Monday, December 29, 2008

Taking Issue with Mark Hume on BC Salmon Farming

An article/column by Mark Hume, printed in the December 26, 2008 edition of the Globe and Mail, lays the blame for declining wild salmon stocks on salmon farming. Unfortunately, he fails to look at this critical issue in the context of all factors that affect wild salmon populations and have resulted in declines along the entire west coast of North America. Our wild salmon and their protection deserve a more thorough assessment of all factors that influence wild salmon populations – anything less is a disservice to wild salmon and to Mr. Hume’s readers.

Here’s how we responded to Mr. Hume. In a letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail, Mary Ellen Walling, BCSFA Executive Director, writes the following:

Mark Hume flags an important issue for BC: the protection of wild salmon. It is unfortunate that his passion is not matched by a willingness to look a little deeper at the causes of the current problem.

The easy thing is to blame salmon farming for wild fish declines. But the reality is much more complex. All up and down the coast, from Alaska to California, in areas with farms and in many areas without farms, salmon populations are in decline. The causes appear to include increased salinity, changes in water temperature, loss of habitat, urbanization and a host of other factors.

As Mr Hume correctly notes, salmon farmers can mitigate the impacts of farming to ensure we raise a healthy nutritious and sustainable product. A lot more work on the part of the larger population will be required if we are to move beyond rhetoric and take a hard look at making changes to address the larger environmental issues. To read Mr. Hume’s Globe and Mail article/column click here.

A February 2008 report from the BC Pacific Salmon Forum “Broughton Archipelago: A State of Knowledge” reviews all impacts of human development and industry during the past 50 years in this ecosystem. To read this report click here (Note: file size is >20 MB). Not all scientists agree with Mr. Hume. To read a commentary from the December 2008 issue of Science magazine click here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Just Who is Monterey Bay Aquarium Connected To?

Yesterday we took a closer look at some background information about Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Seafood Watch Program. After going over yesterday's information, I think it's pretty clear that Monterey Bay isn't exactly an outsider organization, but rather a firmly established member of the environmental activist community.

What it all comes down to is money. And while Monterey Bay Aquarium and its Seafood Watch Program have become self-sustaining over the years, the Packard Foundation has plunged ahead to fund an extensive Web of eco-activist groups that work together formally and informally, share information and coordinate activities.

While Monterey Bay Aquarium doesn't directly fund these organizations, the Packard Foundation more than makes up for it. The following is a list of organizations that received grants from Packard in the fiscal year ending December 31, 2006 under the category of “Oceans and Coasts”. Most prominent must be the over $1.5 million in grants provided to the Marine Stewardship Council, an “independent” NGO chartered to establish a global environmental standard for sustainable fisheries:

American Littoral Society
Blue Ocean Institute
Center for Environmental Law and Policy
Center for Resource Economics (Island Press)
Community Conservation Network
Conservation International Foundation
Coral Reef Alliance
Coral Reef Research Foundation
Environmental Defense Fund
Environmental Law Institute
Environmental Media Services (now Science Communication Network)
Friends of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
Global Greengrants Fund
International Center for Journalists
International Community Foundation
Living Oceans Society
Marine Conservation Biology Institute
Marine Science Institute
Marine Stewardship Council
National Environmental Trust
Nature Conservancy
New England Aquarium
Ocean Conservancy
Pacific Marine Conservation Council
Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research
Surfrider Foundation
Sustainability Institute
Sustainable Fishery Advocates
Trust for Conservation Innovation
Union of Concerned Scientists
Wildlife Conservation Society
World Resources Institute
World Wide Fund for Nature (World Wildlife Fund in the USA)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

An Inside Look at Monterey Bay Aquarium

As a followup to the letter from the BC Salmon Farmers Association to Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA), we thought it might be a good idea to take a closer look at MBA and how they operate. For the most part, non-profit organizations like MBA are seen as scrappy underdogs taking on evil corporations. But if you take a closer look at MBA and their operations, you'll find that it and its Seafood Watch program aren't scrappy underdogs at all. Instead, they're really a very powerful eco-lobbying organization backed by one of the largest non-profit foundations in the world.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) is one of the best-connected and funded charities in North America, if not the world. It was initially endowed by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which was established by the late Hewlett-Packard co-founder. The Packard Foundation owns more than 70 million shares of Hewlett-Packard and is the company's largest shareholder with several family members serving on the Board of Directors. The Packard Foundation's endowment totals about $6.3 billion, making it one of the top 20 charitable foundations in the world.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium was founded in 1978 by the Packards at the behest of their daughters Nancy and Julie with an initial contribution of $55 million. To this day, Julie Packard serves as the Aquarium's Vice Chairman and Executive Director and draws a salary. A third sister, Susan Packard Orr, is chairman of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and serves on the board of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation. The aquarium opened in 1984.

