|Please note: COABC's Aquaculture is currently not within the scope of the Canada Organic Standards, but members of the aquaculture industry, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada are developing organic aquaculture standards. If you have comments (pro or con) with regards to the development of Organic Aquaculture Standards, please submit these to the forum.|
Our organisation is facing some difficult issues when trying to decide whether to certify products from aquaculture. We are compelled to adhere to our principles. We must also consider precedents from other organisations and the legal and political ramifications of our decisions. We have an unwritten contract with our consumers whereby they agree to pay considerably more (usually) for organic product based on their perceptions of our products. Consumers purchase for different reasons (I'm a consumer and I buy organic because of the environmental benefits of organic farming - I'm in the minority) but they all purchase organic with the understanding that this product is fundamentally different from the non-organic counterpart.
I have had a number of seafood companies approach me with the proposal that wild caught food is the most organic of all - and that we should certify it. The COABC (alone in the world) has resisted the certification of wild caught or "wild-crafted" foods until now. I believe this is because our conscience will not allow us to place something on the market that is not uniquely organic in some way. Organic farming is uniquely organic farming, organic processing is uniquely organic processing, and the consumer appreciates this. To label a wild-caught product 'organic' when there is no distinction between it and the same product next to it without the label, is to invite scepticism and distrust from the consumer. We have laboured for many years to build up what amounts to substantial equity in our relationship with consumers, in the form of their trust in the integrity of our organic products. Whenever we push the boundaries of the organic designation, we are spending that equity.
There is more to the phrase "BC Certified Organic" than the apparent purity of the product itself. Organic farming is a striving toward closed-loop (sustainable) systems. This is an ideal objective and it is understood that there will be variations and compromises. However, harvesting a crop from the wild is certainly not farming, nor is it necessarily sustainable.
I believe we can certify organic seafood, but the process must satisfy the principles of organic farming, it must be unique, and it must be acceptable to the scrutiny of our detractors.
FEEDING FARMED SALMON: IS ORGANIC BETTER? by N. Pelletier and P. Tyedmers (2007)
ABSTRACT: Feed provision accounts for the majority of material and energetic inputs and emissions associated with net-pen salmon farming. Understanding and reducing the environmental impacts of feed production is therefore central to improving the biophysical sustainability of salmon farming as a whole. We used life cycle assessment (with co-product allocation by gross energy content) to compare the cradle-to-mill gate life cycle energy use, biotic resource use, and global warming, acidifying, eutrophying and aquatic ecotoxiticy impacts associated with producing ingredients for four hypothetical feeds for conventional and organic salmon aquaculture in order to assess the benefits, if any, associated with a transition to organic feed use. Fish and poultry-derived ingredients generated substantially greater impacts than crop-derived ingredients. Despite the fact that organic crop ingredients had markedly lower life cycle impacts compared to equivalent conventional ingredients, substituting organic for conventional crop ingredients therefore resulted in only minor reductions to the total impacts of feed production because the benefits of this substitution were effectively overwhelmed by the much larger impacts associated with animal-derived ingredients. Replacing fish meals/oils from dedicated reduction fisheries with fisheries by-product meals/oils markedly increased the environmental impacts of feed production, largely due to the higher energy intensity of fisheries for human consumption, and low meal/oil yield rates of fisheries by-products. Environmental impacts were considerably lower when feeds contained reduced proportions of fish and poultry-derived ingredients. These results indicate that current standards for organic salmon aquaculture, which stipulate the use of organic crop ingredients and fisheries by-product meals and oils, fail to reduce the environmental impacts of feed production for the suite of impact categories considered in this study. This information should be of interest to feed producers and aquaculturists concerned with improving the biophysical sustainability of their products, and bodies responsible for aquaculture certification, eco-labeling, and consumer awareness programs.
ORGANIC FARMED SALMON? by Anne Macey
Having seen "Net Loss", a documentary about salmon farming in BC and Chile at the Saltspring Film Festival the weekend before the COABC Conference and listened to arguments from both sides, I was pretty much convinced such practices were industrial, unhealthy and very destructive to the environment and the wild salmon stocks. Arguments about aquaculture being needed to feed a growing world population were no more credible than those used for conventional agriculture. Briefly, I wondered if there was not some other design to address the concerns but as for organic production - no way.
As I listened to this controversial topic being discussed during the Organic Salmon Farming session at the COABC conference, my thinking changed and I realized that I had been guilty of rejecting all fish farming based on problems with the industrial model. We don't reject the possibilities for organic agriculture because we are against factory farming of chickens or pigs - in fact, we use the organic model to demonstrate there are better ways.
John Heath of Yellow Island Aquaculture did a good job in describing how their operation could be a model for a more responsible production system and how it met standards for organic aquaculture production being used elsewhere in the world (e.g. by the Soil Association in the UK). He claimed that concerns raised by the environmentalists had been addressed and that it was not reasonable for COABC to deny them the possibility of applying for certification.
