Why wild salmon have become a luxury

Angling Notes: Farmed Atlantic salmon increased by almost 1,000 per cent between 1990 and 2015 – and now represent 75 per cent of all the salmon we eat

The following is an edited review by David Trilling on the issue of farmed versus wild salmon.

“Evidenced by the rapidly growing salmon-farm industry, salmon is one of the world’s most popular fish. Farmed Atlantic salmon increased by almost 1,000 per cent between 1990 and 2015, and 75 per cent of the salmon we eat is farm-raised. Wild-caught salmon, meanwhile, has become a luxury.

“Aquaculture is often hailed as a solution to feeding our growing planet. In the case of Atlantic salmon, these farms consist of large cages anchored offshore, primarily in Norway, Chile, Canada and Scotland.

“Sea cages are susceptible to parasites like sea lice and other predators, which pisciculturists (those involved in the breeding, hatching and rearing of fish under controlled conditions) often fight with pesticides and other chemicals.


“Research suggests consumers have questions about farmed salmon and the risks it could pose to their health and the environment.

“Salmon are carnivores. They have a taste for shrimp and plankton and other fish. But farmers cannot afford to give them such a rich diet. Instead, they feed them pellets made of soybeans, fishmeal and, sometimes, antibiotics to fight disease and promote growth.

“In recent past, several prominent studies raised concerns about dioxins and other environmental pollutants in farmed salmon. The World Health Organisation said dioxins “can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and cause cancer” in humans.

“More recently, however, a 2017 study found higher dioxin levels in wild Atlantic salmon than in Norwegian-farmed Atlantic salmon.

“Salmon flesh is naturally red in the wild because they feed on krill and shrimp that contain a compound called astaxanthin, which helps prevent cancer and ageing. But farmed salmon generally don’t receive a natural source of astaxanthin in their diets. Their flesh is, instead, congenitally grey.

“Consumers like their salmon pink. So farmers feed their fish a synthesised astaxanthin to “pigment” the salmon. There are few studies on the long-term effect of synthetic astaxanthin.

“Bite into a salmon fillet and the last thing you want to crunch is a pea-sized parasite. But sea lice have become an expensive problem for fish farmers, costing the Norwegian salmon industry alone almost half a billion dollars in 2011.

“One solution is pesticides. Emamectin benzoate is often used to treat sea lice, though the Scottish government has fought with a local trade group over its safety, with authorities calling for a sharp reduction in usage.

“Researchers are looking at alternative treatments. Some are developing lasers to target the lice; others are looking at farming salmon alongside mussels and scallops, which may eat larval sea lice.

“Thousands of Atlantic salmon escaped from a farm off Washington State in August 2017, introducing a non-native species into a delicate ecosystem and highlighting concerns about the transfer of parasites and diseases into the wild, where they cannot be treated.

"The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has published several studies on how aquaculture may impact wild fish populations' natural defence mechanisms. A forthcoming paper in Ecological Economics assesses the economic impact of sea lice transmission from fish farms to wild salmon stocks in the Canadian Pacific.

“In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale for consumption of genetically modified salmon. The AquAdvantage salmon, designed by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty, grows twice as fast as Atlantic salmon, the company says, in land-locked tanks.

“But a debate over labelling has delayed sales in the US, with critics, including Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, deriding the AquAdvantage salmon as “frankenfish. (Alaska is home to the world’s largest wild salmon industry, which has been hurt by increased salmon farming.)”

Westport Helm Skate Festival The 25th Westport Helm Skate Festival was again a resounding success with 75 deep sea anglers from the UK and Ireland competing in the scenic Clew Bay for the prestigious Helm Cup and €2,000 prize money

Conditions over the two-day competition were ideal with relatively calm seas and it was no surprise that eight skate were boated and a further nine hooked and lost, making it a record catch for this jubilee anniversary.

Local angler Sean Fahy battled his winning skate for 50 minutes before getting it to the boat where she was carefully lifted aboard by skipper Darragh McGee. The giant female fish, estimated to weigh 104.3kg (230lb), opted for a cocktail of mackerel strip, dogfish and squid.

Competition rules require that the width of the fish is recorded by placing a white cotton tape across the skate’s back, from wingtip to wingtip and the width marked on the tape. The fish is then released.

Lough Lein charity outing The Killarney branch of Children with Disabilities was the benefactor of the charity outing held on the last day of the season on Lough Lein in Killarney. The event raised €705, which will go towards sending children on holiday to Lourdes.

As in previous years, the highlight of the day was, undoubtedly, the barbecue on Brown’s Island where the 52 competitors tucked into pan-fried fillet steak, mushrooms, onions and sliced potatoes.

Fishing was extremely slow for the morning session with just one trout caught up to lunchtime, however the afternoon saw a big improvement with 30 fish brought in by 19 anglers.

Michael Linehan from Macroom took the honours with four fish for 0.836kg, all from Bog Bay on a Jungle Bunny pattern.

Results: 1, M Linehan, 4 fish; 2, T O’Loughlin, 3f; 3, A McWilliams, 2f; R Creighton, 2f, 5, P O’Loughlin, 2f. Heaviest fish: Z Buckley, 0.311kg.