Farmed and Dangerous: The North Coast (and everywhere) is no place for Frankenfish

Jennifer Savage / Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 @ 5:46 a.m. / Ocean , Op-Ed

People take fish seriously in these parts. Our seasons are described in terms of fishing as much as weather –Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without crab. I learned this our first winter in Humboldt, back in 1998 when our neighbor invited us over for mushrooms stuffed with the local delicacy. I’d never had such a treat, but after the first bite, I wondered how I’d ever lived so long without something so good. We’re still waiting to hear how the commercial season will shake out, but recreational crabbing is going strong – you can even find Humboldt Dungeoness Crab on Facebook. The Times-Standard offers a weekly column (authored by Kenny Priest) updating locals on what’s happening on the fishing scene including what’s biting where, which charter boat captains have trips available, updates on regulations and a great deal of local color —this recent one is a lovely read on how to spend a sunny Sunday in Humboldt County. 

Of all the fish swimming around, perhaps none is identified with the North Coast as much as salmon. From tribal traditions to modern political wrangling, keeping the salmon population in our rivers and ocean has been of utmost importance. The 2002 Klamath River disaster still triggers anger among coastal residents and colors discussion of the proposed Klamath Dam Removal Project.

Our local salmon population has faced severe threats resulting in decline, but hope remains strong the fish population will return in great numbers. Cautious optimism exists as recent reports from Sonoma and earlier stories closer to home suggest coho are on the rise and this year has been a good one for recreational fishers. Yes, we love our salmon – and like all our seafood,  we love it wild and natural. Even those of us who don’t trek out to the rivers and ocean to catch fish ourselves. We depend on a combination of skilled fishermen and government oversight to provide as possible and regulate as necessary – this is true for all fish, in all parts of the country.

Right now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is threatening to set a dangerous precedent by considering approval of genetically engineered farmed salmon. This would be the first approval anywhere in the world of a GE animal for human consumption. Repeat: the first approval anywhere in the world of a GE animal for human consumption. Is that really the direction we want to go? Shouldn’t we be focused on restoring habitat and investing in bringing back what’s been lost rather than creating some sort of Frankenfish? We need a more complete environmental impact assessment to examine potential outcomes on our environment and our society of GE fish. And we need GE fish and other foods to be labeled, so we can decide for ourselves if we want to eat genetically engineered foods – I’m thinking most folks on the North Coast prefer their fish the old-fashioned way: wild and free, not farmed and full of tinkered genetics. If you agree, and you want the right to choose between fish made in a lab and fish provided by nature, Ocean Conservancy urges consumers to tell the FDA this directly.

In addition to the GE factor, some environmental groups are calling for a boycott of all farmed salmon.

Humboldt Baykeeper is one of over 20 Waterkeeper organizations from Alaska to California that have launched the Stand Up for Pacific Salmon (SUPS) campaign in their watersheds, respectively. Calling for a boycott of farmed salmon to help protect Pacific salmon from the impacts of net-pen farmed salmon, the Waterkeeper groups are calling on grocery retailers including Costco and Safeway, to remove the product from their shelves. In January, on the advice of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s SeafoodWatch program, Target dropped net-pen salmon from over 1700 stores.

Because of the presence of PCBs and other substances, the journal Environmental Research recommends that farmed salmon should be eaten no more than “between 0.4 and 1 meal per month.” This confirmed a similar 2005 study in the Journal of Nutrition, recommending that pregnant women, children and nursing mothers avoid farmed salmon because of high levels of pollutants. When professional medical advice is to avoid local foods that are normally a great source of nutrients, something has clearly gone wrong.

If all this wasn’t enough to dissuade buyers, other concerns for consumers include the industry’s use of antibiotics and artificial coloring. Without the orange and pink dyes put into their feed, farmed salmon flesh would be a unappealing shade of gray. Yuck. The whole concept of attempting to deny consumers their basic right to information is unappealing – and unlike GE salmon, essentially black-and-white.

Ocean-related events this weekend:

Saturday, Dec. 10, Coastal Dunes Restoration: 9:30-11 a.m., Humboldt Coastal Nature Center, 220 Stamps Lane, Manila. Help maintain the trails and grounds. Tools and gloves provided; bring water and wear comfortable work clothes. friendsofthedunes.org. 444-1397.

Ocean Night Film Screening: 7 p.m. Arcata Theater Lounge, 1036 G St. Screening Louisiana Water Stories and Come Hell or High Water. Assemblymember Jared Huffman will give a Sacramento legislative update between films. Sponsored by Ocean Conservancy, Humboldt Surfrider and Humboldt Baykeeper. $3. 822-1220. More information here.

 

 

 

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