Foodies and salmon farming

Paul Smith
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Happy New Year to everyone. I hope you all enjoyed Christmas to the fullest and shared tons of time and delicious meals with friends and family.

No doubt there were many succulent moose stews and rabbit pies served over the holidays. Nothing beats wild game prepared with a heaping measure of passion and spice to liven up holiday gatherings.

I’m immersed in a family of foodies and it’s contagious. I think my daughter, Megan, formed the initial culinary snowball in her tiny hands while she was still in grade school. It’s seems like just yesterday she stood on a chair to reach the kitchen counter, mixing cake and cookie dough with her mother.

Then, during Megan’s first year of university at the College of the North Atlantic in Carbonear, where I teach, she baked a scratch chocolate cake to share with her classmates. It was sinfully delicious and had the whole campus abuzz about the mouthwatering treat that Paul Smith’s daughter had baked. The snowball was rolling downhill and gaining momentum.

Megan became totally uninterested in university academics and attended Holland College on beautiful Prince Edward Island to become a chef. To make a long story short, Megan has gotten the whole family infected with the foodie virus.

Allison, her younger sister, who once caught an egg carton afire while attempting to cook breakfast, resulting in a ban from the kitchen, is now preparing amazing meals. She’s becoming an expert in moose cuisine, making it her primary source of protein. She conjures up an absolutely wicked and delightfully tangy moose chili.

Megan’s snowball has hit a concrete wall at the bottom of the slope and spattered everyone around her with culinary curiosity, food appreciation and cooking energy. Christmas Eve at Megan’s this year was so tasty. We had scallops, fishcakes, and shrimp followed by chocolate espresso torte. She learned how to whip up this super-rich dessert while working at The Vault on Water Street. I have no words for how good it is, suffice to say it blows away the chocolate cake that excited a campus of teenagers.

I was thinking of barbecuing a whole salmon for New Year’s Eve. I have a favourite recipe that I’ve been using since the kids were small. I originally got it out of one of my mother’s old cookbooks that still sits on a shelf in our kitchen. I’ve tinkered with it and altered it enough that I now call it my own — a self-proclaimed patent, I suppose.

I stuff the salmon with a top-secret stuffing, stitch up the belly, wrap it in foil, and cook the fish whole.

I had no wild salmon in the freezer so my only option was to buy a farmed salmon at the grocery store. Those of you who read my column regularly know how I feel about salmon farming. In view of recent events, I passed on the salmon. Not that I feared for my family’s health — although I wouldn’t eat farmed salmon more than a few times a month. No, I’ve decided to take a stand on the moral high ground. As much as I love pan-fried salmon, baked salmon and so on, I’m not eating it anymore unless it’s wild or farmed on land in a secure enclosure. It’s my New Year’s resolution for 2013.

There’s been another outbreak of infectious salmon anemia (ISA), the second for 2012 on Newfoundland’s south coast.

This calamity hit the news and was confirmed by the Canadian Food Inspection agency just before Christmas. The authorities have ordered 350,000 salmon to be destroyed. This time it’s at a Cooke Aquaculture facility in Hermitage Bay. There are strict biosecurity protocols in place at the site.

Our provincial government and the aquaculture industry are again telling us that there is no cause for alarm. This is an accepted process in the aquaculture business.

They have got to be joking. How dumb do they think we are? Is that all they can come up with, saying that’s it’s OK because it happens everywhere else?

 I have seen the effects of salmon farming on wild stocks of salmon and sea trout first hand. I fished a river in Ireland that was barren of adult sea trout because consecutive year classes of fish were totally wiped out by sea lice infestations, transferred to outgoing smolt by a nearby salmon farm. The aquaculture facility was shut down and the river recovered.

It’s known that sea lice can infect wild fish with ISA. The only environmentally responsible way to farm salmon is on land, in isolated and secure tanks. Raising salmon in cages in the open ocean has proven disastrous in other places, and will bite us on the behind here in Newfoundland if we don’t act soon.