So, why is the Yellow Island Model so different from other fish farms on the coast? According to John Heath, they use native species, not Atlantic salmon, thus eliminating the possibility of escaped farmed species displacing native species. Also, risk of escape is low with the lower densities used. The farmed fish are often triploid and therefore sterile (when he mentioned that, I thought of the insect sterile release programs, but presumably, the numbers of escaped farmed fish would not be enough to affect the wild population). Transgenic fish are not used. The farmed fish are bred for disease resistance and fish densities are such that disease problems have not been an issue - no antibiotics are used. They coexist with low levels of endemic disease.
To determine the density they used the density found in natural school densities i.e. 5kg/m² for the feeding stage. Sea lice are found at levels that do not affect wild populations and therefore could not possibly contribute to environmental disasters like that in the Broughton Archipelago where the native stocks failed completely because fry returning to the sea were invested with lice from the farms in the area.
Feed is fish meal from the rejects of the herring roe fishery and waste from the Alaskan Salmon fishery, unlike other sources of fish meal from fisheries that could be used to feed humans directly. In Canada it is illegal to make fish feed from fish suitable for human consumption but it is obtained from South America. Wheat (organic) is used as a binder and the pigments to colour the fish are from natural sources (Haematococcus and a yeast) unlike the chemical colorants used by some fish farms such as the Roche "Carophyll Pink" (astaxanthin). Farmed fish would be grey in colour without these additions. Apparently in the wild, pigments play a significant role in disease resistance and the disease problems in most farmed salmon may be related to pigments only being added late in the production cycle.
Net cages with top nets to keep out predators are used in an area of high water flow so there is no accumulation of waste and research showed the marine ecosystem surrounding the farm to be healthy. There was no impact at all 10 metres from the pens. As part of their research program, Yellow Island is about to introduce a closed containment system using alternative technologies adjacent to the net pens to see if such models can improve the environmental and economic performance. Environmentalists often recommend closed containment models and land-based systems as having least impact but these are usually high input systems and do not solve the waste disposal problems. John also spoke of possibilities for recycling the nutrients through a polyculture system where waste settlement tanks could be stocked with rotifers which in turn could be used to rear shrimp.
Dr. John Volpe, a fisheries biologist from the University of Alberta and a critic of fish farming on the BC coast, was impressed by the Yellow Island operation and felt it was a huge step forward, but he still had concerns. He questioned whether we had the knowledge to know what the limits should be if organic standards are to be developed for Salmon. Are 5kg/m² realistic? If 2-3 lice/fish on farmed fish is the threshold for treatment why is 6/fish not a problem at Yellow Island? Fish farming profits are still dependent on natural subsidies. Dr. Volpe thinks conventional fish farms will not be in existence in 10 years because of catastrophic events in an unsustainable system, resource depletion and consumer rejection. He believes that the needed protocol is still a long way away from where we are now and if we allow the adoption of a weak process it will be more of a detriment than no certification.
The third speaker was Theresa Rothenbush from the Rainforest Conservation Society, one of the members of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform along with the David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, BC Aboriginal Fisheries Commission and others. They work to educate consumers about the dangers of farmed salmon and to promote the adoption of a salmon farming industry that is safe for humans and the environment. Theresa listed the reforms needed:
Does Yellow Island meet these requirements? Should such a system be the basis for organic production?
I think this session helped but the COABC Standards Review Committee clearly still has a difficult task ahead to resolve the issues raised. Many of the reforms listed above are already covered by the proposed organic standards but some are more problematic. Social and ethical impacts are not yet specifically addressed in organic standards although they are part of the value system of organic agriculture. What about the closed containers - surely that is a long way removed from organic principles that include working with natural systems, recycling of nutrients, systems that meet the behavioural needs of livestock and so on? Would not an improved model that allows interaction with the natural environment without negative affects be more in keeping?
If we look at the principles for livestock husbandry there are obviously other problems. How important is behaviour? Caging salmon, even in free flowing water, can hardly be described as allowing natural behaviour if, in the wild, the fish roam freely and follow specific migrations. Moreover, what about Canada's 100% organic feed rule for livestock? There are indeed organic aquaculture standards being used elsewhere but for the most part these are used for freshwater species, filter feeding or omnivorous fish, shrimp and other species feeding low on the food chain. The farming of the higher value, carnivorous salmon on the West Coast poses a unique set of problems; the challenge is whether organic standards can be developed which address the environmental, ethical and social concerns here in BC.
Clearly, we need to continue the discussion with members of the Coastal Alliance and with Yellow Island Aquaculture to see if it is possible.
Drew Cherry, IntraFish Media
The study, "Factory Methods, Unnatural Results," released today by the non-profit research organization the Environmental Working Group (EWG), says that in "first-ever" tests of seven farmed salmon from five different countries purchased at U.S. grocery stores - including Safeway, Whole Foods, Fred Meyer and Albertson's - six had PCB levels higher than PCB intake guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Further, the report claims, the elevated PCB levels were much higher - two to 40 times higher - than the levels found in pork, beef, chicken, wild salmon and other commercially-caught seafood, and as a result, are putting farmed salmon consumers at a higher risk for cancer.
"[F]armed salmon are likely the most PCB-contaminated protein source in the U.S. food supply," researchers wrote.
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