From the Scottish Highlands to the Pacific waters of Chili, salmon farming is a big business. In Chili alone, export revenue generated by salmon farming now exceeds USD 1 billion each year, a figure which is expected to double over the next few years. Supporters of industrial salmon farming have been claiming for a long time that this so-called “blue revolution” is both a cheaper and more sustainable alternative to the consumption of highly depleted wild fish species.
The readily available and artificially pink-colored salmon that is available in luxury shops across throughout the Western world does not reflect the rampant destruction that this industry is causing in regions where the fish are produced. Fish farming is a quickly-expanding industry and now accounts for more than 30% of all fish protein consumed each year around the world. However, it is single-handedly responsible for the destruction of a countless number of ecosystems and fishing communities that rely on it, in some of the most vulnerable marine environments on the planet.
Salmon farming involves the raising and feeding of a large number of fish held in small net pens. A typical farm may contain up to a dozen pens, each holding between 10,000 to 15,000 fish.
Like all other types of intensive animal farming, the high concentration of salmon in each net increases the spread of disease. To protect these farmed fish from disease, antibiotics are often added to their food. Ultimately, this leads to the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the sediment under the pens. These bacteria can be a health risk for human consumers as well as for the entire ecosystem in which these nets are placed. The nets are typically located in the fast-flowing waters of estuaries so that toxic excrement, uneaten food pellets, parasites, dead fish, escaped non-native fish, as well as chemical and antibiotic residue are distributed throughout the entire estuarine ecosystem.
A typical salmon farm of 200,000 fish produces approximately the same amount of fecal matter as a town with a population of 62,000. The release of this dangerous mixture into the waters surrounding these salmon farms is threatening the survival of smaller, native salmon species, the predators that feed off of them, the future of sustainable fishing practices, as well as the communities that rely on clean and uncontaminated oceans.