Not All Farmed Salmon is the Same: A Better Option is Available in BC

Cloased Containment Fish Farms - Sweetspring

( If you're like many Vancouverites, you might avoid farmed salmon because of concerns about its impact on our local wild salmon fishery. The Atlantic salmon farmed in net pens off the coast of BC has been in the news for years now, and has raised many concerns. The Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise program says, "Open net pen finfish farms such as those used for Atlantic salmon ... create major environmental concerns and should be avoided." Atlantic salmon from open net pens also gets an "Avoid" rating from Canadian sustainable seafood program SeaChoice. But wild salmon is seasonal, and may not be available year-round (or may be very expensive). But did you know there's an environmentally friendly alternative to wild salmon? It's coho salmon raised in closed containment fish farms.

What are Closed Containment Fish Farms?

Unlike open net pen farms, which pen fish in ocean waters shared with wild species, closed containment farms are operated on land, which avoids the issues of escape of non-native species, sea lice, and disease that have been such a concern in open net pen fish farming. This also protects the fish inside the farm, so they don't need to be treated with antibiotics.

Closed containment salmon farming is not perfect: There is still room for progress in the areas of consumption of marine resources (in other words, the amount of wild fish and fish byproducts needed to feed the farmed salmon) and energy. But it is certainly a better alternative than open net pen farmed salmon, according to several organizations that rate the sustainability of seafood options.

The Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise program gives coho salmon raised in closed containment fish farms an "Ocean Wise" rating (compared to "Not Recommended" for open net pen farmed Atlantic salmon), saying, "The impact of closed system farming is considered overall to be a low conservation concern to the marine environment." gives the containment farmed coho a "Best Choice" rating (compared to an "Avoid" rating for net pen farmed Atlantic salmon) and says, "There is virtually no risk of escape in these land based tank systems ... The spread of disease and parasites to wild salmon stocks is also avoided."

The David Suzuki Foundation also approves, saying, "Closed systems separate farmed fish from wild fish and the environment, containing the fish and water within the farm rather than releasing them into the environment. Waste, escapes, and spread of disease and parasites are much better controlled in these systems."

There are limited sources of this salmon at this stage, but one of the closed containment farms is in southwest Washington, so the fish does not have too far to travel to BC plates.

Where Can You Buy Closed Containment Farmed Coho Salmon?

Right now, the only place in Canada you can buy coho salmon from closed containment farms is at stores that are part of the Overweightea Food Group, which includes Overweightea, Save on Foods, Urban Fare, and PriceSmart Foods. The Overweightea Food Group has eliminated all open net pen farmed salmon from its stores, so if you see farmed salmon in one of these stores, it comes from a closed containment system. This salmon is sold under the brand name "SweetSpring."

If you see farmed salmon in any other store, it's open net pen farmed Atlantic salmon.

Tell us: Will you buy farmed salmon from closed containment systems? Is the sustainability rating of your seafood products important to you? Let us know in the comments.

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