The truth behind your cheap Christmas salmon


In its latest film the Ecologist Film Unit (EFU), a collaboration between Ecostorm and the Ecologist magazine, travels to Peru to investigate a host of unreported environmental and social costs – including pollution and health problems, overfishing, and impacts on ecosystems and wildlife – arising from the production of fishmeal and fish oil, principal ingredients in farmed salmon feed.

Parts of the south American country’s coastline have been seriously contaminated by waste from fishmeal plants, say pressure groups, contributing to reduced catches for artisanal fisherman, who fish to feed their families and for income. Overfishing by the large industrial fleets – scouring the ocean for anchovies, core to producing fishmeal – is also blamed for negatively impacting on the wider food chain.

Impoverished communities living near to fishmeal plants in the port city of Chimbote, home to some 40 processing establishments, say the industry has made their lives a misery, and claim that airborne pollutants are responsible for asthma, bronchial and skin problems – allegations backed up by medical experts.

People aren’t the only victims. Sea lions, a protected species, are being killed by fishermen, who see them as competitors for the dwindling fish resources. In addition, seabird colonies, who feed on anchovies, are under threat – quite simply because there isn’t enough fish to go around.

And the EFU has established that this controversial fishmeal is flooding into the UK as demand for cheap farmed salmon increases – we’ve learnt that at least one major supplier of farmed salmon to British supermarkets and wholesalers has partnered with a feed company procuring significant volumes of its fish-meal from Peru.

Peru is the world’s biggest producer of fishmeal and oil. The fishmeal industry is worth almost $2.5 billion, with 400 plants producing approximately six million tonnes of fish flour and one million tonnes of fish oil annually. Both are largely derived from oily fish including anchovies, herrings and sardines. The high nutritional values of these fish – which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, beneficial to the health of both to humans and animals – has led to massive demand globally.

Pat Thomas, editor of the Ecologist said: “Salmon are the tigers of the sea. They are predators and carnivores and raising them in captivity raises a number of significant problems, including how to feed them the high protein diets they require to stay healthy. The aquaculture industry has long been singled out for its unsustainability and heavy ecological footprint, but I think British consumers will be shocked at the human and environmental price they are paying to put cheap salmon on the table this Christmas.”

Watch the film at http://www.theecologist.org and http://www.green.tv.

The Ecologist magazine, featuring a major print investigation, will be available on news stands from 5th December 2008.