For tax purposes, MBA is broken into three distinct, but affiliated organizations:

• Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation – concerned with the day-to-day operations and financing of the aquarium itself. The Seafood Watch Program is an initiative of this arm of the Aquarium;

• Monterey Bay Aquarium Support Services – which manages the real estate upon which the aquarium resides; and

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute – an oceanographic research center based in Moss Landing, California. It was founded in 1987 and immediately endowed with a $13 million grant from the Packard Foundation. It has a staff of 200 and an operating budget of about $40 million per year and operates a fleet of three ocean-going research vessels.

In 2006, the last year that the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation filed an IRS Form 990, total revenue for Monterey Bay and its affiliates totaled well over $55 million – over $9 million in contributions, more than $339,000 in government grants, more than $26 million in program services, and over $12 million in investment income.

The largest single line item in financial support comes from admissions to the aquarium. For all intents and purposes, through a combination of paid admissions (2 million visitors per year), special events, charitable giving, membership dues and prudent management of its investment portfolio, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation is a self-sufficient entity financially.

Despite spending almost $45 million in 2006, Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation was still able to end the year with a surplus of almost $10.5 million. For the tax year ending December 31, 2007, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation boasted over $307 million in total assets, $55 million in revenues and more than $13.5 million in investment income .

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation is the major funding source for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. In the fiscal year ending December 31, 2006, the Packard Foundation distributed grants to the Research Institute totaling nearly $41 million.

Also of note are the extensive links between the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and the U.S. Government. Several large agencies, including the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the Department of Energy and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory made contributions totaling nearly $5.5 million to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in the fiscal year ending December 31, 2006. In 2004, NOAA awarded the Research Institute a $530,000 grant to tag and track tuna in the Pacific Ocean.

In addition, a review of the Research Institute’s tax returns reveals that outside of grants to Stanford University to support a collaborative research program, it does not provide direct financial support for any outside organizations.

While the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation does bestow grants on a number of outside organizations, the total dollar amount is a mere fraction of its overall budget. For the most part, these grants have been distributed to organizations engaged in direct marine biological research (white sharks, squids and sea otters).

More details, later.

25 Years of Salmon Farming in British Columbia

Click here for more from the Vancouver Sun.

First Nations Delegates Impressed By Norwegian Aquaculture Experience

A Canadian group of First Nations Chiefs and delegates from Vancouver Island recently joined staff from Marine Harvest and Grieg Seafood to attend Norway’s Aquavision 2008 and to visit numerous aquaculture facilities. "The purpose of the trip was to share information about global aquaculture and to visit the birthplace of salmon farming," says Ian Roberts of Marine Harvest Canada.

Veteran commercial fisherman James Walkus was one of the guests on the tour. "I found it very fascinating," said Walkus. "Their science efforts, of studying the Atlantic salmon, was very good. It is truly remarkable how much effort they put into fish farming to make it a success in their country."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Taking the Case for Farmed Atlantic Salmon to Monterey Bay

Over the past several months, Salmon of the Americas has attempted to engage Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program in a dialogue about our industry and our practices. In particular, the industry as a whole believes that Monterey's Bay's evaluation of our operations are both are both out of date and unfair.

In the case of the latter, we're referring specifically to the fact that "wild-caught" salmon from Alaska -- which should more accurately be described as ranched -- is rated "green" by Monterey Bay, despite the fact that the Alaskan industry engages in many of the very same sustainable practices that take place in both Chile and British Columbia.

In short, we believe our industry has a compelling case, one that Mary Ellen Walling from the BC Salmon Farmers Association made directly to Monterey Bay's Geoff Shester in the following email that she asked me to share:
Hi Geoff, first of all, I wanted to thank you for taking the time over the past few months to discuss your organization's approach to the evaluation of the sustainability of farmed salmon in both Chile and British Columbia.

As I said earlier we're frustrated that Monterey Bay published an evaluation of our operations in the guide to sustainable sushi that relied on limited research material more than four years old -- the last complete report on farmed salmon published on the Monterey Bay Web site is dated April 27, 2004.

One of our frustrations is that Monterey Bay continues to classify Alaska Salmon as wild, when ranched is a far more accurate term. In addition, while the Monterey Bay Web site lists several objections to farmed salmon, there is no mention that many of the practices that led Monterey Bay to place farmed Atlantic salmon on the red list are also regularly practiced in Alaska. Can you please explain this disconnect?

In particular we note:

Salmon escapes are listed as a concern. Modern farm practices, staff training and equipment improvements have ensured that escapes have been drastically reduced. As well, Monterey Bay does not recognize the 1.5 billion salmon that the Alaskan industry releases annually into the Northern Pacific and their effect on other wild fish populations.

