JANUARY 1998

 

JANUARY 1998 FULL ISSUE

SALMON SHOWDOWN

Industrialists raising Atlantic salmon in undersea cages are disrupting marine life from Puget Sound to the top of Vancouver Island, shooting mammals and birds, displacing killer whales and dolphins, and risking the fragile health of wild pacific salmon. Who's letting this happen?

By PAUL KOBERSTEIN

Two salmon fillets at my local supermarket lay side by side, wrapped in cellophane. The bright pink one on the left, a Chinook, sold for $7.99 per pound. The other, of a ruddier hue, was labeled an  Atlantic salmon, and sold for $5.99. I asked the clerk if she could tell the difference between the two. She said all she knew was that the Chinook tasted more "wild."

I admit it was a trick question. She did not know that while both came from the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic is not wild. Starting in the mid- l 980s, industrialists began importing Atlantic salmon eggs for growing in large undersea cages, or net pens, off the British Columbia coast.

In this ocean, on this side of North America, it is an alien species.  If the name is alien, the "look" is deceptive. The industrialists fed the Atlantic the additive Astaxanthin, giving it a color similar to the Chinook, which naturally gets its color from a diet of krill. Without manipulation of its feed, net­pen reared salmon display a pale gray flesh. The Atlantic salmon before me might also have contained traces of three types of antibiotics sometimes used in the pens and occasionally detected in fish sampled by health authorities, although you wouldn't know any of that from the label. The fish are also pumped with multiple vaccines.

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Paul Koberstein