Liberal fisheries critic Jim Bennett said to the CBC that this outbreak shows the need to change the province’s aquaculture practices. He’s advocating land-based aquaculture.

I think all us environmentally minded anglers should give him our full support. Let’s apply some political pressure to further the cause of wild salmon runs.

Don’t think for one naïve second that the aquaculture industry has no influence on what the government says and does. They sing the song of jobs and prosperity in rural Newfoundland but we mustn’t fall into the trap of accepting employment at any cost. Angling provides jobs as well, and with no toxic side-effects. Salmon farming on land will also provide jobs and cause far less damage to the environment.

The real motive here is profit. It isn’t that no money can be made raising salmon on land. The bottom line for business is that they can sustain bigger profit margins using open sea cages. On the other hand, if they weren’t getting subsidized by government for all the salmon they’ve had to kill in these ISA outbreaks they’d likely be bankrupt. And don’t forget, as taxpayers we are paying for that. I’d rather just pay a little more for the salmon in the first place.

Let’s make 2013 the year that we stand up for wild salmon and do something about the threat that’s  polluting our pristine coastline. We will farm salmon and be world leaders in the industry.

For once, let’s not follow the herd over the cliff. We could be recognized as leaders, the first jurisdiction to legislate that salmon be farmed on land.  


Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at

Organizations: College of the North Atlantic, Holland College, The Vault Canadian Food Inspection agency CBC

Geographic location: Carbonear, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island Water Street Hermitage Bay Ireland

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Recent comments

  • bob milne
    bob milne
    January 10, 2013 - 13:42

    evidence requires factual support from reliable sources that can withstand the scrutiny of widespread debate . Usually referenced to scientific articles or research papers. I don't see any of that here. Therefore the evidence is anectotal and appeals only to the emotion of the reader. Good luck with that.

  • p earle
    January 07, 2013 - 11:41

    I sent a comment, why is it not printed? p e

  • Darrel
    January 07, 2013 - 08:23

    In my youth (70's and 80's) I angled salmon from rivers near the ocean. The salmon were teaming with lice back then and this was long before salmon farms were around. And the lice didn't seem to affect them. From what I've seen there is no evidence that this affects wild fish populations. Unless you beleive the one small group in BC calling themsleves scientists. And the angling groups have taken this "evidence" 'hook-line-and-sinker'. By the way, these pseudo-scientists predicted that sea lice from salmon farms would cause the EXTINCTION of the stock (used that word to get media attention) by 2011 - which ended up being the largest run in 100 years! I think it's just a matter of timing - salmon populations are declining and it just so happens that salmon farming looks guilty by expanding at the same time. Regarding land-based farming - I've seen a DFO assessment of land-based farming and the costs were about 4 times that of ocean farming. I'm not sure if I would ever afford to buy salmon at $45 a pound!

  • Oisin McMahon
    January 07, 2013 - 06:49

    I commend Paul Smith for writing this fine article. The science is there for the disasterous effects fish farming has upon wild stocks of fish. The lobby side of aquaculture is so well rehersed that it is hard to argue against them, but it must be done. Mr. Milne, the evidence is real, not anecdotal.

  • petertwo
    January 06, 2013 - 08:25

    I agree Paul, land based salmon aquaculture has to come. There are many incidents of salmon being infected with ISA from sea lice, Norway, British Columbia, the UK , all have been affected to some levels. A few years back in the UK people were being advised to limit eating farmed salmon due to unsafe levels of PCB's, said to be caused with the salmon feed then. I remember this as I was a member of a fly club and some of the members were really uptight about that, there was no way they'd give up eating farmed salmon whenever they wanted to! I've stayed clear though and only have a meal about twice a year.

  • bob milne
    January 05, 2013 - 13:15

    Your anecdotal evidence for salmon farms destroying wild stocks in Ireland is hardly impressive. Perhaps you and your daughter can invest in an underwater chicken farm so that the land can be spared from its devastating effects.