, factory salmon farms must prevent crowded fish from infecting one another with diseases.  Because of the high prevalence of drugs on salmon farms, unwary consumers may ingest untold amounts of antibiotics.

Taking Care of Farm-raised Fish Problems

While more expensive, closed container systems can remove most of the problems that have plagued fish farms.  Diseases take off in crowded farm situations, but because diseases are introduced from the outside, closed systems avoid the need for chemicals and antibiotics.  Traditional fish farms also produce large amounts of waste (feces).  The Nova Scotia system filters the water and converts such waste into fertilizer.

One of the biggest complaints about farm-raised fish is that the fish escape into the natural environment to breed or compete with native species.  For example, the world record rainbow trout, a 44- pounder, originally escaped from the CanGro fish farm in Canada’s Lake Diefenbaker.  Genetically pure Atlantic salmon are virtually non-existent on the east coast, due to interbreeding with fish that escaped from ocean pens.

Approval by the FDA this year of the first Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) animal – an Atlantic “Super Salmon” with genetically engineered genes – has drawn increased attention to the problem of escapes.  Land-based systems isolated from water would solve that problem.

The Nova Scotia company plans to expand outside of traditional markets in eastern Canada, with plans to make sales in Quebec, Canada’s west coast, Boston and New York.

Let us know in the comments or on social media whether you’d eat “canned salmon”!