An article in the November-December 2001 issue of Mother Jones has investigated the growth of fish farms in North America, especially in the Pacific North West of Canada, about 250 miles north of Vancouver.

In an area that had traditionally relied on the industry from wild salmon runs, the farms initially looked attractive in bringing new jobs as the wild salmon diminished. However, the development of the farms has brought its own economic, ecological and health concerns, which are causing concern to many people.

As the industry grew, it began to have a greater impact on local ecology, affected other fish and mammals in the area. The farmed fish, mostly Atlantic salmon, have escaped and prospered, competing with wild salmon and other wild species for food and habitat. To rid the farmed fish of sea lice, farmers have given them a strong antiparasitic drug, but this disease has spread into the wild fish population, as have other diseases that have become antibiotic resistant. Excess fish feed, full of antibiotics, and huge amounts of fish feces have contaminated the local areas around the farms.

Similar problems occurred in Norway, which because of dwindling numbers of wild fish, began farming Atlantic salmon in the 60s and 70s. In the 1980s, Norway began to strengthen its environmental regulations, and some of the companies moved to Canada where regulations are not so strong. Today, fish farming is a huge business, and governments and companies are looking to expand new megafarms in Canada, Chile and other countries. Mergers and vertical integration of the industry, allowing companies to control all aspects of the business, from the farm to the store, has created the situation where farmed fish is now less than 1/2 the price of wild salmon. That is why Cost Co can offer fish at the prices it does. To quote from the article: "In 2000, fish farmers raised 860,000 metric tons of Atlantic salmon more than 1 metric ton for every wild salmon caught in the North AtlanticWhen youve got Chilean Filets hitting the Port of Miami at $2 a pound, raised by workers making $1.50 a day, thats when the WTO hits home. "

One great concern is that the wild salmon will become increasingly affected by diseases that affect the farmed fish, leading environmentalists to recommend solid-wall pens, which would also eliminate the problems of escaping fish. In the 1990s, Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) affected many fish in farms in Scotland and New Brunswick and in 1998, 1.2 million salmon were slaughtered in New Brunswick to control an ISA outbreak. The argument is that this kind of disease outbreak is inevitable when any organism is raised in such dense concentrations.
So, what can we do about this? Eat only wild fish. Not only does it support the wild fish industry, it is also better for you. There are no antibiotics in the fish, they are not artificially dyed pink like the farmed fish, and they are higher in omega-3 fatty acids. Like any meat you eat, what you eat is also what they eat.

The issue with eating fish is much bigger than this. Due to the deposits of heavy metals in the sea, certain fish have such high mercury levels that it makes them potentially dangerous to eat, especially for pregnant women. Tuna is one of these fish, and other similar fish that are found deep in the sea have the same problem. So, although fish can be a great source of protein and fatty acids, we now have to be much more selective of what we eat, yet another challenge to our health and the world we live in.