Stepping away from the Omega-3 sell

Salmon Farms (middle of photo) near Ganavan Sands beach (October 2020, Copyright Rajat Bhatla)

On a recent (pre-Lockdown 2) trip to Western Scotland, my son and I were intrigued with a set of ring-shaped structures we saw out across Ganavan sands near Oban. In a chat with a fishing boat returning to Oban with some deep-sea divers from this particular site, we learnt these to be Salmon farms — giant cylindrical steel cages each holding 10s of thousands of farmed salmon.

Having had a small aquarium once with 3 goldfish and the arduous weekly cleaning involved, I wondered how could a cage with thousands of Salmon be ecologically sustainable. Would it not mean they inevitably feed on their own waste? The idyllic surroundings the salmon farms were set in, seemed to hide a grim picture of what ocean farming is doing to the fish and the environment.

In that light, the recent Netflix documentary ‘Seaspiracy’ by Ali and Lucy Tabrizi was a compelling watch. It will no doubt stir controversy in parts, but many of the ecologically alarming practices that it strives to bring light to, were recorded in plain light. The collective herding of dolphins and whales to an eventual shoreside slaughter was extremely sad to watch. For all the imagery of humankind's love for dolphins and whales in theme parks and Key Stage 1 books, this was the other side to it.

“Not much different to the inland farming of beef, lamb and chicken” — is the import of a fisherman’s (a Danish whaler) question in the documentary. Whilst that poses a bigger question, if meat consumption is sustainable or even ethical at all, I don’t believe there is an inland equivalent to the collateral killing by fishing bycatch. A paper co-authored by WWF states at least 40% of the global fishing catch is unwanted ‘bycatch’. Applied to the global catch of 0.8–2.3 trillion fish a year — in the best-case estimate of this number being the ‘target catch plus by catch’ that is about 320 Billion to 1 trillion fish or marine life forms killed annually for no reason other than they were in the path of a fishing net.

The documentary covers the diseases inflicted on cage farmed Salmon, eventually not visible to the naked eye when served on the sushi platter. As the Fishing welfare expert in the documentary notes, the ‘pink’ in the salmon is likely to be a coloured dye injected on an unhealthy ‘grey’ salmon with the ‘pinkness’ selectable from a colour card.

As with much of the environmental corrosion, that humans have inflicted on our planet, the “degrees of separation” between production and consumption suppresses meaningful change. Awareness and individual action though could well be the turning tide. In that sense, this brave documentary could not have come at a better time. One hopes its core message travels far.

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Rajat Bhatla

Rajat Bhatla

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