The report lists waste as a concern. We’ve done a lot of work in BC and elsewhere to ensure that farms are well sited, and that we have developed feeding strategies and fallowing techniques to reduce impacts, yet this is not recognized. We are concerned about the continued linkage of effects from fish waste and human waste as this is, from our perspective, scientifically inaccurate. Fish waste does not contain the contaminants carried by the human equivalent and has little, if any, measurable effect on local ocean life.

In addition, we'd also like to express concern about the conclusion that it takes three pounds of wild fish to grow one pound of farmed salmon. In the BC farms as an example, this ratio has been lowered to near one-to-one thanks to the use of plant based proteins and other process improvements. In addition, our operations only use fishmeal and fish oil from operations that we have rated as sustainable.

We would be happy to provide detailed scientific and veterinary data backing up this information and wish to ensure that this information is included in the upcoming review of the standards by Monterey Bay. I would like to discuss how we might provide this information to you and the timeline and process for the review in order that we might work with you to ensure an accurate assessment of our farm practices. I also encourage you to get in touch to discuss any of the questions regarding Sea Choices. I am more than happy to speak with you about sustainable farming practices and look forward to future discussions.
That note was sent to Shester on December 4. We've yet to receive a response. If and when we do, we'll share it with you.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Look Back at the Pocket Sushi Guides

Back in October a trio of ENGOs simultaneously released guides to sustainable sushi. Our friend over at the National Fisheries Institute did a Q&A with Intrafish on the guides a few weeks back, and we neglected to share it with you. The dialogue is below:
Even if the guide’s aren’t perfect, isn’t it good it keeps people away from the worst-fished species – or at least gets them talking about seafood and sustainability?

The imperfection of the guides and the competing number of them could have the very real possibility of driving confused consumers away from healthful and in many cases sustainable seafood. Monterey Bay Aquarium's guide was released on October 22nd and lists Alaska pollock in its “Best Choices” column. On October 9th, Greenpeace announced people should not eat Alaska pollock because it is "on the verge of collapse." (Alaska pollock was also featured on Greenpeace's “red list” back in June.) Meanwhile, the messages these guides and lists give go beyond sustainability. The environmental lobbying organizations that produce them often stray into giving health advice, which is outside their purview. And the advice they offer in that realm is as confusing and even contradictory as some of the sustainability messages we see. For instance, the very first fish on the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Best Choices list is "Aji." If they then read the legend, consumers will notice the asterisk next to this specie corresponds with a message to "limit consumption due to concerns about mercury or other contaminants." So, is it the best choice or should I be limiting my consumption? What's more, consumption limits with regard to mercury apply only to pregnant women, women who may become pregnant and small children.

Who can provide the proper oversight to bring uniformity to the guides? Who will pay for all this oversight and checking?

NOAA is a good start when it comes to an agency that could provide uniformity and oversight to these types of guides. And as far as who will pay for all of this oversight and checking-- you will and quite frankly already are. NOAA already has a dynamic, constantly updated Web site called FishWatch that gives consumers the latest on the status of the stocks. It is a great tool and is one that we would hope will receive more attention and resources and be able to reach a wider audience.

Are these guides really that influential? How many times have you seen someone pull one out at a restaurant?

When it comes to healthy food choices, guides that have the potential to misinform and confuse consumers should not be written off. Americans only eat 16.3 lbs of seafood a year when doctors and dietitians suggest we should eat closer to 39 lbs for optimum health. Guides that are misinformed and create impediments to seafood consumption, even if well meaning for environmental reasons, can impact public health and should be thought of that way.

Is the objection to the guides in general, or just the number of them available? Should there be just one or two “official” guides? And whom should put them out?

Guides that are printed and folded and tucked away in your pocket or wallet cease almost immediately to keep up with the changing nature of seafood stocks. Some stocks are up, some are down, some run into sustainability challenges, while others should be heralded for their successes. But the card in your wallet stays the same. Guides like these are not created with the input and expertise of the seafood community. Watermen and women are the true stewards of sustainability and should be consulted on projects of this nature, but are not.

Additional Comments from NFI

The advice we see from environmental lobbying groups is sometimes confusing and contradictory, and has a potentially detrimental effect on public health. These efforts are arguably most misguided in that they seek to boil sustainability down to a neat wallet card or a handy list. This is an unrealistic and improper goal because it ignores the three facets that must be considered in order to truly assess sustainability; (in alphabetical order) economic, environmental, social. Cards that distill the sustainability story of any one species down to a list or a ranking rarely take in to account all three considerations and therefore fail in their goal.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Responding to Alexandra Morton and the New York Times

Mary Ellen Walling also passed us the following note that she wrote in response to a New York Times profile of British Columbia-based environmental activist, Alexandra Morton:
Alexandra Morton's efforts to save the orcas off the coast of British Columbia are admirable. As Cornelia Dean discovered in her profile, Ms. Morton is passionate about her environment. Ms. Dean also learned Ms. Morton "doesn't come from a scientific background but she has had a lot of influence" when it comes to scrutinizing the salmon farming industry in British Columbia.

