As soon as upon a time, all the knowledge of the world was held within the physique of 1 fish, the Salmon of Data. It was an unusual salmon that occurred to eat 9 hazelnuts that fell from 9 hazel bushes surrounding the Nicely of Knowledge. It was mentioned that whoever ate this salmon can be unfailingly clever.
Irish legend has it that the large Fionn Mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) cooked that salmon, and burned his thumb on its pores and skin. When he sucked his thumb, he grew to become clever, and when he ate the salmon, he knew all the things.
I don’t know why the salmon was regarded as so clever. I hope that it comes from the evolutionary genius that has enabled salmon to return to the rivers they have been born to spawn, a spot they haven’t been since they have been born, navigating by their sense of scent, the earth’s magnetic discipline, and the pull of their very own genetic inheritance.
Perhaps this legend, like folklore all over the world, was handed down as a result of it transmitted important concepts about group tradition and survival. To eat salmon is crucial, however these fish are additionally worthwhile, past their price to individuals.
This story exists, in some type or one other, in mythology from the British Isles and Scandinavia, the place salmon have been as soon as plentiful and likewise a luxurious.
Within the ensuing centuries, it has turn into clear that both Fionn Mac Cumhaill stopped sucking his thumb or, not like him, now we have turn into unable to carry onto their knowledge. Within the effort to rework salmon into cash by domesticating and farming it, the aquaculture trade (and all of us who eat salmon), appear to have misplaced observe of what makes the salmon really worthwhile.
Why am I writing about this? As a result of I just lately reviewed a e-book concerning the Norwegian and international farmed salmon trade, The New Fish: The Fact About Farmed Salmon and the Penalties We Can No Longer Ignore, by Simen Saetre and Kjetil Østli, trans. from the Norwegian by Sian Mackie, for the New York Occasions.
However I start with this (admittedly kooky) detour into historical Irish mythology as a result of the e-book, and the teachings it presents, learn virtually like a parable about man’s hubris and the bounds of innovation and intervention within the pure world. It prompted me to assume once more concerning the vital query of what sorts of tradeoffs we’re keen to just accept.
I believed I knew at the very least one thing — or at the very least not nothing — about aquaculture normally and salmon farming specifically from analysis I did for my e-book: farmed fish are consuming plenty of corn and soy, a few of which is grown within the Amazon, contributing to deforestation there; and they’re additionally consuming foraged fish (like anchovy and different small fin fish), made into meal and oil, contributing in some locations, to overfishing of these fisheries. I knew antibiotics have been a priority.
However the data on this e-book was actually surprising to me, and I sort of can’t imagine that I didn’t know or hadn’t thought extra fastidiously about this: that in just some a long time, humanity has domesticated a wild animal, and turned it into the fastest-growing meals manufacturing system on the earth. And plenty of corners have been reduce alongside the best way.
Simply to get this out of the best way: all farmed salmon is dyed — in any other case it could be grey, not the pinky orange colour we now name “salmon.” That alone would have been sufficient!
However as I continued to learn this e-book, it appeared like each downside that salmon farmers encountered didn’t give them pause and immediate them to place issues on maintain till they might determine a greater, much less dangerous approach (to the fish themselves or the ecosystem) to get the outcomes they wished.
So when farmed salmon began escaping from their pens and other people started to fret that they’d interbreed with wild salmon, the response was to breed sterile salmon that wouldn’t have the ability to mate with the wild inventory. So triploid salmon have been bred (that they had 3 copies of each chromosome as an alternative of two). These salmon grew to become so coated with ulcers or developed curved spines and different abnormalities that they died, numbering within the tens of millions.
Sea lice are a parasite that generally have an effect on wild salmon, hitching a journey to them as they swim by within the sea. However when salmon are in pens, they make simple prey for the lice, who infest the salmon, leaving them with bloody sores throughout their pores and skin or consuming their pores and skin clear off. And the lice are in a position to reproduce proper on the mouth of the rivers, the place wild salmon nonetheless come to spawn, infesting them as nicely. To cope with the lice, the farmers then dumped tons of hydrogen peroxide (bleach) into the fjords, which had the unintended impact of killing or harming the shrimp, lobster, and different fish that additionally lived within the fjords, inflicting them to be thought-about “near-threatened.” Norwegian wild salmon are additionally near-threatened, and, although not a consequence of farming, the one remaining populations of U.S. wild salmon are in just a few rivers in Maine.
Overfeeding of fish additionally has precipitated build-ups of nitrogen within the fjords or the ocean, which created dangerous algae blooms and subsequent low-oxygen zones, because the algae decayed.
