Impact of farm raised salmon on the ecosystem

Tarunya Shankar

Editor’s note:

The U.S. Endangered Species Act was passed to protect the frail ecosystem and the variety of life that it contains. It divides species into endangered and threatened – depending upon the level of risk they face. This paper examines the efficiency of the above Act, and the various loopholes present in it, while acknowledging that certain species would be far worse off had the Act not been passed. The eventual removal of species from the endangered list seems to be counterproductive and encourage poaching. In particular, the paper examines the impact that farmed salmon has had on the wild salmon’s existence.

The U.S. Endangered Species Act

This Act was passed by the Unites States Congress in 1973 to articulate a growing concern of the frailty of the eco-system and the various species and sub-species within it.[1] This act divides species into two categories, i.e, endangered and threatened.The term “endangered species” means any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range other than a species of the Class Insecta determined by the Secretary to constitute a pest whose protection under the provisions of this Act would present an overwhelming and overriding risk to man.[2] Simply put, an endangered species is a species whose numbers are fast reducing and are at risk of extinction and being wiped off of the planet completely.

The common opinion is that the Act is failing to achieve its objective, to efficiently conserve and save the endangered species in the planet as is subject to numerous loopholes, such as the one that many entrepreneurs are attempting to take advantage of, with regard to the farmed salmon and its equivalence to the wild salmon.[4] However, common opinion must take into account that all such entrepreneurial efforts have failed so far and the salmon remains on the endangered species list and is being protected, far better than would be the case had the Act not been passed.

The purpose of the act is to eventually remove species from the endangered species list, i.e, to provide for these threatened species a means by which to restore the species to its original glory. In this endeavour, the Act seems to have shown weakness, having removed only 27 species out of over 5000 on the list.[5] However, once these species are removed from the list, the protection given to them is lifted and such was the expectation with the species Salmo Salar, the salmon, the hope of businessmen across the world being that with the raising of the farmed salmon, they could be grouped with the wild salmon and thus the species could be removed entirely from the endangered species list, and thus without the protections they would be free to use or rather misuse, certain areas ordinarily inhabited by the wild salmon. Further, the Act has also failed to protect the species from being further endangered by the various threats that the farmed salmon as a separate species poses to the wild salmon. The researcher will enumerate the harmful manner in which the farmed salmon’s existence has threatened that of the wild salmon as well as the role of the government and other authorities in either mitigating or exaggerating this harm.

Farmed salmon

The farmed salmon industry rose to great heights between the 1980’s and the 1990’s, and a majority of the world’s salmon production comes from farmed salmon, a whopping 1600000 tonnes of the farmed salmon as compared to the 930000 tonnes  of the wild salmon.[6] Salmon farming has been largely distributed over a few countries, such as Norway, Chile, Scotland and Canada.

The annual global production of farmed salmon has increased by a factor of 40 during the past two decades. Salmon from farms in northern Europe, North America, and Chile are now available widely year-round at relatively low prices. Salmon farms have been criticized for their ecological effects, but the potential human health risks of farmed salmon consumption have not been examined rigorously. Having analyzed over 2 metric tons of farmed and wild salmon from around the world for organochlorine contaminants, we show that concentrations of these contaminants are significantly higher in farmed salmon than in wild. European-raised salmon have significantly greater contaminant loads than those raised in North and South America, indicating the need for further investigation into the sources of contamination. Risk analysis indicates that consumption of farmed Atlantic salmon may pose health risks that detract from the beneficial effects of fish consumption[7]

Salmon is considered as an incredibly important food for health purposes and is a carnivorous fish that is known for attracting a large number of parasitic creatures and bioaccumulate contaminants. The question then arises as to whether or not salmon farming is sustainable, and does it allow for the sustenance of the entire species, wild and farmed salmon included.[8] (SOLUTION)There have emerged over the last 2 decades two manners in which farmed salmon have been raised. The first was open ocean farming which proved to be harmful to the wild salmon that inhabited those oceans, and then the farming expanded and is now largely inland.[9] Inland fish farming is done in land-locked cement basins that act as  farms, away from rivers and seas, such as the ones now in West Virginia and Vancouver Island.[10]

