Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Frankenfish Rises

Yeah, I know it's just a genetically modified salmon, but Frankenfish is the name it was given and it sure has stuck. And why not? This is a "salmon [that] has been modified by the addition of a growth hormone regulating gene from a Pacific Chinook salmon and a promoter gene from an ocean pout to the Atlantic's 40,000 genes. These genes enable it to grow year-round instead of only during Spring and Summer. The purpose of the modifications is to increase the speed at which the fish grows, without affecting its ultimate size or other qualities." (Wikipedia)

illustration credit: The Independent
The AquAdvantage salmon (to address it by its proper name) is intended to be raised in on-land fish farms from supplied eggs and is expected to grow at least twice as fast as a normal Atlantic salmon. Of course, that does mean it needs to eat an enormous amount.

I like that it is intended to be raised in on-land pens. Out here on Canada's West Coast, Atlantic salmon were impoorted for commercial production in in-sea net pens. Members of the public who were worried that the salmon might escape and interfere with the native Pacific varieties were told "Don't worry. They won't escape." They escaped.
Then we were told, "Well, any that might escape won't survive." They survived.
Then: "Well, they might survive, but they won't be able to breed." They've now found smolts in salmon streams up and down Vancouver Island.
And to make it worse, Alexandra Morton has been studying the effect of net pens on the native salmon runs. To say the least, it isn't good. There are major problems with sea lice that seem to be closely linked with smolt runs past salmon farms. And now she's found significant evidence of ISA virus--never before seen in the Pacific--in salmon from net farms.
Of course the Harper government wants nothing to do with potential problems in the fish farming business. Nor do the provincial Liberals.
But now the FDA has approved the AquAdvantage salmon for sale in the US. As the Independent article points out, this opens the door to these fish being farmed in Europe as well. And of course, these fish will never make it into the local waters. And, being triploid (ie. having three sets of chromosomes), they'll never be able to breed with local fish.And, without regard for the fact that these fish have to eat enormous amounts of  food (usually fish meal, made from other fish--which leads to fishing for large quantities of fish to make into meal to feed AquAdvantage salmon to sell as considerably less fish than came out of the ocean in the first place), they would never be able to out-compete the local varieties of salmon.
You know, fish farming makes a certain amount of sense when its rainbow trout being raised in dugouts on the Canadian prairies. there, if everything goes wrong, you have a bunch of fish rotting in your dugout. Raising a fierce, and ravenous, competitor next to bodies of water that offer a great home for them just seems...I dunno, what's the word? Stupid? Insane?Let's just say that I see the advantages accruing to a very few farmers while the potential risk is assumed by millions of people who depend on the maintainance of those same waters. And that sounds a lot like the financial meltdown of 2008.

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