The problem is that readers of the article are likely to come away endorsing Ms. Morton's view that sea lice from salmon farms are decimating wild salmon populations in the Broughton Archipelago. That would be unfortunate because the article neglects to mention a couple of key points and misrepresents a couple of others.

A fisheries biologist quoted in the article notes, "A lot of wild salmon populations have been on the edge for quite a long time, threatened by logging, dams and plain old overfishing". Up and down the Pacific Coast this year there have been reports of declining salmon populations: many of the areas of concern are not conducive to aquaculture or are places where there are no farms. The main culprit seems to be climate change, which has caused increased water salinity and changes in water temperature and currents.

In British Columbia, where Ms. Morton lives, salmon farming is the most stringently regulated agricultural industry in the province, and of any salmon farming region in the world. In recognition of the fact that sea lice, a naturally occurring marine parasite, could infest salmon farms, breed and then transfer back to wild fish, farmers are required - as a condition of their operating license - to monitor fish for lice. More than three lice on any fish triggers treatment using a product called SLICE, which even critics such as Ms. Morton's research partner Martin Krkosek has found to be very effective in eradicating lice while being benign to the marine environment.

Ms. Dean describes how Alexandra Morton inspects farmed salmon to see if they have been fed chemicals to colour their flesh pink. What isn't mentioned is that all salmon - farmed and wild - have naturally pale flesh. The pink colour that we associate with salmon comes from beta carotene: wild fish get it from eating krill; farmed fish get it from carotenoids (either astaxanthin or canthaxanthin) an ingredient that can be purchased in health food stores for human consumption as it has strong anti-oxidant qualities.

In the video that accompanied the article we hear Ms Morton direct us not to eat farmed salmon but to eat wild fish instead. This statement is both alarming and irresponsible. Global demand for fish has doubled since 1973. As a result, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization states that "the maximum wild-capture fisheries potential from the world's oceans has probably been reached." For those who wish to protect wild fish the best thing to do is to eat sustainably farmed fish - such as those we raise in British Columbia - as a way to meet increasing demand without putting undue pressure on wild stocks

Ms Morton and salmon farmers in BC have many points of disagreement but we share a common concern. British Columbia's wild salmon are a precious resource that deserves to be protected -- both from environmental risks and emotional rhetoric.
For more on the salmon farming operations in British Columbia, click here.

A Response to Mark Bittman and the New York Times

Back on November 15, Mark Bittman the New York Times published a piece by Mark Bittman entitled, "A Seafood Snob Ponders the Future of Fish." Mary Ellen Walling of the BC Salmon Farmers Association penned the following response:
As Mark Bittman "ponders the future of fish" he raises some important points about the need to protect wild fish. For example, he points out that most commercial fisheries are not well managed. The result?

The roughly 85 million tons a year of commercially caught fish has brought many species to the point of collapse and is insufficient to meet growing global demand.

It therefore seems incongruous to be proposing that we should eat more wild fish. Surely we should be eating sustainably farmed fish as a way to meet increasing demand without putting undue pressure on wild stocks.

Mr. Bittman takes issue with what he calls the "industrial farming" of fish but for those concerned about the protection of wild fish and the environment a few more facts about salmon farming are in order.

First of all, the health benefits of eating wild and farmed salmon are exactly the same. That's good news for consumers. Farmed salmon means there is a year-round supply of fresh fish and the price is typically less that one would pay for wild fish in season. That's more good news for the consumer.

Farmers recognize the marine environment is their most valuable asset and must meet stringent regulatory requirements for the siting and operating of ocean farms. Farm stock are carefully monitored to ensure fish health and should antibiotics be required to treat illness they can only be used under a veterinarian's prescription: over the life of a farmed raised salmon more than 97 per cent of its feed is free of any type of antibiotic. That's good for both the environment and consumers.

Millions of people enjoy the mild flavor of Atlantic salmon but for Mr.Bittman and others who prefer a fuller flavor they might try sockeye, the species raised on ocean ranches in Alaska and farmed elsewhere, or Chinook another native Pacific species farmed in British Columbia.

There are many different choices consumers can make but if you are concerned about protecting the wild fishery the best thing you can do right now is eat sustainably farmed fish.
Mary Ellen also tells me that Mr. Bittman has an open invitation to visit any of the facilities in British Columbia to see for himself how the facilities operate.