Problems with farmed salmon

Farming salmon artificially has proved to be quite difficult in recent times due to a number of problems, the first being the most common problem with animal husbandry in general, over-crowding. These salmon farms each have hundreds of thousands of fish raised in these cement basins or net pens for most of their life.[11] This quantity of fish in such a small enclosure without proper care has lead to the spread of various bio-contaminants and parasitic bacteria and insect life that first spread within the farm itself and then eventually spread to other nearby farms as well as affect the wild Atlantic salmon. One of the parasites that have been obliterating the wild salmon via the farmed salmon is the sea lice, that essentially latch themselves onto the salmon and create lesions that deeply harm the ability of the fish to sustain the necessary salt-water intake ratio.[12] Kudoa thyrsites is the second most deadly parasite that literally reduces the flesh of the fish to a jelly-like substance, breaking down the fibers of the flesh. These parasites spread to the wild salmon largely depleting the stock of salmon that can be consumed.[13] Similarly, one of the widespread diseases among the farmed salmon is ISA or anaemia, that has largely infected both wild and farmed salmon in Canada, America, Ireland and Scotland.[14] Both the diseases and the parasites have ensured the eventual depletion of wild salmon as well as the unhealthiness of consuming the farmed salmon.

One recent study was done on a gene known as the Piscine Reovirus found in farmed salmon, originating in British Columbia before spreading to Norway and then to the other worldwide salmon farms.[15] This reovirus has been causatively linked to the weakening of the heart and skeletal muscle inflammation in the farmed salmon.[16]

Current legal status of salmon

Currently there exist no legal precautions or proper efficient guidelines with regard to the standard of farmed salmon and mitigating the damage done to farmed salmon and wild salmon and the effects on human health upon consumption.[17] Further, there have been no conclusive measures or legislations that prevent the escape of farmed salmon into the oceans, thus spreading  the parasites and PRV’s (Piscine Reovirus) to the wild Atlantic salmon. With regard to standardising farmed salmon, all legitimate salmon farms sell their fish with the United States Department of Agriculture Organic Label, which has led to much discontentment among the general public, those that are aware of the harm associated with the farm raised salmon.[18] This has led to the creation of the Pure Salmon Campaign, an organization whose final goal is to raise the standard of farmed salmon across the world and to essentially save the species that inhabit the ocean from the “pollution of farms”.[19] Representative Rachel Hopkins of the campaign stated, “This international inventory of escapes shows us that despite progressive policies, there is simply no way to prevent escapes from open net cages”. With regard to the labelling of all farmed salmon with the USDA Organic Label, the Directory of the Pure Salmon Campaign said, “Until we have proof that open net cage fish farms do not harm the ocean environment or the life within it, farmed fish including salmon should not be allowed to carry the coveted USDA organic label”. These organic labels were standardised by the National Organic Standards Board, a federal advisory committee, comprising of farmers, environmentalists, consumers, processors, retailers, experts and at least one USDA certified agent.[20] These committee is to make certain suggestions regarding emergent environmental and consumption dangers, however none of these suggestions can be considered as policy until they are approved by the USDA, and then implemented by them as a legal policy.[21] Scottish farmed salmon is considered the most organic and is incredibly healthy for consumption and the result is that exports of Scottish farmed salmon has increased by 37% in 2010.[22] Russia’s Fish Union has currently been demanding  that federal law make all seafood sales traceable, thus keeping track of the source from which the seafood came, the course the food takes upon export and finally identifying the food products upon their arrival in their final destination.[23] Import of farmed salmon from other countries such as Norway has also in fact, seriously affected the US seafood industry as the imported products were sold with subsidies at less than fair market rates.[24] Due to this, twenty one Washington and Maine Atlantic Salmon producers came together to fight this injustice to their industry by forming a coalition for the Fair Atlantic Salmon Trade, otherwise known as FAST, through which they filed a petition demanding that the United States International Trade Administration and the United States International Trade Commission to investigate the matter alleged to.[25] The investigation revealed that the Norwegian imports did in fact have an estimated subsidy of 2.45% ad valorem for all imports and were likely to be sold at LTFV (Less than fair market value). It was in its final determination that the USITC differentiated between a “domestic product” and a “like product”,[26] thus conclusively, from 1990, labeling farmed salmon as a “like product” compared to caught, ocean-bred, wild salmon. Similarly, in a more recent case, a federal judge distinguished between hatchery stocks and “natural” salmon, taking the decision of the National Marine Fisheries Service, who determined the species listed under the Endangered Species Act according to the population segments.[27] Judge Hogan upheld the listing of Wild salmon as an endangered species under the Act, refusing to brand farmed salmon and wild salmon as the same species, attorney Jan Hasselman stating, “Salmon and people need clean water, swimmable streams, and healthy habitat. We all win when we protect and recover wild salmon and their habitat … Hatcheries never were meant to be a replacement for self-sustaining populations of salmon in healthy streams.”


