RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Salmon face a salty situation on all fronts. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to approve the first transgenic animal for human consumption—a genetically engineered salmon. There are major concerns with this: Farmed fish waste and pharmaceutical can contaminate the water, genetically modified (GM) fish can escape and out-compete wild fish, and the farmed fish require tons of wild fish meal, which wipes out that native salmon's food supply. Now, off the coast of Alaska, where some of the healthiest wild salmon can be found, there's another looming threat: mining.
We turned to Paul Greenberg, author of Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food (Penguin Press, 2010), for his take on the salmon situation.
Rodale.com: What does the pending approval of GM fish mean for our oceans and diversity? What does it mean for consumers?
Paul Greenberg: It is the groundwork for the final de-wilding of the order of ocean life—the puncturing of the barriers between species themselves, and an invitation to humans everywhere to undertake a much larger tampering. Remember, unlike land-food, a huge part of our seafood is still wild, and an interdependence on that wildness is key to our respecting the oceans. Of course, we are catching too many fish and too many big fish, like salmon. But the answer is not to sate our demands for big fish by growing transgenic fish that can supply all the salmon we want. Rather, we need to understand that biological limits permit humans to take only so much salmon per person per year. That's a clear limit. Why not respect that limit and try to lessen our seafood footprint by eating lower-order creatures like farmed oysters, mussels, and clams that don't require genetic manipulation, and that feed and clean the water in the process of their culture?
Rodale.com: In your opinion, why do we even need genetically modified fish?
PG: We don't. And here's an example. If we grow transgenic salmon in all the existing salmon farms in North America, we stand to gain a quarter of a billion pounds of salmon a year, assuming the existing salmon production were to double as Aqua Bounty [the biotech company behind the genetically engineered fish] promises. But right now in Alaska, the international Anglo-American mining consortium is trying to push through the so-called "Pebble Mine"—the largest copper and gold mine in the country at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska, the most productive salmon spawning ground on earth. It's interesting to note that if we lose Bristol Bay to copper mine pollution (a very real possibility) we will lose about a quarter of a billion pounds of wild salmon a year—the same amount of salmon we hope to gain through transgenics. Of course, there's no conspiracy here between Anglo-American mining and Aqua Bounty aquaculture, but one creates the economic preconditions for the other.