It’s time to end the practice of fish farming in our waters | In Our Opinion

Gov. Jay Inslee directed the Department of Ecology on Aug. 26 to put a hold on any new permits for Atlantic salmon farm pens until a thorough investigation of the escape of 300,000 farmed salmon off Cypress Island is completed.

The Legislature should ban the farming of Atlantic salmon in the Salish Sea.

In several locations in the Salish Sea — the closest is off Bainbridge Island’s Fort Ward — Atlantic salmon are raised in giant underwater cages called net pens. Living in close quarters with thousands of other fish, those salmon don’t get much exercise, hence the higher fat content. The fat is a storehouse for the antibiotics that are used to fight fish diseases and the pesticides used to kill the sea lice that feed on the salmon. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, farmed salmon receive food supplements to give them the pigmentation of wild salmon.

(These pens are different than Tribal fish pens used as nurseries for juvenile native hatchery fish, which are released into the wild once they are yearlings.)

The documentary film, “Net Loss,” by Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young of Bullfrog Films, shows footage under fish pens — on the sea floor where fish feces settles. The concentrated accumulation of fish feces and uneaten food pellets causes pollution and negatively impacts other marine life.

Those thousands of Atlantic salmon that escaped their pens off Cypress Island are now competing for food and habitat with already-beleaguered native salmon. Native American fishermen and women — to whom native salmon are important culturally and dietarily — have talked of catching farmed salmon that were sickly looking, with grayish flesh.

Proponents for Atlantic salmon farming say they are meeting a growing demand for seafood. We think the best solution is building native salmon populations by improving habitat and marine health. In the meantime, here are some alternatives.

Farmed shellfish are a better alternative because they subsist on phytoplankton and need no supplemental feeding (one pound of farmed salmon uses the fish oil from about five pounds of wild fish, and the fishmeal from 1.3 pounds of fish). “[B]ecause shellfish for human consumption must come from clean water, shellfish farming often spurs efforts to keep coastal waters clean,” the Monterey Bay Aquarium reported.

Different species of fish can be raised inland where they don’t threaten the environment. In Mexico, tilapia — a plant-eating fish — is raised on inland farms, as are catfish and trout in the United States.

Our native salmon populations are struggling to survive diminished habitat, warmer waters, dams and culverts, tainted runoff, and industrial pollution. Let’s remove the additional risks posed by Atlantic salmon.