Factory or Farmed?

By Stephen Witherspoon, Good Dirt Radio Intern, Fall 2013Stephen

Many of us omnivors enjoy a variety of animal proteins that we choose to eat. Some of us like local, organic meats, and some go for the cheap option while some may choose a little of both. But, here in Colorado, I find it hard to find good, local salmon. I find myself opting out of eating seafood often. Inspired by Factory Fish, a GDR program aired in August of 2013, I wanted to find out if I could find a source of salmon I could eat–guilt free.

fishfarm_newsI started out by researching salmon. What I found was that salmon are an anadromous fish species, which means they are born in freshwater and migrate into the ocean to live out the rest of their life. When they decide to reproduce, they swim back to their home stream by the thousands. After the salmon go through their reproduction process, they soon die from being back in a freshwater environment. That fact that salmon are anadromous means that the installation of dams in salmon producing rivers cuts off migration patterns that have existed for thousands of years.

Factory or Farmed PowerPoint

In recent years farmed fish production has overtaken beef production. According to the Earth Policy Institute, in 2012, 66 million tons of fish were farmed and 63 million tons beef was produced world-wide. The process of fish farms can be harmful to the environment. High concentrations of fish create nutrient rich zones that can produce algae blooms. These blooms can suck all the oxygen out of the water, creating a dead zone. Another issue with these farms is sea lice. Sea lice can flourish in these ecosystems and spread to wild salmon, killing the young and decreasing the health of adults. But, are all fish farms bad?

The answer is complex and subjective. Places like Wester Ross, located in Scotland can be looked at as more environmentally friendly. They keep low-density pens, hand feed, and don’t use any growth promoters or chemicals.  They have worked successfully in maintaining environmental stewardship since the late 1970’s. Locally, here in Durango, Colorado, Wester Ross is sold in Nature’s Oasis, a natural food store.

While many salmon fisheries are endangered or on the decline in the Pacific Northwest, many fisheries are healthy and plenty of wild caught salmon can be bought in stores around the world. This leaves us with the choice of wild caught or farm raised salmon. I still find myself asking if the nutrient-rich salmon caught thousands of miles away is worth the carbon footprint? After this research, I think when I have the choice of farmed or wild caught I will choose wild caught to support the industry in Alaska over a large factory farmed fish.


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