As a relatively new and growing sustainable solution to food production, salmon ocean farming has been the subject of intensive environmental assessments.
Salmon ocean farming has no significant impact on the decline of wild salmon. Climate change, over-fishing and freshwater habitat destruction all have contributed to the depletion of Wild Pacific and Atlantic salmon for several decades, long before the introduction of ocean-salmon farming.
In fact, salmon ocean farming techniques aid in the enhancement of wild salmon hatcheries, which release tens of millions of fish into the wild each year, allowing the wild catch numbers to reach the appropriate levels needed to maintain wild stocks. One-third of the wild salmon caught today started their lives in a hatchery.
Before the release of the hatchery salmon, the fish are thoroughly inspected for diseases – every salmon released into the wild is disease-free for both environmental and economic reasons.
Breeds of Wild and Ocean-Farmed Salmon
Wild and Ocean-Farmed Pacific Salmon
There are six different species of Pacific salmon: the Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink, Sockeye, and Steelhead. Salmon farms generally stock Pacific Chinook and Coho species, as they are the two heartiest species.
Wild Pacific salmon stocks have declined slightly in the past several years due to habitat destruction. Recent studies have shown, however, that since the implementation of salmon farms, wild Pacific pink salmon returns have increased, and that the fish counts are clearly showing a building population of pink salmon.
Wild and Farmed Atlantic Salmon
Compared to Pacific salmon, Atlantic salmon are more docile and thrive far better in a farm setting. Atlantic salmon are most often farmed in Pacific waters, and have high farm survival rates, which can be contributed to the efficient way they convert food to body weight.
Due to unregulated over-fishing and habitat destruction, wild Atlantic salmon are currently considered an endangered species on the eastern seaboard of the United States.
Escaped Farmed Salmon Pose Low Risk
For reasons both environmental and economical, salmon farmers go to great measures to reduce the number of farmed salmon escapes. Through preventive steps that include improved farm anchoring and net management, farmed salmon escapes have decreased dramatically since the early 1990s.
Before salmon ocean farmers began making drastic changes to improve escape numbers, escapes mainly occurred during storms, as winds, waves and tidal currents destroyed netting and pen structures. New farming technology, equipment and guidelines continue to reduce the levels of salmon escapes.
On the rare occasions that ocean-farmed salmon escape from their pen structures, they typically don’t survive long enough to effect wild salmon breeds. In salmon ocean farms, fish are protected from predators and fed on a consistent basis. When a salmon escapes from the ocean farm environment, they have little to no ability to obtain food or protect themselves from predators.
Very few ocean-farmed salmon have been found in river systems, and the ones that do reach mating destinations have severe competitive and reproductive disadvantages as compared to wild salmon. Interbreeding rarely occurs among wild and ocean-farmed salmon. What interbreeding does occur has little significant impact, as only small amounts of new genetic material are introduced.
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