Salmon are fatty (one of many causes we prefer to eat them) and dangerous chemical substances accumulate in fatty tissue. Farmed salmon are fattier than wild salmon, given how briskly they develop and the way little they transfer, so that they comprise greater quantities of poisons like PCBs than wild salmon.
I might go on, and in earlier drafts of this, I did! However I don’t need to load up an excessive amount of on proof on one aspect with out listening to from others, who see the problem otherwise and likewise make compelling factors about salmon farming and meals manufacturing extra typically.
Over the a long time, although, enhancements have been made, based on our outdated pal Ben Halpern, a professor of marine biology and ocean conservation at College of California Santa Barbara, who research the environmental affect of meals manufacturing.
“There are positively some points and unhealthy actors however the salmon farming trade as an entire has completed a really superb job of bettering issues dramatically,” he mentioned. “A number of the problems that have been fairly problematic within the ’80s and ’90s have been addressed considerably,” he mentioned, referring specifically to the overfeeding subject that creates nitrogen air pollution, and a dramatic decline in using antibiotics for illness management.
One of many different widespread narratives — the one I used to be conversant in, about utilizing forage fish to feed fish — he mentioned is a “pink herring.” Earlier than the expansion of the aquaculture trade, he mentioned, all the foraged fish went to feed pigs and chickens. Now that quantity is all the way down to about 20 p.c, with the remainder going to aquaculture but additionally issues just like the manufacturing of fish oil and meal for dietary supplements and pet meals.
“Should you’re indignant about foraged fish” for these causes, he mentioned, you must know that “the effectivity of turning that foraged fish into salmon meat is actually excessive, with practically a 1:1 ratio” down from 8:1 beforehand, which holds for all the industrial scale salmon farms in Norway, British Columbia, Atlantic Canada, Scotland and Iceland. So whether or not you might be speaking about forage fisheries or animal welfare, Ben mentioned, in case you’re involved, you must cease consuming industrially produced meat and never fear a lot about farmed salmon. And most of that foraged fish — about 90 p.c — might simply be eaten instantly by individuals.
However among the many largest causes to maintain farming salmon, he mentioned. “We now have practically 8.5 billion individuals on the planet, and now we have to feed them, and domesticated animals are actually needed so as to have the ability to do this,” together with farmed fish.
“The environmental footprint of fish farming throughout many classes” (greenhouse fuel emissions, environmental disturbance, nutrient air pollution, and water use) “is approach higher – when it comes to a strategy to feed prime quality nutritious protein to people. Mussels and clams and oysters are significantly better for the atmosphere, however we’re by no means going to get the worldwide inhabitants to solely eat shellfish.”
Most significantly, “there’s no strategy to develop meals with out having some environmental hurt, however fish farming is among the greatest methods to do it.”
And that brings us again to the sooner query: what are the tradeoffs we’re keen to make to eat one thing, together with salmon? Certain, fish farming is higher than other forms of commercial agriculture, however that doesn’t make it good. And lots of the people who find themselves consuming farmed salmon (rich individuals all all over the world, however significantly within the Western hemisphere) aren’t essentially the people who find themselves in determined want of protein. In reality, within the U.S., we eat far more protein than we want!
Normally, we don’t know what’s being traded away on our behalf in order that we will have the salmon (or no matter else) we would like on the costs we would like. However I think that many people wouldn’t be okay with these compromises if we really knew about them, and now we do. Nevertheless it shouldn’t be that now we have to learn a protracted e-book to seek out out concerning the severe environmental hazards created by only one trade. Producers should be extra clear, and we should be extra clear-eyed about what we’re consuming (and doing), fairly than burying our head within the fjords so we don’t have to consider it.
After I informed Ben that I believed this was a parable concerning the perils of human intervention, he mentioned, “I’d attempt to divorce it from salmon,” and take into consideration these points extra broadly: “How can we do that in approach that’s sustainable? For instance, with local weather change, the place individuals are dashing to technological answer and we want all fingers on deck with the intention to deal with this, we additionally want to consider sustainable options with decrease consumption, interact know-how, and regulate habits.
“I wouldn’t throw out the technological options as a part of what we have to do.”
I agree with that, however I additionally hope that, as these points proceed to come up, we preserve asking ourselves these questions, and pause occasionally to study and to assume earlier than taking up main dangers. Fionn Mac Cumhaill didn’t eat the Salmon of Data solely to neglect what he’d discovered.
This was initially posted on Tatiana’s Substack Information from a Altering Planet, a free twice-monthly publication about what on Earth is occurring, with articles and essays about local weather change and the atmosphere.
Photograph by Denley Pictures on Unsplash.