The wild salmon is one of endangered species listed under the Endangered Species Act, and the spirit of capitalism that is now plaguing the world, has been consistently trying to, for the sake of “progress”, remove the barriers protecting the species from being completely obliterated. The sellers of farmed salmon firstly economically hinder those who sell wild salmon. Second, the farmed salmon are raised in somewhat unhealthy conditions and thus spread a large number of diseases to the wild salmon, depleting their numbers even further. Currently, the law, and society at large, seem to be fully aware of the necessity for a law specifically protecting the species as the legislation is currently doing and the judiciary is upholding. However, if farmed salmon continue to raised in the manner in which they are presently being raised, the wild salmon will be an extinct species in the near future, especially so if the judiciary at any point stops supporting the legislation.

Edited by Neerja Gurnani

[1] U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, ‘ESA Basics, 40 Years of Conserving Endangered Species’ ( January 2013) <> accessed 18 August 2013

[2] Endangered Species Act, Section 3 – Definitions, Clause (6) : Endangered Species.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Endangered Species Act: Making Innocent Species The Enemy, Property and Environment Research Centre,  Richard Stroup.

[5] Ibid.

[6] About Farmed Salmon, Global Salmon Initiative,, Last Accessed 18 September, 2013.

[7] Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon, Ronald A. Hites, Jeffery A. Foran, David O. Carpenter, M. Coreen Hamilton, Barbara A. Knuth, Steven J. Schwager,, Last Accessed 18 September, 2013.

[8] Can Salmon Farming Be Sustainable? Maybe, If You Head Inland, Alastair Bland,, Last Accessed 18 September, 2013.

[9] Can Salmon Farming Be Sustainable? Maybe, If You Head Inland, Alastair Bland,, Last Accessed 18 September, 2013.

[10] Can Salmon Farming Be Sustainable? Maybe, If You Head Inland, Alastair Bland,, Last Accessed 18 September, 2013.

[11]“In too deep—the welfare of intensively farmed fish,” Compassion in World Farming, Philip Lymbery, Petersfield, 2002, <> Last Accessed 18 September 2013.

[12] Diseases and Parasites in Farmed Salmon,, Last Accessed 19 September 2013.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Whole-genome analysis of piscine reovirus (PRV) shows PRV represents a new genus in family Reoviridae and its genome segment S1 sequences group it into two separate sub-genotypes, Molly JT Kibenge, Tokinori Iwamoto, Yingwei Wang, Alexandra Morton, Marcos G Godoy  and Frederick SB Kibenge.

[16] Public Prevented from Knowing about Diseased Farmed Salmon, Twyla Roscovich.

[17] New Data on Escapes from Salmon Farms Reveals Magnitude of Global Problem, Dave Bard,

[18] Ibid.

[19] Pure Salmon Campaign,, Last Accessed 19 September 2013

[20] National Organic Program,, Last Accessed 19 September 2103

[21] Ibid.

[22] Export surge for Scottish farmed fish, The Scotsman,

[23]  Russian Fish Insider Report, Russia’s Fish Union Urged Lower House To Make Law on Food Traceability, №7 (190) July 23, 2012.

[24] U.S. Trade Law And Imported Farmed Atlantic Salmon: Protectionism Or Protection Of Free Trade?, Case Study: Norwegian Farmed Salmon Imports Into The United States – A. Preliminary Determinations by the USITC and USITA, page 48.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid, page 50.

[27] Alsea Valley Alliance and others, v  Conrad C Lautenbacher and others, Case No. 06-6093-HO, United States District Court, District of Oregon.

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